Living the Word
I’ve heard people say, “The Scripture jumped off the page at me.” Or I’ve heard them say, “I’ve read that before, but this time it just ‘spoke’ to me.” Indeed, I have had the same experience as well. God often speaks to us through a phase in life or a particular circumstance along with His
by Patricia "Trish" Burgess, MD
I’ve heard people say, “The Scripture jumped off the page at me.” Or I’ve heard them say, “I’ve read that before, but this time it just ‘spoke’ to me.” Indeed, I have had the same experience as well. God often speaks to us through a phase in life or a particular circumstance along with His Word. And then sometimes we see the Bible come to life right before our very eyes!
I was spiritually preparing for a challenging mission trip with CMDA’s Global Health Outreach (GHO) into an area of India that was rife with human trafficking. As part of my preparation for the trip, I began using a chronological Bible to read through the Bible in a year. I had attempted this before but somehow got lost somewhere between Leviticus and Numbers. This year I was determined because I knew I would need this for my upcoming trip. Some of the ancient laws in Leviticus did get me a little mad at God at times. They seemed particularly harsh toward women. They just did. And He and I had a discussion or three about that. I was able to give God my anger and trust Him more than I was able to understand these parts of Scriptures that were frustrating me.
Itwasn’t until I traveled to India that I realized God needed me to learn this lesson about trusting Him in order to be effective in His ministry in India.
When we arrived in India, we set up our clinic in a red tent along the streets of the city’s red light district. Trash, ginormous rats and human excrement thrown into the streets, along with the heat and stench, amidst the beautiful women in jewel-colored gowns created quite an unforgettable sight. But even the sight and smells paled in comparison to meeting with these women. And men. Yes, men.
We were taking care of the women in all their broken-ness as well as the men, including pimps, customers and others. I had known we were going to do this before we left the U.S. In fact, it made me pause when I learned this detail about our trip during our preparations. We would be treating pimps with the love of Christ? I remember sitting back in my chair to contemplate this when God spoke to me quite clearly in four simple words: “I love him too.” My mind reading His Word knew this, but my heart still struggled. However, it no longer does, because now I know. He taught me this on the trip.
The women were easy to love, but restraining myself so as to not scare them was the challenge. I wanted to wrap my arms around them and insist God loved them. What I did was smile, touch them gently and let them know I truly cared about them. That is the amazing thing about being a health-care professional. You get this immediate, intimate personal connection as you ask questions you normally wouldn’t dream of asking and touch areas they wouldn’t dream of letting someone else touch. They all were humble, embarrassed and full of shame. They knew what others thought of them. I saw nervous agitation as one woman told me she had to hurry because her “owner was waiting.” When in my “office,” they rarely looked up and almost never into my eyes. Most of them called their pimps their “husbands.” It took me a while to figure out they were talking about their pimps. And my heart wanted to hate these men, but God would not allow this. He had prepared me for this. I understood the men were even more broken than the women on some level.
I kept up with my Bible readings during this mission trip and had my usual quiet time with my Lord. And as it happened, during our time in India I was in the middle of reading John 4 when Jesus talks with the woman at the well.
“The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly’” ( John 4:17-18, NASB).
Suddenly I was not reading my Bible, but I was actually living in the Bible. The women I was seeing were a modern-day representation of the woman at the well. We were ministering to the woman at the well along with Jesus. Two thousand years ago Jesus was tired and thirsty, so He sat down to rest and wait on this divine appointment. Along came this lonely woman to get water. She didn’t come walking with a group of friends enjoying the day. She came when she knew no one else would be there. She came humbled and ashamed. I can see her so clearly those 2,000 or so years ago. I suspect she didn’t look up at Jesus or make eye contact. She was probably startled when He spoke to her gently but honestly. I suspect these things because I feel like I know her. I met her in that red tent set up on the street in India. Suddenly something written more than 2,000 years ago came to life right before my very eyes during those two weeks I served in India.
I felt so completely humbled to be shown by my Al-mighty God that He lets us participate in His works. That can change our lives; change our perspective on sharing His love. And He revealed to me that we do not have to feel insufficient when we are being obedient to His call to spread the good news of God around the world.
He shows us this in John 4:29 when the woman at the well goes back to town after speaking with Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” (NASB). Far from eloquent, she didn’t even remember to use the ABCs of becoming a Christian (admit, believe, confess)! She didn’t say the perfect prayer. And she certainly didn’t model the perfect Christ-like behavior. Yet, “...they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world’” ( John 4:42, NASB).
Sometimes we serve or witness as though it all depends on us. God teaches us that we do not have to be perfect. Our efforts to show or teach others about Him are more dependent on His Holy Spirit than on us getting it exactly right. Indeed, on the mission field I frequently ask for His spirit to speak to the people I see in ways I cannot due to the language and cultural barriers. And God will use our brokenness, our mess-ups and our humility to reach people in His name. That is what is real. We are all broken on some level. We can be selfish and have a sin nature. If you stop to think about it, those quirks and imperfections in our friends and loved ones are the very things that endear them to us. Seeing this so clearly demonstrated in these women in India was what made me love them instantly and so deeply hurt to see the shame and self-condemnation in them.
I actually enjoyed being able to care for the men as well. Again, I knew Jesus loved them. The Bible tells me so! Were they Satan personified? It didn’t seem so to me, perhaps because they were there and showed me vulnerability, even if it was a physical ailment. They were indeed broken men with a sin nature. I shuddered to think of what they had been through in their lives to allow them to behave and treat women the way they did. It is easy to judge, but I fortunately have not had to walk a mile in their shoes. I have looked in their eyes and I did not see hope. None. And in all the thoughts and prayers for trafficked women, I wonder how many have been said for these men controlling them? Could it be if we joined together in prayer for them, as well as for the women, that God’s Holy Spirit can change their hearts?
That first day of our clinic, stepping off the bus into the heat and smells and sights, my first thought was, “Jesus is here!” And He indeed showed me a lot and taught me what I would need to learn for the work He had planned for me.
Before leaving the red light district, I was able to go into a brothel to further experience what these women live through every day. There was a calendar, but no pictures were hanging on the wall. No decorations or furniture, save for a bed designed like a stiff trampoline. So I sat on this bed with a young lady trafficked from Nepal to India. When the chance presented itself to share the gospel message with her, I suddenly felt so humbled to be “the one.” I was the one who got to share such a life-changing message as this? I felt a quickening in my spirit and felt so anxious for her to believe, to accept His love for eternity. I imperfectly shared the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
The woman at the well in John 4 has meant so much to me since returning home from that trip to India. She proves that we don’t have to say it all, and we don’t even have to say it right. We just have to be willing to share and let His Spirit speak through us. Are you willing?