The Person Behind The Label

8 02 2011

I have an interesting job, every day is different. But the most interesting part is the people who I work with. Let me share with you in general terms the types of people I have come to love. These descriptions are a combination of many people and not any one person specifically.

There is the exotic dancer who lives out of a cheap hotel, existing on the only thing she knows how to do.
There is the young gay man looking for real, true love but instead settles for one sexual liaison after another, each one leaving him a little emptier than the one before.
There is the alcoholic who tells me his dreams for the future.
There is the heroin user terrified that she contracted HIV from having to use sex to buy her next fix.
There is the teenage mother with two kids and the possibility of another one the way, seeking an abortion, who is physically and sexually abused by her much older live in boyfriend.
There is the person so desperate for companionship that he is willing to sacrifice it all to find that one true love.
And there are those whom I have to give the news that they are infected with HIV. Some already sensed that they might be, to others it comes as a complete surprise. I try to comfort them, sometimes they are so overwrought that they crumble into my arms and sob.
And there are those that I have seen die from AIDS. 
There are so many more,  day after day they come. They share their lives with me. In some cases I marvel that in spite of all the crap they have gone through they are still alive. Some days my heart hurts with all the pain people have. Other days my heart rejoices in the joys that come into their lives.
I love them. They are real and open and most of the time honest.
One thing that they are not is a label, or a cultural issue. They are living, breathing humans created in the image of God, with talents, and abilities and marvelous qualities.
We (the church) like labels. It is so much easier to reject or condemn someone if we see them as a thing rather than a person.
We reject the drug user as a “junkie, or crackhead” never thinking that he may be self medicating to numb the emotional pain in his life.
We reject the sex worker as a “whore” never thinking that she has several family member to support.
We reject the single parent as a “welfare mom” never thinking that her parents may have kicked her out of the house for being pregnant. (One of the most revolting bumper stickers I’ve seen says “keep working, millions on welfare depend on it”)

We think that because we have a house or a car, a job or a bank account that people should just be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work hard. We thank God that we are not like those sinners….and all the while God is saying to the church, like the church in Laodicea, “Your apathy and arrogance makes Me want to throw up. Stop judging and condemning and start to show love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. The people living in this world of pain and darkness and loneliness and sin need it. They need to know that there is so much more.”


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12 responses

9 02 2011
poult

Perfectly said, Mark. We live in a world that labels people because it makes it easier to brush them off as one thing or another rather than taking the time to know them as a living, breathing, human being that could easily be our family. Sadly it is much easier for many people to look down on others (and feel good about themselves) than it is to reach out to others and rise together. I hope, pray, and dream of a revolution where people are real with themselves and each other. All children of God and nothing else matters…

9 02 2011
Leanne

I think you have found part of the reason the church prefers to condemn and point out everyone’s sins rather than love like Christ. Most Christians lead sanitary lives. They never come in contact with the broken like you have. The closest they get is to picket at an abortion clinic. They never take one of those going to the clinic out to lunch to get to hear their story and get to know them. They may serve at a food pantry where they hand out food but never sit down and talk to the ones who need the food long enough to get past their preconceptions. Thanks for sharing.

9 02 2011
Joseph Onesta

Few people have the opportunity to come to know this side of life on the planet. Back in the 90’s when I developed AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Living Skills Program, it was a unique opportunity to experience what it meant to be fully human. God, one day, showed me that if I had remained the closed-minded bigoted Christian I had been that He could not have used me to meet the needs of my clients. I would have shoven Jesus down their throats when before they could believe that it waspossible for themto be loved and accepted at all. I did not preach in that job. In fact probably no one knew I valued the teachings of Jesus. Rather than telling them about Jesus, in a kind of way, I had the opportunity to be him, to represent his true heart for them.

My brother, there are Christians out there doing that. I know it’s difficult to see them because it is too easy to see the ones who label themselves Christians but have none of the humanity of the Son of Man and have even less Love despite claiming to praise the God who is Love. I’ve come to look at these folks as very young sort of cocky adolescents who don’t understand yet what it means to serve the living God. Missionary trips to foreign lands and international ministries do not really impress me. I am sure they are important in some way but I think of the verse in 1 Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love….”
Thanks for sharing your environment. For a brief moment, you caused me to remember very fondly many people who are probably now no longer living in their physical bodies. You’ve also caused me to cherish even more the few who, despite all odds, remain.

9 02 2011
matt hill

Debi Johnson forwarded me this post. So powerful and all of it so true. No little kid says, “When I grow up, I want to have a deadly disease or addiction.” The sooner we as a global church can start to see “people” instead of “issues” or “problems” the sooner we can actually BE the church. God help us.

thanks for sharing. It was great to meet you last week.

Peace,
Matt

9 02 2011
debi J.

Every person has a story – Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the thief on the cross, Rahab, etc.

11 02 2011
jess

beautiful.

11 02 2011
Mike

Nice post. It must be a tremendous blessing to get to know and minister to the physical and emotional needs of some of the very real people that you’ve described. Do you often have the opportunity to share the gospel with them?

14 02 2011
Mark Lee

Thanks Mike, and to answer your question, I always look for opportunities to share God’s Love and Grace through Christ. Much is done through action, sometimes there is the chance to use words.

15 02 2011
Mike

I appreciate what you’re saying – what a blessing to compassionately care for people. Even more when you use words since without the words there is no gospel message. Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.

13 02 2011
Lynn Nagy

Yes Mark it is so true… the people I see on a daily basis in my office are broken by addiction and mental health issues, or physical, mental, sexual abuse or broken families and seek one person in their life that will accept them for who they are and not condemn them. Everyday I work to instill HOPE in what they see as their hopeless lives. I see people who recently were released from prison, trapped in the jail mentality of survival of the fittest. These people desperately need to be accepted not rejected for being a ‘menance to society’. What joy it brings when I see someone start to believe their is hope for their future. There are people out there who truly care for the lost and broken. I think the greatest work a person can do is bring hope into a life of a broken person. I can’t always discuss God or spiritual concepts becasue of where I work, but I can if the person first opens the door to the topic and then its game on for me!!! ANd the ones who are not open to the gospel well there are ways to bring spiritual truths into any conversation without being offensive or risking my job. I have discovered ways to do this thanks to the Holy Spirit who keeps me sensitive to His voice.
We need more people who truly care and have compassion and empathy. We save lives with the work we do. If we stay open to learning…learning from the ones who sit across from us.
As a victim of sexual abuse I always thought I could never work with an abuser. Well God has a sense of humor…Maybe not the right word maybe a sense of teaching me to be more accpeting of others…but…I have had two clients that are registered sex offenders. I find that I can feel compassion for them in a way that is truly only the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. Their sin offends but their human condition demands my compassion and empathy. They are truly weighed down by the guilt of what they have done and so feel the rejection most bitterly on a daily basis. They can’t find jobs because when someone does a background check they are immediately fired. I keep thinking if Jesus was sitting here in the room with this person what would he do? Condmenation and rejection has never won people to Christ and if it does it is out of a sense of fear of hell and that is not the mercy and grace of Christ. That is what keeps me doing my job…wanting to represent that mercy, grace and inconditional love to others!!

14 02 2011
Mark Lee

Thank you Lynn for this amazing testimony. You truly are the love of God “fleshed out” where you work. If only the church was filled with people like you…

13 02 2011
Mike

That is a very powerful testimony, Lynn. What incredible joy you must have when someone you are serving opens their heart to the gospel and to God’s grace and mercy. I’m sure there is blessing too in serving those who are not so open to it. Thanks so much for sharing that testimony.

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