I write as a taxi whisks me to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport through a blissfully cool, rain-kissed evening. Before me lie 36 hours of travelling—behind, a trove of memories, adventures and truths I cannot afford to forget.
Exactly eight weeks ago, I hopped out of a Boeing jet, wide-eyed with excitement over this two-month opportunity to intern with OM as a journalist. Since that day, I’ve bounced over dirt roads in rural Indonesia, lost my way in a mall in Malaysia, tossed a frisbee with university students in Singapore, celebrated a baptism in an inflatable kiddy pool in Laos and drifted down the Mekong River at sunset in Cambodia. I’ve laughed, cried and gobbled down far more banana Roti than I should have.
But, as much as I cherish these experiences, they form only a sliver of the story of these past two months; ultimately, it’s not the food or the adventure but the people who I will remember most fondly: ordinary individuals whose hearts bubble over with the love of Jesus.
People like a young woman who helps at an after-school tutoring center for Muslim children in the slums. Or a top finance graduate who gave up a life of privilege to care for the hurting and broken in the red-light district. A couple who teaches impoverished migrant children the priceless lessons of dignity. A woman returning to serve the village that threatened to murder her father. These stories will remain with me as I return to the U.S.—and not just in the crinkled pages of my yellow reporter’s notebook.
Listening to their testimonies, I’ve begun to envision their stories as a collection of clues, a series of scenes revealing the fingerprints of something—or Someone—beyond our deepest imagination. The people I talked with hail from a variety of backgrounds—atheist German to Cambodian Buddhist—but the tapestries of their lives reveal the same beautiful threads, pointing unmistakably to a Designer.
The ordinariness of these OM workers surprised me. Most of them do not come from the high echelons of society, and the ones who do don’t really seem to care about society’s qualifications. These people showed me that God invites each of us, no matter how unassuming our background or abilities, to join Him in His grand purpose of bringing the world back to Himself. Dare I say, He even delights to use ordinary people, because it’s through our weaknesses, foibles and rawness that He shows His strength.
Their stories remind me of the people God involved in His redemptive plan throughout the Bible—timid Moses, bereft Naomi and shepherd-boy David. Even the Son of God chose to come into the world, not in a Roman palace or a devout Pharisee’s household, but in the grimy manger of an overcrowded inn.
And, when He eventually assembled the people who would continue His mission, He didn’t settle on a hotshot team of lawyers, politicians and businessmen—the people of influence I would have picked. Instead, He worked through a band of misfits to change the world.
Besides their ordinariness, the people I interviewed this summer shared a willingness to say ‘yes’ to God’s call, a call not fundamentally to do but to be, not to earn but to embrace, not to become better versions of the old but to be born by the Spirit into new creations. Captivated by the love of Jesus, they are compelled to share that love to anyone and everyone around them, and they do so far from the spotlight, without seeking thanks or praise in return.
Big-hearted, costly, audacious—this is a love that demands a response from all who feel its touch, myself included. I resonate all too well with the lure of worldly success: to simply strive for popularity, a luxurious salary and a position of influence. I feel the urge to jam a pair of AirPods in my ears and always hold the brokenness of the world at arm’s length. But then I hear the voices and see the faces, beautiful faces, of those who have shared their vision with me this summer. They are, to borrow the words of the writer of Hebrews, a great cloud of witnesses encouraging me to continue running this race for Christ, a race that’s sacrificial, risky and foolishness to the world, but, at the end of the day, the only race truly worth running.
As I return to the U.S. and begin four years of university, I know these voices will continue inspiring me to follow a pattern that grates against everything the world embodies—the pattern of Christ.
Lose your life to find it. Give of yourself to receive. Die so that you may truly live. Love in such a way that others will see and marvel, noting as the Pharisees did when they came away confounded by the apostles of old: “They had been with Jesus.”