What Love is This?

I have been in Uganda a little over two months now. As the weeks go by it is slowly starting to feel more and more like home. I had the privilege of celebrating Easter here this past weekend and it was the first of many holidays I will celebrate on the other side of the world. It was a wonderful day spent in fellowship and worship with both new Ugandan and American friends. Easter is always one of my favorite times of year, and before coming here I was so excited to get to experience it in another culture. It is the culmination of the Gospel; everything we have ever hoped and longed for is found in the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. At its core Easter is simply about love. But not just any kind of love; love in its purest and rarest form.

Before coming to Uganda, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it meant to love another human being. I thought I knew what selfless, fierce, unconditional, sacrificial love was supposed to look like. Now that I have spent two months here, I realize I have no idea how to really love someone. In my time here so far, I have discovered love like nothing I have ever seen before. A love that begins to touch the very heart of God. Every day in some way or another, I have witnessed the love that we celebrate every Easter. There are so many moments of light I have experienced in my short time here that a part of me is already sad knowing that at the end of this year I will have to leave this love. But, we will try not to think about that right now. For now, I just want to experience this love as much as I can in hopes that when I leave I can love others like my friends here love.

I have often wondered how people here love so much. Life is so much more fragile in Northern Uganda. War raged for years here. People were uprooted; they lost their lives, loved ones, and land: everything. People sometimes lose children; loved ones get sick and sadly do not make it. Car accidents take the lives of many. The people here are so well acquainted with loss. Yet they love abundantly, overwhelmingly, and warmly to everyone they come in contact with.

I have learned that because life is so much more fragile here, it is all the more precious. The funny thing is, you would think that when sickness and death are more common, you might be less likely to give love freely because you are afraid to lose all that you love. But the fragileness of life has had the opposite effect. Instead of loving less they love God and each other even more fiercely, more sacrificially, and more freely than anything I have ever experienced in the US. Ugandan culture, and African culture in general, are much more relational. The way you treat others and the time you spend with them matter much more here than in the western part of the world. Relationships mean everything, and are put above everything else. Growing up in a culture like this, it is no wonder that people here seem to know a little more about what it really means to love.

They truly exhibit agape love. The kind of love that gives and expects nothing in return. That denies oneself for the sake of another. It loves even the most unlovable and never thinks twice about it, because it only sees the heart and nothing else. It’s the same kind of love that would allow its perfect self to be nailed to a tree to save even those that would reject its sacrificial love. The kind of love that we should all be seeking as followers of Christ. There are so many moments of this love I have witnessed, I could not even begin to tell you them all, but for now here are just a few of these moments:

It’s a love that charges boldly ahead, taking on powerful men who think they can take advantage of the powerless despite the danger it brings to yourself; a love that acts no matter the consequences.

It’s dropping everything you’re working on and piling into a van with your song books to visit a friend who just lost a loved one, because when one grieves; you all grieve.

It’s going away for a weekend only to be greeted in the office when you return as if you have been away for a year, and life is now complete once again only because you are back.

It’s coming to the office sick and being chastised (in the most caring way) because you should be at home resting and getting well.

It’s inviting your friends over for dinner so they can meet your children, working all day to prepare a traditional meal for them, then calling when they get home to make sure they arrived safely. Not only did you open your home to them, but your heart as well.

Since being here, I have had quite a few friends ask me what my hopes and dreams are in life. At first I would respond with the typical answers most would give: I want a family one day, to have a job that makes a difference even if it’s only in one person’s life, to be a better person every morning when I wake up than when I went to bed the night before. But as my time here goes by, I think more about that question. Yes, I still want all those things. But now I realize that what I truly want in life is to be able to love others with a fraction of the love that hung Jesus on the cross. To be so full of love for God that it just flows out of me covering anyone within reach. To inspire others to love like I want to love.

The love I have received from our office staff and others I have met here continuously encourages me. My heart has been challenged in new ways to love more abundantly and selflessly every day, and I know it will continue to be challenged the longer I live here. It truly is a beautiful thing to be in the presence of a love that resembles the sacrificial, selfless, unconditional love God demands of us. I have begun to look at love in a new way and I hope to continue to be inspired to give this love that has been so freely given to me long after I leave here.

In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis illustrates beautifully the love I have witnessed in Uganda. Towards the end of the book, a parade in heaven emerges with a beautiful woman clothed in light at its center. You might think this woman was someone famous on earth, but fame on earth and fame in heaven are two very different things. She was ordinary on earth, just Sarah Smith from Golders Green, but she is great in heaven because of the love she exhibited to all the people that now parade around her. She gave them love that made them better people, that inspired them to love others more. When her husband tries to convince her to leave heaven she simply replies, “I am in love and out of it I will not go.” Sarah Smith loved like our office staff loves, and I want to love like them. She said it best, I may have to leave Uganda in December, but you can be sure I will not go out of this love I have found here. I will take it with me and give it where ever I go until the day I stand before God.

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