Break my heart for what breaks yours.
When I was sixteen years old, this was my daily prayer. It was the year my hunger for Jesus ignited, the year I ached to know Him on a deeper level. Although He took a while to begin to answer me, the Lord transformed my life and understanding of Him, and I’m writing this post to tell you how.
This summer I spent six weeks in Africa. The first three I worked for When the Saints in Mponela, Malawi - a non-profit whose heart is to offer healing and new life through Jesus to those enslaved by sexual exploitation. They aim to set both the oppressed and the oppressor free, a radical, Christ-centered mission. The second three I spent in Mozambique, working as The Mozambique Initiative’s intern to collect stories and photograph members of the covenant partnership that forms the core of this ministry.
When I landed in Mozambique, my heart was filled with the love from the people I had the privilege of working with in Malawi. I anxiously anticipated reuniting with Ezy - MI’s Mozambique representative, and couldn’t keep a smile off my face as we caught up on the drive back to a hotel, my destination for the night.
A day and a half later we headed to the first church on our schedule. Officially on my own, my nerves rattled with every bump of the pickup truck. My pale skin shined a little brighter in the sunlight and my twenty-one years of age seemed accentuated by the bright yellow college t-shirt I wore. Could I really do this?
Soon we came upon Bethel UMC, a thriving congregation that meets inside a building formed out of zinc sheets, inside of a larger, permanent brick chapel under construction. The local members raised funds and began construction for the new chapel entirely on their own.
A group of people waited outside for us, and they warmly welcomed Ezy and I with handshakes and hugs. I entered the church and was quickly directed toward a seat in the front. It was 8:30 in the morning, and the building appeared empty. Believing it was going to be a smaller service, I settled in. Voices from outside trickled in - I saw a group formulating through the glassless barred windows, who then began the procession into the church with vibrant song and dance, slowly filling in all the rows of benches that lay empty minutes before.
It was my first Mozambican church service, and I embraced every second of it - the six hours of song, dance, and preaching feeling only like two. I heard the congregation sing “Happy Birthday” to one of its members, I listened to multiple, beautiful solos, and I introduced myself. The last hour I interviewed and photographed the pastor and three members of the church, and it was then the Lord began to expand my understanding of the remarkable faith of our Mozambican brothers and sisters.
Throughout the next two weeks, I heard stories about men who led and provided for their families at the age of thirteen; leaders told me of their firm belief in the Lord’s provision to not only supply a secure worship structure, but also to provide basic needs such as food and clean water for their congregation. I met mothers who cooked, cleaned, and worked for their entire household, their husbands passed or living in another city with a new family. I spent a day with the most grateful and joyous teenagers whose parents passed away from HIV, I interviewed churches who sat on cinder blocks every Sunday, the sun shining directly on them just to hear the word of the Lord. Church after church, person after person, my own poverty became increasingly apparent.
In America the ease of autonomous lives distracts us. We forget to talk with God unless we need something from Him. We pursue success, power, and popularity over an intimate relationship with Jesus. We don’t see the immediate need for Him because overall, most of our basic needs are supplied for. Depending on the Lord for our next meal is unfathomable to us, faithfully serving the Lord while a sixteen-year, brash and violent civil war wages around us is impossible to even imagine.
The more churches I visited, the more the Lord began to show me something if, I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t expect God to teach me in Africa.
What breaks Jesus’ heart isn’t simply the material needs and deep levels of poverty that persist across the world. It isn’t just corrupt governments, evil government leaders, societies devoid of the Gospel. It’s also the way we knowingly turn away from Him, depending only on ourselves; giving Jesus all of our second thoughts, but never our firsts. It’s believing the stories the digital and social media websites tell us on a daily basis. It’s conforming to the materialism, the idolization of success, speed, and compartmentalization that twists its way into so many hearts today.
In Africa I saw gut wrenching sights - dirty, hungry children; women prostituting themselves to put food on their families’ tables; hospitals without the capacity to provide something as simple to America as clean laundry and sterilized medical equipment.
But I also saw how the people in Malawi and Mozambique have a relationship with Jesus I’m not sure I will ever have. They understand what it means to hold nothing back from the Lord, and I witnessed the difference that makes in humility, in trust, and the way they love and serve one another. I saw their unashamed, unreserved praise to our Father, the intimate bond that shone through passionate song, dance, and prayer.
And I realized it isn’t simply the unjust environments and institutions breaking the Lord’s heart, but it is likewise, and perhaps even more so, the apathetic, pacified Christians that devastates Him.
You see, I never felt despondent in Africa. There were moments I became overwhelmed by the intense need of many situations, but overall, what comes to mind when I look back is laughter, dancing, singing, and exceedingly abundant hope and joy. When I came back to America I saw mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted individuals running themselves ragged for their jobs, for the ideal physique, for the ostensible image of a perfect life. I became discouraged. For I now knew the better story - the secret that our culture never seems to uncover or understand - that giving up our idols, our complaining and gossipy habits, and our self-dependency reaps greater stability, joy, and peace than we could ever imagine.
I think part of me knew this before I left America, teachings I sat in had emphasized the Lord’s disgust with America’s characteristic indifference, but those sermons never fully pierced my inner being. I didn’t embrace it, didn’t own it yet. I didn’t understand or believe it impacted our Father’s being.
Five years ago I asked Jesus to show me what breaks His heart. Five years and three countries later, and I think I’ve begun to find out.