“The kingdom of God is the structure of reality. . . It is the church’s purpose to keep this threatened, difficult-to-believe kingdom of God constantly before people’s eyes.”
When he graduated from college, John Meinen was a Zen Buddhist with a heart for serving the poor. A “poster child for postmodern relativism,” John believed that morality is culturally conditioned, that people are inherently good, and the world is an illusion. Then he went to Bangladesh.
“The beggars pulling on my clothes were no illusion,” John says. After four months of studying how microenterprise might help the poor, he left Bangladesh shaken. He had seen too many oppressed people oppressing one another to believe that people are inherently good. His youthful optimism was gone: “When I left Bangladesh, Dhaka was under siege. Jostled in the backseat of a rickshaw on my way to the airport, I saw cars being smashed, people being bloodied, and smoke billowing on the horizon. My heart was broken. My head was spinning. My world was falling apart.”
A few months later, John was in Nairobi. Unemployed with little to do, he had accepted an invitation to work with a sports outreach organization. One day he was following his guide, a poor local man. They came upon a small child rummaging in the trash. John’s guide suddenly scooped up the homeless boy and held him, speaking gently to him.
Time out, John thought. Why would this man, who is suffering himself, pick up this child and enter into a world of even more suffering? How does someone do that? Why would someone do that? The selfless love this man showed was an affront to John’s conscience.
So John asked him why he had reached out to help the child. The man said, “I love Jesus.”
“I’m not proud to say it, but I kind of laughed,” John says. “I thought it was a trite answer. You love Jesus? Give me a break.” But in that village John witnessed many tangible acts of love: impoverished women praying for their neighbors, people in the slums serving and loving one another, and men and women with insufficient resources sharing the little they had with one another.
When he saw these deeds of mercy, John wanted to know more about the motivation behind them. He asked people, “Why do you do that? What enables you to love like that?” Again and again, their reply was “I love Jesus.” John says, “I realized I didn’t know who Jesus was, but I had to meet Him.”
John and Jesus did meet. They now know one another well, because the all-powerful God of the universe revealed Himself to one young man on the streets of Bangladesh and in the slums of Africa. John saw love in transformed people, and then met the Source of that love. Today as an ordained campus minister at the University of Vermont, John tells college students about that Source.
Two thousand years ago, another man named John wrote about other-centered love and how it testifies to God’s existence: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).
The invisible God continues to reveal Himself to people today in very visible ways. When God’s children pour out love and compassion into the lives of hurting and broken people, we declare, “Yes! There is a God! Despite all the data to the contrary in this broken world, there really is a Rescuer in heaven, and He cares about your suffering, your sadness, and your soul.”
—This is an excerpt from Tangible: Making God Known through Deeds of Mercy and Words of Truth, pages 15-17.