It is amazing to see God change so many lives in one short week. I didn’t have a lot of expectations going into the Ireland mission trip but even my highest expectations were exceeded by God’s plan for our time in Dublin. I am now back in the States and still processing everything that happened in Ireland. Although I posted a few quick blog entries during the trip, I didn’t have the time to share deeply with you.
On Monday morning, we met Doug. He is a 46-year old recovering heroin addict who is HIV-positive. Doug is struggling to break his addiction to heroin. After many years of prayer and counseling by Christian family members, he recently professed faith in Jesus Christ. We also met Doug’s brother, Jonathan, who lives with him in the apartment and who is also addicted to heroin. Jonathan is not a Christian. Our task was to clean and renovate the apartment (i.e. flat)—to transform it into a place that Doug is proud to claim as his own.
As I walked into the flat on Monday, I was struck by many things: the mess, the smells, the darkness, the amount of work to be accomplished. However, I was also struck by Doug’s openness and honesty with us. He did not hide his struggles from us. And although he did not understand it, he was so grateful for our willingness to help him. His fragility overwhelmed me. Looking back, I see God’s hand gently guiding us into Doug’s life. Our team jumped right into the project with energy and determination. We surrounded Doug with love and laughter.
By our second day at the flat, we felt more comfortable there. In addition to the progress made on the renovation, God had given us an overwhelming compassion for Doug and Jonathan. In particular, my heart was breaking for Doug. I asked God to give me a specific way to connect with him.
I had never mentioned to Doug that I’m an aspiring writer. However, Doug approached me that day and wanted to share his journals with me. I stopped cleaning and sat down with him. The more I encouraged him (because his writing really was phenomenal—from the heart and so real), I watched him become more animated and alive. I realized that God was giving me a connection with Doug. I mentioned to him that I am attempting to write a book. His face lit up and he pulled me over to his computer. He had started writing a book and asked me to read the first few pages and give him feedback. As I read the words aloud with Doug expectantly crouched by my side, my eyes filled with tears. The story he wrote was amazing; I told him that God had given him a gift. I was able to encourage him to continue telling his story through the written word. Later that day, the initial connection we made led to another conversation. I don’t remember the exact words, but I was able to share with him that his sins are no worse or bigger than my sins. We are all sinners and we all need Jesus. However, God loves us unconditionally. He seemed skeptical, but I trust that God is nurturing the truth in his heart.
Wednesday was our final day at Doug’s flat. We brought light and laughter to Doug’s apartment; we tried to show Doug through our words and actions that God loves him unconditionally. Then on Wednesday morning, Doug gave us an unexpected gift. He led us in worship. As we gathered in a circle to pray just like every morning at the apartment, Doug said that he wanted to play us a song. He went over to his computer and played Hillsong’s worship song, Power of Your Love. We stood in a circle and worshipped God together—with Doug leading us. Whenever I hear these lyrics in the future, I will immediately be back in that apartment at that moment:
Hold me close
Let your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love
(Lyrics by: Darlene Zschech)
During our three days at the flat, the transformation was astounding. Twelve people performing a labor of love changed the apartment into a new place. It took a lot of hard work: hauling loads to the dumpster, sanding down and refinishing furniture, scrubbing tile, washing baseboards, moving furniture, removing carpet, replacing carpet, painting, and so on.
What a beautiful picture of how God works in our hearts. He knocks on the door of our “apartment”. We let him in to see all of the messy parts—to shine light on the dark corners, to expose the things that we have kept hidden so well from everyone. He performs a labor of love—never judging—just cleaning and sanctifying all the parts of which we are so ashamed. He doesn’t ask for anything in return; it is a gift. And that place is now changed forever—by the power of his love.