What a privilege to hear Diane Lovell, our mission partner in South Africa, share at our April 2018 Women’s Breakfast!

Diane Lovell CMS Mission Partner Cape Town, South Africa. Noosa Women’s Breakfast

Introduction

Hi, I’m Diane.

It’s really great to be with you this morning, and thanks for having me this morning. As many of you know, I’m a mission partner with the church here in Noosa, and so most of the time you can find me working amongst the ladies’ community at a Bible college in Cape Town. I wear various other hats as well. I’m a wife to Nathan, and a mother to my daughter Shiri and my son Isaac. And I’ve also worked as a Bible translation consultant in Zambia and South Africa.

But I’ve been asked to speak this morning on the topic of love, and particularly what it means to love people who are really different than us.

That’s an interesting topic to talk about. In some ways, I feel really well qualified. There are 11 different national languages in South Africa, and 11 different cultures to go along with them. And the college where I work is also multi-national. At the moment there are 15 different countries represented amongst the students at the College. So, in many ways, the place where I live is a big melting pot of culture: and my life is constantly meeting people who are really different than I am. So my job gives me plenty of opportunities to love people who are different to me.

But that doesn’t mean I always do it well. To be honest, in other ways, I feel really unqualified. Like you, I’m a pretty ordinary person, and I struggle sometimes to even love my own children, let alone all the people around me who do unexplainable stuff all the time and make decisions I wouldn’t, and who I just don’t get. (Actually, that sounds a little like my children.) As I’m sure you know, love can be hard. And that’s even more true amongst people who are different than us.

But this is the funny thing about the church—and this is really the big idea of today’s talk. My goal is really quite simple. I want to give you a picture of the church that includes loving people who are different than us.

When Jesus knew that his death was getting closer, and he was going to have to leave his disciples, one of the very first things he said to them was this:

John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Now this is Jesus’ instructions to his own disciples, his own people. God’s people are to be characterised by love for each other. But more than that.

When God’s church is working well, when it’s at its very best, it will be full of people who are really different from us. They will like different things, be different ages, have different political opinions, wear different kinds of clothes, have different skin colours, and speak different languages. Some will have more money. Some will have less.

In the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, it gives a picture of what God’s people will be like one day. It tells us that in the end, God’s people will come from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. In other words, it will be full of people who are really different than us.

This is what the church God is constructing now looks like as well. It’s a huge part of being a Christian. What does it mean to love, not just our friends and people we get along really easily with, but others who we don’t?

I have three thoughts that I wanted to share this morning.

1. Loving people who are different from us means overcoming awkwardness, finding connections, and building bridges.

Have you ever noticed that friendships are built on things in common? If you think of your best friend then you’re probably thinking of someone that you’ve spent a huge amount of time with: there is something about them that makes them enjoyable and fun to be with.

When I first moved to South Africa, I didn’t have anyone like that. And it was really hard to find people like that. Even the people that spoke English sounded strange to me. They said ‘bakkie’ for ‘ute’, ‘robots’ for ‘traffic lights’, ‘Howzit’ for ‘hello’ and ‘now now’ for ‘immediately’. So if you’re driving your bakkie and your bra calls your cellphone, and says “Howzit, just keep going through three robots, round a circle, and then I’ll see you just now…” it means you’re driving your ute and your mate calls your mobile and says “G’day, just keep going through three traffic lights, through a round about, and I’ll see you in a minute…” There’s a huge amount of stuff like this. My husband still gets stumped when he says to someone “Hello” and they say back “I’m fine thanks, how are you?”

At one level, this kind of language issues are really trivial, but they illustrate a point. Some people you’re going to be able to build instant connections with. I met a lady a church in Sydney who has the same watch as me and the matching bracelet. And our husbands had both given them to us as presents on special graduation days. Then we found out that we were both from Bundaberg. For me, that’s like, instant friends.

But lots of people aren’t like that. And actually…. when you stop and think about it, most people aren’t like that. Are they?

It’s such a blessing when we find someone we click with. We will always have those special people. That’s a wonderful blessing from God. But most people aren’t like that. And you don’t need to go to South Africa to realise that.

We need to actively look for ways to connect with people.

One of the most awkward evenings I think I have ever had was the occasion when we decided to invite all of the Zimbabwean students at the college around to our house for dinner. There were about 10 of them at the time. They all turned up late, dinner was slightly overdone and we were afraid they wouldn’t like it. And we were right. We didn’t have any pap cooked, but they wouldn’t eat without pap (it’s like mashed potato but made from miele-meal). So it took even longer to cook that.

Conversation was stilted for the whole night. We ran out of things in common in about the first 5 minutes. Nathan was searching for something to spark conversation and asked one of them what church he went to, and he replied back, “your church.” It was all terribly awkward. Later on in the evening I brought out some dessert, but none of them wanted any. We only found out later that they wouldn’t be used to having something sweet after a main meal.

The night fell pretty flat. Everything went wrong.

But one thing went right, and it’s not that complicated. We tried. Even the simple act of having them in our home impressed them, and they warmed in a significant and noticeable way to both Nathan and me over the next few weeks. Nathan and I have warm relationships now with most of those students, and even the ones who have left college and gone back to Zimbabwe often keep in touch.

It turns out there was a cost involved in building a real relationship. It cost us a night of awkwardness, and a whole bunch of people that we didn’t know and didn’t understand sitting in our lounge room. After all, if Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, we should be able to handle a lounge room full of Zimbabweans. Would that be a cost you would be willing to pay?

Loving people who are different from us means overcoming awkwardness, finding connections, and building bridges.

2. Loving people who are different from us means overcoming what’s strange, understanding what’s offensive, and forgiving what’s wrong.

I mentioned that at the college where I work, there are lots of different nationalities, and lots of different customs. If you have any experience working with people from different cultural backgrounds, then you can imagine, the new intake of students, every year, brings a whole new opportunity for offence and misunderstanding.

There are a lot of issues that have to be overcome if the college is going to be characterised as a community of disciples who love one another.

One of the most frequent things that goes wrong between students is cultural taboos to do with the way women should dress. For so

me of the students at college, women dress much like they do here in Noosa – strappy singlets and flip-flops. (You can’t call them thongs in South Africa, by the way.) Other students come from places where women aren’t supposed to show their bare shoulders, while others come from places where their entire top half can be naked and that’s perfectly fine because for them it’s your knees that are your sexy bits.

How should we solve this problem?

I’ll tell you what doesn’t work. The first thing a lot of people from Australia think, is that its no-one else business how I dress. Everyone should have the right to dress however they want because its their body.

But what kind of community would that build if we did that?

If everybody asserts and protects their right to do whatever they want, then we all learn to tolerate each other’s differences. And it drives us apart from each other. I don’t have to understand why others are different from me, I don’t need to engage with their differences. I don’t need to do anything at all really. Just, put up with them.

But it’s interesting that when the Apostle Paul comes across the issue of rights in the Corinthian church, he gives the opposite command ment. Some of them are saying, “Don’t I have the right to do this or that?” And Paul says “Be careful that the exercise of your rights doesn’t become a stumbling block to others.” (1 Cor 8)

Actually, our response should be the opposite. We need to begin with engagement of people who are different: understanding why they do the things that they do. This is true even when we are offended. Because you can’t love someone that you tolerate. Understanding leads to love.

And in many cases, its going to require much more than understanding by itself. Often, it’s going to mean forgiveness.

No-one knows this better than the South African church. In the shadow of political apartheid, trying to build a church where people of different skin colours can worship alongside one another, and love one another means in many cases, an incredible act of forgiveness and grace needs to happen first.

And that brings me to my last point.

1. Loving

people who are different from us means overcoming awkwardness, finding connections, and building bridges.
2. Loving people who are different from us means overcoming what’s strange, understanding what’s offensive, and forgiving what’s wrong.

and…

3. Loving people who are different from us means God loved us first.

You can talk about loving others all you want, and many people do. But its really hard. And there are many obstacles that prevent it. People love family. People love friends. People love people like them. But loving people who are really different from us—that’s something else.

It requires intentionality. It requires hard work. It requires a willingness to change. It requires a willingness to say sorry when we do something wrong. It requires humility. And it requires patience.

And in all my life I’ve only seen it work in one place. It works when people follow a saviour, who was different from us, but put aside his greatness, and joined us, became one of us, humbled himself because he loved us, ate with tax collectors and sinners, and lay down his life for us.

Loving people who are different from us means God loved us first.

You know, if you’re not a Christian but you’ve come along today—firstly, you’re very welcome, thanks for coming along—but also I realise it might be possible for you to have heard me saying that Christians are somehow better at loving people than everyone else. But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

It’s this:

Christians follow Jesus because he loved us first. Before we knew him. Before we wanted him. Before we even were looking for him. He came from heaven, and clothed himself in weakness, and died on a cross, out of love. He did it while we were his enemies. He loved us.

In the end its not about us or how well we love. It’s about how much we were loved. Jesus died for me, to bring me to God. And he did it fo

r you too. I want you to know that. If you’re not a Christian, then Jesus loves you, and died for you. And no matter what you’ve done, or what guilt, or burden, or loneliness you might be carrying around, Jesus will take you if you come to him.

That’s what we Christians are. We’re broken people who were loved first. And because of that, the church, when we’re at our best, are characterised by that same love.

When God’s church is working well, when it’s at its very best, it will be full of people who are really different from us. They will like different things, be different ages, have different political opinions, wear different kinds of clothes, have different skin colours, and speak different languages. Some will have more money. Some will have less.

But they’ll love one another.

John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Let me pray: God, thank you for loving us. Thank you for showing us what love is. Please help us to respond to your love. Please help us to love you and please help us to love those around us, especially those who are so different from us that we struggle to know how to show them love. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

21st April 2018