In the summer of 2023, I’ll be travelling to a rural village in Northern Tanzania called Mugeta. I hope to spend two years teaching in the Mugeta Children’s School. By some standards, it might be considered to be a poor village, but it is rich in love that never fails.
Primary school in Tanzania ends at grade 7. The first time Joash Gambarage wore shoes, he had to borrow them to attend his grade 7 graduation. In 2010, Joash, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia at the time, told his family in Mugeta that he wanted to give back to the village by starting a primary school. His father, who owned 15 acres, told his son to build his school on that land.
Today, the school has 300 students. An 80-bed dormitory ensures that no student walks up to five km to and from school daily. Academically, government testing ranks it as one of the top schools in its District.
Having received his Doctorate in Linguistics, Joash, who is now a lecturer at the University of British Columbia, travels to Mugeta with his wife, Neema and his sons, Jones, and Eli every summer to add to the School and visit his family there. The children of Mugeta follow him everywhere because they recognize love when they see it.
The people of the village support the School to the best of their abilities. While it’s not an Adventist school in the regular sense, Joash and his family are Adventists, the principal is an Adventist from Kenya, and local Adventist pastors send their children there - in fact about 60% of the students are Adventists.
Six to eight Muslim children attend because the school promotes equity in education. It mobilizes educational, linguistic, health and recreational resources for the benefit of all the children in the area, regardless of their gender, religion, or economic background. It advocates for the wellbeing of the community by empowering girls and women.
How does one develop the kind of love that starts a school with a bare piece of land and $300? That convinces a utility company to waive certain fees so that the school can have electricity from the main road about two km away. That convinces a drilling company to dig not one, but two wells in a remote part of Tanzania - one well for the village and one for the school.
How do we develop the kind of love that Joash demonstrates by still calling his wife “darling’?
How do we develop the kind of love that supports a pre-teen son who wants to be baptized but refuses to be baptized until he’s read the Bible from the beginning to the end? Eli’s goal became his family’s goal. They’ll be finished reading by summer and Eli will be baptized in the fall.
How do we develop the kind of love that perseveres in the centre of God’s will?
How do we develop the kind of love that Dr. Joash Gambarage demonstrates daily to those around him? He’s a humble man who’s risen from humble beginnings. Starting out, he didn’t even have shoes! What sustains him? Whatever woundedness he experienced, there is evidence that he exchanged it for love that never fails – the love of his risen Saviour!
Everything about our relationship with God relies on these seven words: God loves us, and we love Him.
The Apostle Paul, a man who persecuted Christians to their deaths, was so changed by Christ’s presence in his life, he wrote 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 which is often referred to as "the love chapter." But there‘s more to it than that. As we know, the writers of the Bible didn’t write in chapters and verses. That came later, so let’s open our Bible to 1 Corinthians, but let’s begin a few verses ahead of chapter 13. We discover something important when we begin to read at 1 Corinthians 12:27.
"Now, you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts.
And yet, I show you a more excellent way.”
What could possibly be better than being an apostle, a prophet, a teacher, a worker of miracles, or any of the other positions Paul mentioned?
And yet, Paul, a highly educated man who understood the value of holding a high position says he’s going to show us a more excellent way than holding a high position! Let’s find out what that more excellent way is!
In 1 Corinthians 13, he wrote:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and although I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
Paul’s more excellent way is to choose to love first. Everything else only matters if it is bathed in love. Desire to be an apostle? Bathe your service in love. Desire to be a prophet, or a teacher, or a worker of miracles? That’s good but bathe your service in love. Whatever position we desire, first consider how we can bathe our service in love.
Love never fails. When I first studied these words, circumstances came to my mind when I truly believed that love had failed me. I was left with the choice to believe what the Bible says, or to choose not to believe that verse. Of course, I can’t pick and choose which verses in the Bible I will believe, because it’s not about choosing verses. It’s about choosing to believe God’s words like Abraham believed God’s words.
As I looked at the people whose love I thought failed me, I realized their words and actions were not consistent with what the Bible says are the words and actions of love.
In Matthew 6:14, we learn that if we forgive others, God will forgive us. I can see that being forgiven and forgiving others are important words and actions related to love that never fails.
In Galatians 5:22,23, we learn that there is no law against the Fruit of the Spirit that is love expressed in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We’ve learned that this Fruit of the Spirit is referring to the character of God. As I studied this, it was becoming clear to me that it wasn’t love that had failed me. It was something masquerading as love; it’s words and actions weren’t consistent with God’s love.
When Jesus was on earth, His disciples recorded His words of love in their writings. Let’s go to John chapter 17. This chapter has been divided into 3 sections: Jesus praying for Himself (verses 1-5); Jesus praying for His Disciples (verses 6-19). The third section is Jesus praying for all believers (verses 20-26).
If you believe John 3:16 – "that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" - then this prayer for all believers is for you.
If you are just one choice away from believing "that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" - and that includes you! - then soon this prayer for all believers will be for you too.
In John 17:20-23, Jesus said:
“I do not pray for these (disciples) alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
And the glory which You gave Me I have given them that they may be one just as We are one. I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
God has told us Himself how much He loves you and me. As I prayed about this, I could see that God’s love has never failed me. Just like Abraham, it’s safe for us to believe God’s words.
But what if love – the kind that never fails - isn’t something you experienced as you were growing up and it isn’t what you are experiencing now?
Hospital records show that I was born on a Saturday at 9 am. There was no joy when I made my entrance into the world because I wasn’t breathing. Fortunately, there was a new pediatrician in the hospital, Dr. Ian Gourley. I know now that God used him to save my life; God preserved my brain from being too long without oxygen and the devastation that would have caused me.
Dr. Gourley had no idea that I was born into a family that didn’t know much about love, but it knew a lot about punishment. Only my siblings and I, and our families are left now. Six siblings – We’re wonderful (if I do say so myself) and wise, funny, and smart in our own ways, but some of us are still dealing with the woundedness that punishment created for us.
I know we’re not alone. As the divorce rate for first marriages hovers around fifty percent, and second marriages higher than that, many children are being wounded. They sometimes suffer things they can’t talk to anyone about. They’ve buried memories of things that happened to them and how they felt about those things, deep inside themselves.
And they’re right – those memories are buried deep inside of them, but those memories aren’t dead and buried – they’re just buried – waiting for something to happen that will draw them to the surface again.
The Apostle Paul wrote: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child."
Let’s look at this. Current documented research says that our brain is not fully formed until some of us turn 25 years old, and the frontal cortex is the last part of our brain to develop. Why is this fact important?
Because the frontal cortex is the part of the brain where things called “executive functions” are located. Included in these executive functions are things like planning, decision making, working memory, personality expression, the ability to moderate social behavior and control certain aspects of speech and language.
Let’s apply this: According to this documented research, when we were a three year old, a ten year old, a thirteen year old, a seventeen year old, a twenty year old, the part of our brain that would help us plan, make good decisions, have a good working memory, positive personality expression, the ability to moderate our social behaviour and control certain aspects of speech and language was not fully developed.
Has someone ever said to you: "Why can’t you remember what I told you to do? Why don’t you plan your time better? We don’t say those words in this house. Stop giggling – it’s irritating. Stop crying. Stop laughing. People aren’t going to like you if you keep doing that! I’m not going to like you if you keep doing that."
We must not use unloving, unkind, words like these or punishment to correct children or teenagers or young adults when they do something that their brain isn’t developed enough to help them stop doing - yet. Why? Because being wounded by words and actions - having our hearts broken - at a young age leads to many difficulties as we become adults.
Pastor Emile Maxi, the Superintendent of Education at the Ontario Seventh-day Adventist Conference, has written a book called, "The Will to Heal: A self-care guide to reflecting, resolving, and embracing our past, present, and future, with clear advice, faith, and expertise." He reveals these difficulties in his introduction.
“ … often the ones who shattered them (our hopes and dreams) are the ones closest to us, the ones we admire the most, the ones we care for the most. Why? Because when the heart loves, it pours out love unreservedly; therefore, when it gives so much and receives nothing or very little in return, it bleeds out tears of pain to relieve itself of the emotional hurts. It may even be scarred for life unless something is done about it.
When the heart is broken, the mind becomes confused. This state of mind-confusion results in the lack of mental clarity, an intellectual fogginess, and an inability to do what the mind was created to do—think positively and act rationally. The heart-and-mind symbiotic relationship is so complex that when one gets hurt, the other feels the pain. When one is sick, the other is sick also.
Therefore, you must heal your heart from emotional pain before you can heal the mind. Life’s disappointments leave us broken, bewildered, and emotionally sick. They leave emotional scars printed on every fiber of our beings and affect us far beyond explanation. They impact our ability to trust, love, be assertive, explore, and live life to its fullest.
These heart-and-mind issues lead to constant emotional pain and unresolved grief, which then leads to anger, unforgiveness, resentment, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and social issues that affect the very foundation of life—our families, our society, and our world …
These unresolved griefs take away our sense of joy and happiness. Since we can’t give what we don’t have, we become unable to contribute to the joy and happiness of others … Our ability to trust, love and care for one another vanishes."
Pastor Maxi’s book is anchored in faith in a loving God. It offers hope and inspiration as well as practical exercises, real-life examples, and personal anecdotes, all designed to show us how to access healing and thrive while pursuing our dreams and aspirations. The book’s title “The Will to Heal” leads us to that all important question, “Do we want to be well?” If your heart is saying “yes”, this book could be for you.
The questions I want us to look at today are: How do we prevent woundedness from happening? And, how do God’s words lead to healing that lasts? Let’s examine some answers.
The relationship between a child, and a parent or other caregiver, can be one of the first relationships to leave us broken, bewildered and emotionally sick.
The term “ecumenicism” describes how two people could have two different opinions and both believe that they are correct. That seems to describe the situation that develops between a parent and a child as the child goes through the stages of growth toward adulthood. The difference here is that, providing the parent is at least 25 years old and the child isn’t, the parent has a mature brain while the child doesn’t.
Justin Whitmel Earley in his 2021 book, "Habits of the Household …Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms", illustrates this very thing in his chapter on Discipline:
"I arrive home at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday. To my delight, at the sound of the knob turning, children begin yelling and scrambling to the door. On this particular day, Shep is the first to appear, bouncing around the corner wearing nothing but a diaper (my first clue to how the evening is going). He is sputtering, “Papa! Papa! Papa!” But all at once, Coulter and Ash come careening around the corner at impressive speeds to overtake Shep’s lead and get there first.
This is one of my favourite parts of the day. Everyone wants to be wanted and I am no exception. But neither are any of those boys and what was supposed to be a moment of reunion for all of us rapidly begins to turn into a battle. Shep is miffed that he didn’t get to me first, but while he tries to squeeze in for a hug, I’m distracted by Coulter’s brandishing a book to show me and Whit’s coming down the stairs and yelling something about a bike ride. Amid this rising cloud of noise, I grab up Shep and smile at him, trying to show him that he has my attention.
That’s when he hauls off and smacks me in the face. Lauren (the author’s wife) who had just appeared on her way to greet me, stops, and covers her mouth, clearly trying to hide her laughter.
I would not call myself a pushover. In my natural, unredeemed state, I’m prone to barking orders, sending people out of the room for small mistakes, and disciplining without counting to three. But Shep was a mere eighteen months old at the time of this particular slap. Surely, I think to myself, he didn’t mean it. He is simply excitable. It was only a mistake.
So, I hold my finger up to Coulter and Ash to wait, and I look at Shep and talk to him in my stern voice. “Sheppard!” (I now say his name like it’s two words.) “Do not hit.” He looks at me, and I see the fullness of humanity staring back. I see the excitement, and the confusion. I see the churning development of the brain. I see the angels and the demons of his nature. I see war and peace and love and rage. I see myself. I see us all. I see a real live human being.
What I do not see is his left hand, as he hauls off and smacks me again. This time harder. As we say, he has done it now. But the question is, what am I going to do?
I know exactly what I want to do in these moments. Whether it is Whit groaning when I ask him to help buckle his brother into the car seat, or Coulter saying “No!” when I tell him he needs to eat a bit of his broccoli, my instinct is usually clear: I want to find a way to control the situation.
What I don’t want is the real work of parenting. I don’t want to stop everything and do the work of understanding the fullness of my child’s humanity, act and speak in an age-relevant way to engage his heart and mind and try to balance the delicate mix of firm authority and gentle compassion that it takes to disciple this child toward love and reconciliation.
I would much rather manage this behaviour in a way that’s convenient for me, and I have a lot of tools that work pretty quickly for that: anger, physical force, sugar bribes, volume, false threats involving counting to three, cold shoulders and more. But all of these are mostly designed for me to regain control of the moment.
Hence the problem: moments of discipline are so hard because there is such a wide gap between what I want and what they need.
What I want is control. What they need is loving, engaged discipline. And discipline is not a tool for controlling behaviour. It is a process of discipling a child’s heart toward the right loves. A tall order for a Tuesday evening at 6:02 p.m. when my face still stings.
But this is the radical job of a parent, to take the ordinary moments of discipline and stitch them into a life of discipleship."
Whatever woundedness Justin Earley experienced, his book is evidence that he exchanged it for the love that never fails – the love of his risen Saviour!
As parents, if we are practicing the "Story of God in everyday family rhythms", there will never be another child who grows up questioning God’s love for them. Every boy and girl will grow up knowing that God’s love will never fail them. Woundedness could disappear.
For those who feel it’s too late – that childhood is almost over, or has come and gone, and they’ve not experienced the love that never fails, the Apostle Paul has more advice for us. This time, we are going to
2 Corinthians 5:17,18:
“… if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation."
How do we understand “if anyone is in Christ”?
In 1 John 4:12,13, we read:
"No one has seen God at any time, (but) if we love one another, God abides (stays, remains) in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit."
Ellen White, in her book Christ’s Object Lessons beginning on page 384, helps us understand this.
"Love is the basis of godliness … no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of Christ in the heart. When self is merged in Christ, love springs forth spontaneously. The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within – when the sunshine of heaven fills the heart and is revealed in the countenance.
It's not possible for the heart in which Christ abides to be destitute of love. If we love God because He first loved us, we shall love all for whom Christ died. We cannot come in touch with divinity without coming in touch with humanity; for in Him who sits upon the throne of the universe, divinity and humanity are combined. Connected with Christ, we are connected with our fellow men by the golden links of the chain of love."
So, we can see that once we’re in Christ, things change for us. First, we’re no longer alone; the Holy Spirit is with us moment by moment.
In Christ, old things can pass away if we don’t hold on to our old ways of thinking and speaking and acting. You see, in Christ, we gain healing.
In Christ, we develop the capacity to replace our old ways with new ways that exhibit the love of God in our words and actions: joy and peace, patience and kindness, goodness and faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
In Christ, we can forgive those whose method of loving failed us, wounded us even. As hard as it may seem, in Christ, we can forgive those who said to us:
“You’ll never amount to anything.”
Those who said, “I’m sorry you were ever born.”
Those who said, “Don’t you dare tell anyone what we did. Something very bad will happen if you do.”
Harder still, in Christ, we can forgive ourselves for the hurt and harm we’ve done to ourselves. God’s love is so big, He has the capacity to forgive the most dreadful, the most painful, the most shameful, the most dangerous sins human beings can inflict on each other and on themselves. In Christ, we truly can be free and emotionally well.
In Christ, all things become new. Now all things are of God because in Christ, we’re reconciled to God. Not only that, when we’re in Christ, we’re shown the way to help others become reconciled to God.
In Christ, we break the cycles of punishment, of every kind of abuse and addiction. In Christ, we learn how to discipline in loving discipleship. In Christ, we find peace for our souls, rest, and comfort and sweet, abiding, pure and tender love.
Does it sound too easy? or too hard? Is it hard to believe, that after weeks and months and maybe years of trying to live with the results of our woundedness, that our pain and loneliness can be replaced by peace that passes all understanding simply by believing that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life?
Does it sound too hard to do all that forgiving, all that letting people off the hook, all that learning how to live differently?
Does it sound impossible to let Jesus come into your broken heart? Is it too much to hope that Jesus can sooth your wounded soul?
The Apostle Paul has a testimony for us. It begins with him telling us about his wounds, some of which are listed in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toils, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches."
We know that eventually, Paul was beheaded because of his unwavering faith in Christ, the risen Saviour. How do we develop the kind of love that Paul is demonstrating here? Despite the beatings and the perils, his focus – what came upon him daily - was his deep concern for all the churches!
Paul’s words and actions exhibit loving discipleship. This is what Jesus meant when He prayed for those who will believe in Him because of the words of His disciples, like Paul.
How did Paul do it? How did he withstand those struggles day after day after day? Let’s let Paul, through his words, disciple us now. He tells us how in ten simple words found in Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
These are ten simple words we must never forget.
Through all the woundedness Paul experienced, the evidence is clear: he exchanged it for the love that never fails – the love of his risen Saviour!
God’s words can change our lives in ways we can’t imagine. He has plans for us, plans to heal us; plans to provide for us; plans to keep our hearts and minds in His perfect peace; plans to give us the desires of our hearts.
What amazing truths are being revealed to us: God loves us and His love never fails - In Christ, we are new creations - we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us – and now let’s add Romans 8:28:
"For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
When I was 16 years old, God placed in my heart the desire to go to Tanzania to live and work among the people. But I was a wounded child who became a wounded adult. It took me years to discover the truth about who God is, and that His love never fails.
I searched down many roads during my lifetime - some of them were good roads - but even after I decided to follow Jesus, there was still something pushing inside me. I didn’t understand what it was until last October (2022) when I was asked by the Canadian Messenger Magazine to interview the High Commissioner of the United Republic of Tanzania for the January 2023 cover story.
While I was fulfilling that assignment something inside me burst open. I knew then that I was going to Tanzania, and I was going to find a school to help.
Being wounded slows us down, but we can’t let it stop us. God must heal us and grow us, yes. We must learn to make decisions based on God’s words, yes. He must fill us with His love so that we can become people who exhibit love that never fails, yes.
It’s why, as wounded children and adults, we need to be surrounded by church members who exhibit love as God loves. It provides us with an environment in which to grow – a loving discipling environment in which it’s safe for us to grow.
My prayer for us is fivefold:
That we won’t be afraid to receive the full measure of pure, tender, love - the love that never fails - that God freely offers to us, and to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength in return.
That we will long to give the pure, tender, love of God – the love that never fails - to our neighbours.
That there will never be another child who suffers from the lack of loving discipleship.
That when God places a desire in your heart to do something, you won’t be wounded – you’ll be ready!
That we will all – young and old - always remember that no matter what we are facing, we will say to ourselves: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
These words are at the heart of what Dr. Joash Gambarage is doing to help the children of Mugeta, Tanzania.
These words are at the heart of everything the Apostle Paul did to spread the Gospel.
These words are at the heart of the books that authors Pastor Maxi and Justin Earley are writing to help us with the challenges we’re facing.
These words can be at the heart of what God is calling you to do: to be a new creation in Christ - to gain healing from your Saviour - to answer the call God has on your life, whatever beautiful, life-enhancing call that is.
As for me, I believe all these words are true. I’ll be 76 years old when I set foot in the village of Mugeta, Tanzania.
My woundedness was deep. God had to help me in many ways to be ready to experience the desires of my heart, but His timing is perfect, and His pure, tender love never fails.
God’s words are true – You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!
When we pray, let’s open our hearts to God’s forgiveness and His healing. Let’s open our hearts to God’s pure, tender, love that never fails. Let's ask for this in Jesus' precious, holy and everlasting name. Amen.