In this age of Facebook, cell phones and Skype, it's easy to stay connected to the people and causes we like. But how many of us actively connect with organizations we don't like or with people who don't like us?
Reaching across those boundaries is part of the mission of the Salam Medical Center, near Cairo, Egypt. Dr. Freddy Elbaiady, director of the clinic, spoke about Jesus' call to love our enemies July 27 at the New Wilmington Mission Conference, held at Westminster College this week.
Founded in 1996, the Salam Medical Center provides health care to some of Egypt's poorest people while working to ease the tensions between religious groups, including Christians and Muslims.
Jesus calls us to love our enemies, but while we are okay with not exacting revenge on them, we find it harder to reach out to them in love, Elbaiady said. Speaking from John 4:4-30, in which Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for a drink and then tells her about living water, Elbaiady outlined some erroneous ways of thinking when faced with those who are different.
For instance, he said, we often focus on our own needs instead of those of others. Jesus was on a journey and was thirsty, but instead of pressing the woman for a drink, he talked to her about her needs.
Another wrong thought strategy is to make false interpretations of people's motivations, Elbaiady said. Instead of writing the Samaritan woman off as crazy or hopeless, Jesus realized that she was ignorant and thirsty for living water.
We also focus on the negative when dealing with strangers or new experiences, he continued. The Samaritan woman had been married five times, and when Jesus asked her about her husband, she said she didn't have one. Instead of berating her for having been divorced five times, Jesus acknowledged that she told part of the truth.
When the Salam Medical Center was getting started, many people thought its mission was impossible. They thought the problems of religious tension and poor health care were too big to take on. But the center's directors ignored the negativity and last year the center treated more than 30,000 patients, Elbaiady said.
"When we focus on what we do have, we can do much," he said.
Another wrong strategy is to treat love as only an emotional expression, Elbaiady said. While expressing love through emotions isn’t bad, this isn’t the only way to show love — we must also act in love.
He told a story about a 5-year-old girl who asked her mother if God is bigger than the world. The mother said that that is true. The girl then asked if it’s true that God also lives in us. The mother answered that this is also true.
"So if God is big and is in us, shouldn't God show through?" the girl asked.
That idea is especially true in Egypt, where Christians cannot speak publicly about their faith, Elbaiady said.
"We are not allowed to speak about our faith, so we have to live it," he said. "I pray that you use the freedom you have … to show love, not only through expression but through actions."