When the U.S. forces occupied Iraq, they learned the importance of living among the people. Switching strategy from occupying bases and then touring the towns, they saw that the only way to effect local change was through integration and interaction. Dialogue and understanding increased as trust was built and as they strategised together for the defeat of a common enemy in the form of Al-Qaeda. Great things are achieved as we prioritise people and choose to love first and lead second, surrendering our own interests for the benefit of those we seek to impact.
Nineteenth century missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, also understood the importance of living among, and like, the people he sought to influence. His humility surrendered any notion of a quick sortie as he learned to genuinely love the people he served, even choosing to dress like them, a radical idea at the time. Speaking in Melbourne in 1890, he was introduced as an ‘illustrious guest’ and corrected this as he stated that he was ‘the humble servant of an illustrious master’! That humility continued to mark Taylor’s life and he likewise influenced his followers. He also shows us today that in voluntarily yielding our ‘rights’ we love first and lead second.
It can seem counter-intuitive to pay the price of time and personal financial ambition to invest into causes that would have us work hard for the betterment of others. Churches, though, are full of people who live as Hudson Taylor-like missionaries whose eternal reward is sufficient gain for the joy of serving a cause bigger than self. And when this is nobly motivated and less about notoriety, achievement and ambition, the one who serves becomes greater anyway; it is as they love first and lead second. As Jesus said, in Mark 10:43, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”!