In Guatemala, as in many Latin American countries, they celebrate Valentine’s Day. However, what is different here, is that besides being a romantic holiday, it’s also a day to celebrate friendship and love for those who are important to you.
In Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, Valentine’s Day is celebrated as el “Día del Amor y la Amistad” or “The Day of Love and Friendship.” In Guatemala and some other countries it is called “Día del Cariño” or “The Day of Caring.” In all these countries it’s common to do something not just for your romantic partner, but also for friends, family, or coworkers, giving them something special like candies, balloons or flowers.
All this focus on love towards others reminded me of the famous “love chapter” in the Bible. While reading it I began to ponder how the things mentioned might apply to me, specifically to my calling as a missionary.
I found in rereading it, some things hit quite close to home for me personally. Paul talks specifically to so many things that are central to my everyday life as a missionary. Day in and day out my literal job is to serve the orphaned, fatherless and vulnerable, yet like anything else I do, if I do not demonstrate the love of God in what I do, it’s effect is muted.
Although it’s been done many times by many different people, here is my own personal adaption of 1 Corinthians 13…for missionaries.
1 If I speak the languages of the people I serve, but have not love, then I am nothing more than a noise in their ears and a sound to be forgotten.
2 If I know so much more than them based on my knowledge, studies and experiences, and though my theology is great enough to make me feel like a spiritual giant, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give up all I have to come be a missionary, say goodbye to family, friends, and career to die or contract sickness in a strange land, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love must be patient in understanding their culture, it must be kind in how it serves. Love does not envy other missionaries or boast when my ministry is doing well; it is not arrogant when it has success.
5 Love is not rude in the way it engages with local culture. It does not insist on serving others in the way it thinks is best; it is not irritable when it doesn’t get its way in ministry or resentful when others do.
6 It does not rejoice when others fail, but rejoices in the truth of God’s word.
7 The true love a missionary has will bear all thing; it will believe the best in people. It places its hope in a sovereign God; it endures through all things, no matter how hard.
8 The love it has for others never ends. As for the plans of the missionary, they will cease, as for their spiritual gifts, they will fail at times, as for the great knowledge they have, it also shall pass away.
9 For a missionary knows only part of all things.
10 But when Christ is come again, only then will his knowledge be complete.
11 When I was a new missionary, I spoke as a new missionary, I thought like a new missionary, I reasoned like a new missionary, but when I gained maturity in ministry, I gave less importance to how I thought things should be done.
12 As missionaries we see those we serve dimly, but with time, we will come to know them face to face. At the beginning we know only part of what it means to serve, but with time we can come to know them more fully, though never as well as Christ knows us.
13 So now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
It’s an imperfect adaption, as any adaption of already perfect scripture will be. But for me, it drives home like a knife to my heart.
I have worked hard at a great many good things in my 16 years as a missionary, yet if I am to be honest with myself and with you, I have to admit that at times my works have lacked in love. Not so much to those I serve, but to those I worked with and with others I saw attempting to serve.
My intentions have been good, yet like Cain, I offered up my works and fruits of my labors to God, while failing to realize that the lack of love in my heart at times diminished my offerings.
The longer I spend in ministry and the closer I walk with God, the more I become aware of my faults and failings in all the things I do.
Perhaps that is part of our journey to God. The better we truly understand His righteousness, the greater we understand our own sins, and the more we realize our need for His saving grace through Jesus’s death on the cross.
Jesus clearly said to His disciples in John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It was one of the defining traits that led to the remarkable growth of Christianity in the centuries following Jesus’s crucifixion.
So if the early church clearly understood this as they spread the Gospel, why is it so hard for us to grasp today?
I know for me it’s often times my drive to serve that gets in the way. I forget that God didn’t just call me to serve orphans and vulnerable kids, He called me to serve everyone He puts in my path. A hug, a smile, a prayer, a friendly conversation with those whom I engage; to paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge “Mankind is my ministry”.
Much like the Levite and Priest in the parable Jesus told about “The Good Samaritan,” I can get so caught up in one particular aspect of my ministry, that I forget that is it not just important who I serve, or how I serve, but that I serve with love.
Thinking, meditating and then putting into writing these things has not been easy, but I find that the mere act of putting pen to paper gives life to my thoughts in a far more meaningful way than merely thinking. Taking the time to not just think these things through, but to articulate them in an understandable fashion, and then to share them with you, in some way makes my admissions more real, and makes me more accountable, not just to myself, but to you and to God.
I ask that you keep me in your prayers as I continue to do the work that God has called of me, with the love that He desires of me.
I pray that one day I may be known as a follower of Christ, by the metric that He Himself deemed most valuable; my love for others.
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About Tim and Sharie Martiny.
We are missionaries in Guatemala with our six children, Julia-now is college- (19), Audrey (16), Vanessa (14) Jessica (12), Alex (10) and Alison (8). We both come from missionary families and were raised overseas, Timothy in Europe, and Sharie in South East Asia and Mexico.
We work primarily in orphan care and prevention. The Biblical call in James 1:27 to care for the orphaned and vulnerable is our calling. Our ministry works with vulnerable children and their families in their communities through programs we run at two community centers in Colina Santa Fe and San Jose Pinula.