Choose Love and Service
Q. What person has influenced you most in life?
No one has had a deeper influence on my life than Dr. Paul Brand. A British orthopedic surgeon, he worked for many years in India and then moved to the U.S. He died in 2003 at the age of 89. In India he improvised treatment for leprosy patients, many of them Untouchables who had been kicked—literally by a foot—out of their homes and villages, and found their way to the one hospital in the entire world where an orthopedic surgeon was devising ways of refashioning their hands and feet. Twelve million leprosy patients in the world, and at the time only one orthopedic surgeon was working with them. The example of this distinguished British surgeon from University College in London working among the lowest of the low captured for me a picture of the incarnation, and the “downward mobility” that all of us followers of Jesus are called to.
The statement by Jesus most repeated in the Gospels (six times in all) is that we find our life by losing it. Through people like Dr. Brand I saw the actual truth of that paradoxical formula. Such a philosophy goes directly contrary to the philosophy of pleasure, ego-satisfaction and self-fulfillment of modern civilization, and it made a huge impact on me as a journalist to see convincing proof that Jesus was actually right.
Q. What kind of impact?
Mainly, I’d have to say it challenged me, never to feel comfortable with comfort, never to put out of mind those less fortunate than I am, never to fall for the “American dream”—which is, of course, a big lie that material comfort satisfies and should be our goal. Love should be our goal, and that means humble service to others.
My books sell well, and every day I get tempted away from this truth. Publishers wave fat contracts in front of me, producers want to put me in front of a television camera, or on a platform. What an irony—I can get rich writing about service; I can get ego strokes writing about humility! That’s the tension I face all the time.
How do I handle the tension? I remember, first of all, what I learned in writing Soul Survivor: the people who have the biggest influence on me are people who resist that temptation and choose the way of service. That determines what I write about and speak about. It determines where I speak as well. Not having children, my wife and I are free to travel to places like Africa and Nepal, and we make choices to “tithe” our time there rather than accept invitations to big conferences in the U.S. Most of all, I have to make wise choices about what to do with my money. Most of my royalties go into a foundation which supports causes I believe in. As an author, admittedly I get an undue amount of attention. I truly believe, though, that what matters most to God’s kingdom takes place among those involved in ministries of justice, health, and peace in difficult parts of the world.