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Moving Together in Mission

By Aaron KauffmanAaron M. Kauffman

A few years ago while recovering from surgery I picked up a book gathering dust on my shelf called In His Image, written by Dr. Paul Brand (with the help of Philip Yancey). I’ve always been interested in science, so I found the combination of medical insight, missionary zeal and biblical wisdom to be fascinating and moving at the same time. It seemed especially fitting to read about how our bodily systems reflect the genius of the Creator while my own body healed.

Dr. Brand’s life is inspiring. He grew up as a missionary kid in India, but returned to England for schooling. After completing his medical degree, he went back to India, focusing his profound intellect on the understanding and treatment of leprosy (or Hansen’s disease). One of his major discoveries was that the disfigurement experienced by many leprosy patients was not due to the disease itself. Rather, the bacteria caused their nerves to grow insensitive to pain. Cuts and bruises would go unnoticed, leading to the damage and loss of fingers, toes and other extremities. Dr. Brand came to see pain as a gift from God. He also pioneered surgical techniques that allowed recovering leprosy patients to regain some use of their damaged limbs. Motivated by his faith in Christ, Dr. Brand’s commitment to restoring people’s dignity enabled many of them to come to know the God in whose image they had been made.

One of my favorite sections of the book details the workings of the nervous system. Dr. Brand describes the way every cell of the body has the ability to communicate with the brain, seated in its “ivory fortress” atop our shoulders. Our brain in turn is able to issue instructions that result in the coordination of billions of cells to carry out such mundane tasks as taking a single step, speaking a word, or strumming a guitar. “A healthy body,” Dr. Brand explains, “relies on proper channels from the brain to the body parts, as well as a commitment from individual cells to do the will of the head.” A disease like ALS, on the other hand, can disrupt that communication and leave an otherwise healthy mind trapped in an uncooperative body.

What might all of that tell us about what it means to be the body of Christ? We as the “cells’’ need to cultivate open channels of communication with Jesus our Head, and with one another. Only then can we synchronize our activity with God’s plan to make all things new. Sin clogs up those lines of communication. It desensitizes our hearts toward Christ and the rest of his body, leading to uncoordinated movements or even paralysis. Collaboration in God’s mission requires prayer, humility, understanding, and a collective commitment to doing God’s will.

How are we listening to the voice of Jesus our Head? To the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ? What blockages might need to be cleared so we can move together in mission?