Many years ago, before marriage and children, God granted me an opportunity to go on a missions trip for the summer. Our team had landed in a remote location in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. That bumpy ride on the single-engine plane left my stomach in knots, but the warm welcome from the people in the nearby village made me forget the nausea. Mostly children, they were all lined up next to the grassy airstrip, ready to help us with our bags. We were to stay in their village for about a week, which would be our first-hand exposure to tribal missions.
It was a short walk to their village, but it required crossing a creek. My “guide”, a little girl about 9 years old, showed me which rocks to step on in order to successfully cross without falling in. The rocks were slippery, and as I tried to maintain my balance while holding on to my bags, my inexperience definitely showed through. This little girl extended her hand to help me. I immediately noticed that her hand was covered with a dry, scaly rash. I presumed it was ringworm, and for a brief moment, I hesitated to take her hand. In those few seconds, I wondered what impression I would leave this little girl, who had been waiting for our arrival, if I refused to take her helping hand. My split second decision was to receive her act of kindness at the risk of contracting this skin infection. Later, during our orientation with the missionaries, they had encouraged us not to be fearful of physical contact with the people as they can tell if barriers have been placed in front of them. I was so glad the Lord prompted me to hold that girl’s hand. Furthermore, this simple encounter would be forever engraved in my mind and serve as a reminder for me today in my interaction with my son, Gabriel.
You see, Gabriel thrives on physical contact. He learns best when he can physically handle what he is learning. He loves to hug, kiss, and touch. For a mother, I can’t complain. But, we realized, especially as he got older, we needed to teach him about what is appropriate and that there will be times he needs to keep his hands to himself. At one point, his speech therapist even brought a hula hoop to keep around him during a session, so that he can understand how to stay within his personal space. However, there will be times when touch is important, even necessary, in Gabriel’s growth and development. As he has become more aware of the hurdles that he faces, that assuring hug, the encouraging pat on the back, or an enthusiastic high-five gives him the affirmation that he is loved and accepted, despite his challenges. This can be true for my other children, and it can be a reality for many adults as well. The effect that touch can have on us is, in essence, what makes us human and more so, what demonstrates we are made in the image of God.
Jesus Christ Himself did not hesitate to touch the “untouchables” of society. Consider the lepers of His day, who lived in isolation and who would have to cry out, “Unclean!” whenever they came near other people.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. (Mark 1:40-42)
Could not Jesus have healed him with only a word? Of course! But, imagine what that touch from His hand did for this leper, who had been deprived of any physical human contact.
I’m not really a naturally “huggy” person, but I’ve come to learn that an appropriate hug for a friend who lost a loved one or a gentle hand on the shoulder as you bow in prayer with someone in deep distress or a loving embrace for your child, who has timidly asked for your forgiveness are tangible ways we can manifest the love of Christ.
(Photo credit 1: John Slapcinsky)
(Photo credit 2: Jonathan Cohen)