The Model Of Jesus

Delivered October 20, 2002 by Don Stephens,
Chairman of Mercy Ships International, a Youth With a Mission Affiliate that operates 3 hospital ships throughout the world

Note: the audio file is from EPIC’s service while the transcript is from the 10:00 service, so there will be slight differences.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 11:1-6

The scripture reading for this morning is found in Matthew’s gospel chapter 11. The setting is that John the Baptist, who was there at the Jordan river and observed the Baptism of Jesus, heard the voice from heaven saying this is my beloved Son, saw the dove descend; he’s now in prison. And in prison, John sends his followers, also called disciples, to Jesus. And that’s what we’re going to read this morning. Matthew chapter 11, 1 through 6.

“After Jesus had finished instructing his 12 disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their towns in Galilee. When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else? Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see”: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear and the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not fall away on account of me.”

I want to speak to you this morning on following the model of Jesus. And I would like to use four “M’s” to do that. And to do this I’m going to discuss the theology of Mercy Ships, who we are, what we do, why we do what we do. So, the 4 M’s. First one is the model, the second will be the message, the third will be our methods and the fourth our metrics.

And so with the first “M”, our model. Who is the model that we’re to follow? I’ve already told you, of course you know it’s Jesus. So lets look at this passage in Matthew chapter 11. I’d like to point out that it’s not a new model. I don’t know if we have any automobile dealers in the congregation, but the model that we follow, you don’t have to trade it in for a new car every 50, 100,000 or 200,000 miles. I delight to tell people that we have a really old model. And what I’ve discovered through this, is in our post-modern world that I can begin talking about the historical Jesus with a Muslim, with a Hindu, with an atheist, an agnostic or someone who has gone away from the faith. Our 2000-year old model of the historical Jesus, it’s only a matter of time until people begin to understand that he’s the living Jesus the resurrected Jesus.

And he said in Matthew 11 to John the blind see. There are 60 million blind in the world today. And that is a conservative estimate. I spoke with the medical doctor in China who was tasked by the United Nations to try to do the research on how many blind in people in China and she said, “We made our best guess. There could be many more than this. We really don’t know.” She was also involved in gathering the statistics in India. Both of those nations with just over and just under one billion people and 60 million blind. Now the interesting thing about this, over 50 percent is caused by cataracts. If you’re in the bright sun, if you have a job that requires that you’re on the ocean where not only do you have the brightness of the sunlight but the reflection of the sunlight into the eye those cataracts can be so occluded that you have lost sight. One of the joys that we have on the Mercy Ships is providing this 20-minute ambulatory surgery. It’s an amazing world that we live in today. 20 minutes. You can walk in blind and they do this surgery with a very small incision and an emulsifier and they pulverize the cataract and it’s vacumned out. You can tell I’m not a doctor. We’ll let them explain it the way they want to explain. And a new lens is put in and a patch is put over it, and you’re ushered off the ship. A few days later or a week later you come back and, depending on our scheduling we can do the second eye, depending on which ship. We can operate on 15 blind people per day on our smallest ship the Caribbean Mercy that’s docked here in the port of Baltimore. If I could do anything, if I had an unlimited budget, I’d have a plane waiting at BWI and busses and I’d put everyone in a plane and we’d go to one of the ships. Cause I’d like to take you to what we call the “Morning After” when the bandages come off. For me, it’s one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in my life. And one that I will remember and carry with me to my grave is when we were in Mexico and we operated on 4 blind children of one family all born with congenital cataracts. The Teyes family. An elder sister and then three brothers. I wasn’t there for the elder sister but I was there for one of the brothers. And when the bandages come off, most of the time the first word that’s uttered is “Momma.” And I think I can visually observe the optic nerve sending the signals. You see the optic nerve is fine, it’s just never seen or seen very badly because of the congenital cataract. And you see the telemetry taking place with the visage on the face as that little one looks for the care-giver, the one who gave him or her life, and when the eye locks on to the one that’s nurtured, fed, cared and bathed, the first words come out of the mouth “Momma.” It’s hard not to cry with tears of joy. Often the momma’s crying, the father is, the family is. In the developing world the whole family come for that, in fact, for the Caribbean Mercy in particular we’ve had heads of state and the first lady come for the privilege of taking the bandages off the morning after. Jesus said “the blind see.” He is our model. And we have a tool that allows us to continue bringing sight to the blind.

The second thing that Jesus said was the mute speak. Now, if you’re born with a cleft lip or palette that’s the second most common birth defect worldwide. Only heart ailments are a higher incidence per thousand births. And if you’re born with a cleft lip and palette and it’s open in the roof of your mouth you can’t talk. You’re mute. If you can speak at all it’s with a strong nasal intonation that is very difficult to understand or comprehend. If you are born in the developing world you have a life of an outcast and rejection. Often, and I wasn’t going to mention this but I want to… in some of the parts of west Africa where we’re working if you have a little baby born with a cleft lip and palette, do you know what happens to the little baby? Because they still believe; not everyone but many still believe that this is a manifestation of evil and the midwife takes the baby and takes her to the shaman and that baby is put to death, thinking that they are going to rid the village or family of evil. This still happens today.

Now we have an example similar to this in the new testament, when there was blind Bartemaus, remember he was born blind and what did the disciples say to Jesus? “Who sinned?” And Jesus answered, “No it wasn’t the parents and it wasn’t little Bartemaus.” I’m convinced that there is enough disease and sickness as a result of the sin that’s in the world that it has nothing to do with any individual and we provide and we provide sight for the blind and if you could come with us and see first sight of a child that’s never seen, it is a moving experience.

Those who have an inability to speak are given speech. One of the stories that I delight to tell is the story of Linda. Linda was 21 years old when she came to one of our hospital ships and she had been born with a cleft lip and palette. The cleft lip and palette is the second most common birth defect worldwide. Only heart ailments are a higher incidence per thousand and of course we know you can’t speak. Well Linda was 21 and the maxillofacial surgeon who performed the surgery on her was Dr. Gary Parker, who has lived on board one of our ships with his family for 15 years and is a member of John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. Dr. Gary reading through one of his medical journals prior to the surgery; the author of the journal said, when you meet an adult he advised only doing the cosmetic surgery, the lip, so that the patient could go out in the market place and not be the victim of abuse or fear or fright or rejection. Dr. Gary said that he had that strange prompting from within that he thought was the Holy Spirit. He wondered how many adults the author of the journal had been able to operate on and Gary has now done thousands of these surgeries and other maxillofacial surgeries. One of the great joys of my life was to read through his medical journal as he has journaled every patient, what they had, who they were, their names and conditions and to see this remarkable Christ-like man as he has so treated everyone as Jesus would treat us. So he decided to do both the palette, bilateral open on both sides and the lip, and to his disappointment and everyone on the ship when Linda disembarked, we had not heard her say a word. The ship left the port of Tamae, where they were and went back to Europe and resupplied and came back to the second nation. This time is was to Sierra Leone where we were doing a six-month outreach and at Christmas time the ship had two uninvited and unexpected guests who had traveled quite a distance over land to get to the ship. Do you want to guess who the guests were at Christmas time? Well, one was Linda and the other one was her grandmother. Linda’s grandmother told us several times that she had prayed every day of Linda’s life that God would have an answer for her granddaughter. And when they walked up the gangway at Christmastime, Linda was talking a blue streak and they spent several days onboard the ship and after about three days of Linda talking like this, not only in her native a way, but one other African language and in English with only a little bit of nasal intonation, Linda said to Dr. Gary, “I probably talk too much, don’t I.” And he said, “Yes, Linda you really do.” No one else can get a word in. And her answer was, “Dr Gary, for 21 years I couldn’t say a word and now I want to tell everyone about the God who answered my grandmother’s prayers, who has now become my God, and I am telling them about his bringing this white ship from halfway around the world to our very port.” Now I had discussions with grandma. She wanted to know how we do our port selections, so I went through all of this explanation of we look at the needs of the nation, what healthcare is there, what mission agencies are already doing, what the local church is doing, the whole grid and finally she interrupted me and she said, “Well when does prayer come in?” And I explained that it starts with prayer, prayer in it and then is finished with prayer and she said, “I don’t think it has anything to do with all this all this other stuff you had. I think God brought you here because of 21 years of prayer.” Well I wouldn’t be at all surprised when we stand before the throne if our father doesn’t say that part, a very key part of us going to that part of Guana was the answer to grandmother’s prayers.

The other thing that Jesus said was that the lame leap for joy. Well there are 30,000 children who have lost their lower limbs due to land mines in the last 30 years. We have developed a project in a 40 foot sea container that we called, Project Operation New Steps. And you can arrive at this 40 foot container in the morning having lost a lower limb and we will make a cast of this and with a CAD-CAM program on a computer, within 24 hours we will do a tailor made lower limb attachment to prothesis that will go on your lower leg with the supplies that have been donated to us by pharmaceutical and medical companies around the world and start you on a physiotherapy program, that in 24 hours you can start to walk on your lower limb. The lame leap for joy.

And then Jesus said, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Well what is the good news? The good news is that at the heart of the universe is a God of love, who cares for the people of this world and his primary way of communicating that love is through individuals like you and me. I am convinced that God has given us a remarkable tool in these hospital ships and we have been well received in Moslem nations. We have been well received in Post modern, Post Christian port cities in Europe and other cities in the United States, because people are able to visualize the love of God, as well as hear it verbalized. Why did Jesus say to John, six times in visual ways who he was and only once in a verbal way? Well I think we know the answer to that. Educators today tell us what we see, we will remember 70% of what we see and educators tell us of that which we hear, we retain how much? 10%. And as a father of four different teenage children at one stage, I question whether we actually retain 10% at some times. Would you agree with me? So Jesus understood that his message had to be visual as well as verbal, and in-house, among our career staff, we call that the two hands of the gospel. The one hand that’s visual, the caring the compassion that everyone sees and the other is the verbalizing of the message.

Well secondly, what is our message? I think our message is so important and so timely today. I think it’s a message that needs to be shouted from the news media and it needs to be shouted and visualized in the electronic media and that is a message of the nature and character of a loving God. This is good Presbyterian theology. We understand that God plans no evil for us. We understand that in his nature if we ask of him, he doesn’t give us a stone instead of bread when we ask for it. But much of the world has no idea of the nature and character of a loving God. In one of the Moslem nations where we were working we had a principal judge. Only five judges in the second principle city, all Moslem judges judging under Moslem law. This particular judge traveled 500 kilometers, 300 miles to bring his youngest son, his 14th child, little Alcini to our ship. Alcini has suffered a trauma to the eye and even though this man was one of the most powerful and respected men in Cancan, the second principle city, the children of the city threw stones, sticks and cursed his little boy. In fact, they said the great Satan had entered to him. Others in the city thought that it was a manifestation of evil or the occult or demonic powers. And so this Moslem judge told his friends that he was going to go to this Christian ship in the port of the capital city and deceive us so that we might do a surgery on Alcini. And as they were in the screening process, the doctor was examining the little boy and the judge said to the doctor, “Do I have to become a Christian for you to operate on Alcini?” What should our answer be? Our answer should be, “Of course not.” And that’s what the doctor said. Because we are convinced that God loves you as much as he loves us and the primary way of showing that love, is by providing these surgeries and then talking about the reason that we are here. Well, the optic nerve was damaged beyond repair. Alcini would never see out of that eye again, but our staff prosthetist made him three eyeballs. Remember he is eight years old. I was on board when the prosthetic eyeball was put in for the first time and then with calipers the prosthetist measured his older brother who was also there and his father and he guessed what size the eye socket would be, taking the best measurements that he could for his teenage years, and then made him a third eye ball for his adult years. Those were put in plastic containers and were safe and when Alcini was ready to depart the ship he had not only his prosthetic eyeball in one eye, but two in his pockets and a beaming smile on his face. Well I hadn’t gotten acquainted with his father. I was in the ward when the father was watching the Jesus video. I think we all know the Jesus video is produced by a Jewish man and then the rights were given to Campus Crusade and I think it’s one of the most effective tools for the communication of the gospel that I have ever encountered and we show it twice a day in the ward onboard the Anastasis, our largest hospital ship serving in Africa. It’s over two hours long and I think some of the patients have probably memorized most of the gospel of Luke by the time they leave the ward. The other most popular video is from Focus on the Family, it’s Veggie Tales. And so we are communicating biblical principles through a visual medium. So I watch the judge as he saw it first in French and then in his native language. At the point where Jesus is before either Pilate or Herod, I am not sure which, the judge came off the bed with his fists clenched saying, “No, no, no, he’s innocent.” And I slipped around and up the stairs. I didn’t want to cause a moment of self-consciousness or embarrassment. I had many discussions with the judge. We gave him the New Testament in French and then one in, I just forgot the name of his, it’s the largest mega people unreached with the gospel in all of Africa and we gave him a New Testament in that language as well, and he began to read it avidly. And in the reception when it was time for the judge to take Alcini and his oldest son back the 500 kilometers, I was there with the Minister of Health and another Moslem man who had opened the door of the nation for us and the judge said to me, “I have not become a Christian.” That was important for him to say. Each of these three men were Al Haji’s. They had multiple visits to Mecca. He did go on to say in front of the Minister of Health and the other man, “I am reading the New Testament and I am praying in Jesus name, just in case.” He went on to say, “I have never heard about a God of Love. I came to deceive you and you took the need for deception away because you love me.” Our message is the nature and character of a loving God and the world longs to hear it.

Well the third “M” that I want to focus on is our model and how we operate our model and message and then our methods. What are the methods? Well it’s revealed in the name of the organization ships. We have hospital ships. Most of you will remember the old hospital ship HOPE. Do you remember the HOPE that sailed the seas for a number of years? Most of us don’t realize that project HOPE, the organization behind it, has not had a ship for over 25 years. And they still do excellent work, land-based work. My wife and I as teenagers were in the Bahamas’ in 1964 when one of these once a century, 100 year storms came through. As we were gathered in safe places and little prayer groups praying for our safety and the safety of the Bahamians, it was Hurricane Cleo that swept through in 1964. In one of the prayer groups a teenage group prayed a prayer that became the genesis of what is now Mercy Ships. Here prayer went something like this: Wouldn’t if be wonderful if God had a ship with doctors and nurses, builders, construction materials, pharmaceutical items that could come in after a disaster and show the love of God. Our methods are hospital ships. We have the “Caribbean Mercy” that’s here in port. That’s our smallest. She is primarily an eye hospital ship, just under 2,000 tons. Now those of you who are very familiar with the US Navy and you know that home port here in Baltimore is the “Comfort.” I think you could put the “Caribbean Mercy” in the “Comfort” thirty times. The next ship up in size for us is the “Anastasis.” You could put the “Caribbean Mercy” in the “Anastasis” six times. And our newest ship, the “African Mercy,” the one that is being completed in England, will be our largest and she is 40% greater in volume. I am convinced that these tools are appropriate tools for the 21st century, to the nations of the world, to communicate our model and our message. Hospital ships.

Another one of our methods is the long-term sustainable development projects that we do ashore and I have already mentioned that in the 40 foot sea container that we have in Sierra Leone, the poorest nation in the world.

The last of the four “M’s”. Our model, our message, our methods and now our metrics. I think it’s very important for any faith based charity, which we are, or any charitable organization to have good metrics, by what means the world will know that we are accountable. There have been scandals, not only within faith based charities, but humanitarian organizations because they have not had accountability. And it’s important for me to tell you here today that our metrics are very important to us. One of those metrics is the cost per person served. That’s our broadest number. That includes those who will drink the pure water from the wells that we have dug and includes those in the villages who have been taught primary health care, who have attended classes on sanitation. You see, 80% of the worlds diseases are water born and water related and it’s important to us that we teach the importance of washing your hands before you prepare food or you eat, or after you have gone to the toilet. It’s important to us to explain that we can boil water and that when you see these children dying from diarrhea and dysentery, that with a liter of water, with a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar they can drink that and that’s a two or three cent solution and their electrolytes will be put back in balance instead of out of balance and you save the death of a little one. Metrics are important.

Another one of our metrics is that long term crew contribute $350 per month for the privilege of serving on board. Now those of you who are business owners, you would love to have this model. Is that right? I think this is so important. It gives us a great buy in. Our staff is supported by churches like yours, or civic organizations. A number are retired military people who have put in 20 or 25 years and want to shift and I call it the shift from success to significance, as we do things that will live for eternity. With that $350 a month, we are able to cover 60% of our operating cost on the largest ships. That’s important to be able to say today.

Another one of our metrics is gifts and kind. We had Johnson and Johnson on board the ship this last week. They have been corporate partners for over a decade. In fact, they are our single largest corporate sponsors. They told us last week of a new gift that they are giving us. It’s $1.5 million dollars worth of prosthetic hardware. So it’s the joints for knee replacements or elbow replacements or the prosthesis. They also told us that for the new ship they are going to completely outfit one of our operating rooms with the laparoscopic microsurgical equipment of which they lead the world in manufacturing. Because of the corporate sponsorship, every dollar that is given is matched with at least two other dollars and then with the services of our volunteers.

Another one of our metrics is we serve all people regardless of race, creed or color. And I would like to add one more metric. We are governed by outside directors. This is not insider controlled. I think that faith based charities need to lead the world in modeling, that the leadership is accountable, that the organization is accountable and pay attention to the cost per person served. I would think that in a Presbyterian Church you would be very interested in what it cost per person served. Do I hear an Amen? Amen. I thought I would hear something at a Presbyterian Church. As you are known around the world as being very efficient and cost effective.

Well those are the four “M’s”. The model is Jesus. The message is the love of God. The methods are hospital ships and land based development and our metrics that I have already mentioned.

There is one final point that I want to mention. And that is what we call our five by five. We would like to have five ships in five years. The “Africa Mercy” we would like to complete this next year. It’s our 25th anniversary. To complete that project we need $21.5 million dollars and I meet on November 10th with a member of a foundation, actually the foundation board, they have already told us that they are considering a multi-million dollar gift and they will match whatever we can raise, so that we can complete this ship next year on our 25th anniversary. I ask you this, that you, a praying church might join with us in prayer that we will find the other partners to see these funds are matched and that the “Africa Mercy” can join her two sisters in sailing. But it’s not over there. As soon as we are 80% of the way with the Africa Mercy, we want to start on the “America’s Mercy.” We would like to have a bigger ship to replace the “Caribbean Mercy,” rename her and send her in another very effective place in the world. We can sail a ship 1,100 miles up the Amazon River. We can go to Haiti and the needy nations in Central America. Pray with us that we will see the “America’s Mercy” purchased and outfitted and staffed and this is so important in a city like Baltimore, where Johns Hopkins and your University, you’re such a medical area. And then we would like to work on the “Asia Mercy.” We long for a ship serving China and Vietnam, Cambodia and the coast of Southeast Asia, the Philippines with 3,000 inhabited islands, Indonesia with more than 3,000 inhabited islands, the needs of India and Sri Lanka.

Now in conclusion, every one one of us can follow these four “M’s”. How is it in your life? Do you follow the model of Jesus? Is the message that others see as well as hear from you, the message of a loving God? What are your methods? Should they be reflected in your business practice, your work ethic? Those around you should see so much of the gospel in you that they will gladly hear of the gospel from you. And then, are you accountable? Do you have good metrics, as well. May the Lord add his blessing to the reading of the scripture and to these words. Thank you very much.