If you ever needed an illustration of what it means to literally be the hands and feet of Jesus, read Preemptive Love by Jeremy Courtney. It’s too easy for preachers like me to simply preach about love, cocooned safely away in our air conditioned sanctuaries, knowing we’ll draw a comfortable paycheck twice a month.
The idea behind Preemptive Love is literally loving first, before the other party has the opportunity to earn trust, to earn the love we offer. Courtney found an incredible laboratory to test this dangerously biblical notion: war torn Iraq. Jeremy and his wife moved to Iraq to minister to the Iraqi people through a non-profit organization. While there, Courtney came face to face with an incredible need: heart surgeries for kids in a country with no heart doctors.
Rewinding the clock to the 1980s, Saddam Hussein notoriously used chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds of the north. Over the ensuing decades, as thousands of people were exposed to not only the original gas attack, but contaminated soil, water and air, children began to develop a much higher rate of birth defects, including heart issues. Hussein’s brutal regime drove out much of the medical professionals, exposing a humanitarian crisis when America toppled the regime last decade.
Simply trying to meet a need, Courtney began the Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-profit designed to help Iraqi children get access to lifesaving heart surgeries. On paper it looks simple, yet in reality the obstacles Courtney faced seemed insurmountable. From finding funding to locating willing heart doctors to organizing trips abroad to navigating local political minefields, Courtney went an extra seven or eight miles (not just the token extra mile) to see his vision become reality.
First the list of candidates was overwhelming. Politicians, warlords and everyone in between used whatever influence they could to try and get their child to skip ahead of the line. The first heart surgeons willing to operate on these children were in Israel, but the Iraqi government put a stop to it because of the religious divide. The next up were doctors in Turkey, but racial tensions almost derailed it.
In the midst of it all, the secret police monitored their movements, and rival politicians tried to use Courtney as a pawn to further their own cause. Many times undercut by the very people he was legitimately trying to help, any sane person would have given up long ago.And yet Courtney had just enough insanity to trust that Christ-like love could work, even in a war torn area, even among Muslims, even among racial and religious divides that have spanned centuries.
The end result is an absolute beauty that should inspire and challenge all Christians. In the face of incredible odds, Courtney built bridges among cultures, brought peace to religious divisions, and along the way, saved hundreds of children’s lives by getting them the medical care they needed. He doesn’t preach Christ’s love. He does something better. He lives it out.
1. Preaching Christ’s love and living Christ’s love are two very different things. Preaching is simple. The audience is sympathetic. The points alliterate. Everyone tells you how wonderful you did on the way out. Living it out is a lot messier, with an audience not quite as sympathetic, with the victories not so clear cut. And yet we’re called to live out love.
2. Preemptive love will always encounter strong headwinds. In our idealized notions of love, we think that once we try something noble, all obstacles will magically disappear, while people line up to applaud our valiant efforts. Bringing light into a dark place will always encounter entrenched obstacles. Victory is very possible, just not easy.
3. Seeing a vision come to reality will always take relentless devotion and unwavering fortitude. Too many times we want instantaneous results. Seeing a vision come to reality will come to those willing to make the hard slog, the ones committed with unwavering devotion to their cause.
4. Sharing the gospel in foreign lands requires much more than just preaching. Courtney got to share the gospel because he wasn’t preaching it. He was living it. Whenever the gospel is preached, actions must accompany the words to have true and lasting power.
5. Love can truly cover over a multitude of sins. If preemptive love can tear down walls between Arabs and Kurds, between Muslim, Jew and Christian, then love truly is the most powerful force in the world. My favorite stories in the book weren’t just the lives that were saved, but the healing and reconciliation that took place in the hearts of factions divided by centuries of conflict in the Middle East.