If it seems like there’s not enough love to go around, that might be because love is not being measured appropriately.
Dianne Garcia works with immigrants in Texas and would be overwhelmed by the host of challenges they face if she quantified love as commodity or object.
She told attendees July 5 at MennoCon23, the national convention of Mennonite Church USA in Kansas City, Mo., that such a “transactional” approach to love is pervasive in North American culture.
“But our God is not a transactional God, and God’s love is not measurable or definable or able to be put away neatly in boxes,” said Garcia, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Roca de Refugio, a congregation centered on the immigrant community in San Antonio, Texas.
“God’s love is described by words like boundless or unfathomable, so to be able to experience God’s love we need to exchange our views about expected value. To not see it as a transaction but as a transformation within us, because ‘transaction’ keeps us at a distance.”
Garcia holds a bachelor of science degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master of education degree from Harvard University. She has worked with immigrant families who have crossed the Texas border for six years.
Garcia pointed to the Old Testament story of Ruth, an outsider immigrant welcomed by the Hebrew community, as an example of a strong woman who surrendered herself to be transformed by God’s love.
Today, that openness is shared by immigrants, who also leave behind everything to place their life and plans in God’s hands. In her work with immigrants, Garcia witnesses acts of unconditional love on a routine basis.
“Today, if you came to our church, what you would see is people from nine different countries who speak six different languages sharing lives and meals with each other,” she said. “You would see a leadership team made up of people who have been here less than a year trying to make the church a refuge for all.”
A few weeks ago, a couple was welcomed from Angola after facing poverty and persecution. Garcia had no room to host the husband and four-month pregnant wife but found a way to get them a hotel room for a week, hoping a solution would appear. A week later she received another call, this time to help a family from El Salvador in a similar situation. They ended up at the same hotel.
When they arrived at the motel, the Angolan woman greeted the new family like they were old friends.
“She made sure they got checked in. Later they told me she hosted them in her motel room and shared her food and clothes, along with the number of someone who might have work,” she said. “In the five minutes she had when we checked in, she made a decision to love. It would be completely understandable to think about herself and her own needs.”
Instead, Garcia saw someone from a different culture, language and continent allowing herself to be transformed as an instrument of God’s love, Ruth-style.
“God’s love is a force, not a quantity, and it is an attainable love that changes us,” she said. “Once we choose to participate in God’s love, we are not in control anymore, and God’s love will change us.”
The key for Ruth was her open heart. By surrendering to God’s love, more love could flourish.
“Your open heart is the key,” Garcia said. “Not your program or your accomplishments or your gifts, but your willingness to surrender to God’s transformational love. . . . And when you do, love multiplies in ways that are unexpected.”
The morning worship service concluded with worship band leader Onan Alvarez taking a break from behind the drums to sing a stirring rendition, first in Spanish followed by English, of “The Heart of Worship.” A member of the convention worship planning committee, Alvarez attends Evangelical Garifuna Church of Houston.