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During our final week in Vijayawada, India, my team of 14 decided to take on the overwhelming task of treating a government school of over 300 children for lice. We had been to this particular school a few weeks earlier when we were still a mega team of 40, doing fluoride treatments and giving the kids a basic health checkup. One thing we noticed was that these kids had lots and lots of lice. As we sought God for what He wanted us to do as our little team of 14, we couldn’t forget those children with itchy scalps and heaps of hatched eggs built up behind their ears. We spent a day preparing – planning how it would all work with just the 14 of us, creating a skit to teach the children about lice and why we wanted to get rid of them, and packaging 300 goodie bags with lice shampoo and a gospel message translated to Telugu. We planned to go to the school all day for three days straight. We packed our medical bags full of coconut oil, combs, and towels – and we set out.

I don’t think any of us quite knew what to expect. As the days went by and we refined our system, learnt how to work together even better, and became less focused on the task and more focused on the little people in front of us, those days started to become some of our favourites from our entire outreach. I loved sharing with a classroom of children that we were here because Jesus cares SO MUCH for them that He even cares about a tiny bug on their head. I loved telling the young girls that they were valuable and beautiful. I loved thinking about the impact in the community as the kids ran home, literally spreading the gospel in handwritten form to their families. I felt like God had taught us quite a bit through this experience, but, as it turned out…

He wanted to teach us even more.

Despite all of our precautions, inevitably a few of our team members ended up with these lovely little bugs on our own heads… and I was one of them. There are times when I feel that I am optimistic to a fault, and this was a prime example. I didn’t feel itchy, I had worn my headband, and I had saturated my head in essential oils a few times. It wasn’t until one of the little guys adventured all the way to my forehead and was promptly plucked by Amelia that I realised I might need to pay more attention to my head. Luckily, God had blessed our team immensely in the form of beautiful Aline from Brazil. Lice were a much more common occurrence in her hometown growing up, so she knew everything about treating them. Not only that, but she had been praying about how to serve us as her teammates even better. She spent hours with her phone torch light searching every strand of our hair. She doused our heads in vinegar and made sure we knew the proper process for washing and combing out our own hair. She was the one who taught me these three lessons about love listed below, and it was through her washing of hair rather than feet that these lessons came to life.

1. Jesus’ love goes into dark places that nobody else would dare to go.

Let me tell you, having someone pull bugs out of your hair and squish them with their fingernails is a humbling experience. It’s vulnerable because it’s exposing something unclean about yourself. It takes a lot to muster up the courage to ask someone – for the third time that week – to pick through your dirty hair. This is how it feels when Jesus cleanses us. We wonder why He would want to know all of these gross secrets about us, and how He feels when we’ve asked Him to remove this same issue again and again. But Jesus WANTS us to be clean. He cares so much about this little bug biting my head, and He cares about a little lie or an area of unrighteousness, no matter how small. He’s willing to go so deep into those places to make us clean because of His immense love for us.

2. Jesus’ love doesn’t make us feel guilty.

I can’t tell you how beautiful it was to have Aline love me through my lice infestation. She never made me feel disgusting, she never ran in fear, she never teased me. She simply reassured me that lice are a part of life, no big deal. That didn’t mean that she wasn’t going to do everything she could to get rid of them, because they were hurting me. However, it did mean that I never had to feel isolated or alone through the process. Her love for me wasn’t dependent on me having or not having lice, but it was unconditional. This aspect of Jesus’ love for me absolutely blows me away, and I’m so thankful to have this tangible metaphor of it. Jesus never condemns us for the things that make us feel dirty. Of course He wants to rid us of these things, but He never turns away from us. He doesn’t keep us at arms length when we expose something unrighteous, but He brings us in even closer. Aline shared a verse with me in relation to this that I just love. Paul is writing about how to deal with a specific man in the Corinthian church who has sinned, and writes: “you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” It seems from the text that this man already realised the pain he had caused by his sin. So now, the church was meant to forgive and love him to avoid isolating him even further.

3. Jesus’ love is the only love that can truly transform.

We learnt this right after our lice clinics and learnt it again as we passed the lice around from head to head for a few weeks. As good as our human intentions were to cleanse each other, we ended up being affected by the lice ourselves. Aline would spend hours picking bugs out of our hair, and then had to be even more detailed with combing her own hair to avoid the spread of the lice. So many times, we want to help restore people that we see hurting around us. More often than not, their uncleanliness can effect us either in attitude or action more than we actually transform them. Jesus is the only One that can go into those deep, dark places and not be brought down in the process. He is perfect and unchangeable, and has all power and strength to heal without being hurt.

I am truly thankful for the lice outbreak we experienced over outreach. Not only was it worth caring for those 300 children, but it was worth it to be able to grow closer to God and understand His character more and more.

I just returned from a three-month trip to India and Botswana, and there are more adventures to be had in the future! Click here to subscribe for future updates by email. Please email me if you have any questions or would like to chat.

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we are the rileys

We are a newlywed couple serving in Christian missions.

God has called us to Youth With a Mission in Perth, Australia. We have a heart for the city of Perth and for reaching Aboriginal people here in Western Australia. We would also love to see transformation and mobilisation through partnering with local initiatives in other nations in short-term outreach trips. Together, we have a passion for mentorship and discipleship of young people. Chris is gifted in meeting practical needs, and Leanne has a big desire for the sphere of Media & Communications.

This is our blog, a place to share what God is doing as well as things we learn as we journey through the adventure of following Jesus!