There’s a rooster crowing over and over in the distance, and the trill of another bird I don’t know. Giant storks roam in the field. The smoky aroma of cook fires and bright tropical flowers in a brighter hot sun surprise my senses. Mt. Kilamanjaro wreathed in clouds is in the distance. Dark, friendly faces greet me.
“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” (or Minnesota).
Tanzania. The surroundings are unfamiliar. Different. But God is here and remains the same.
And His Word remains the same too, but I don’t. He seems to show up as a tour guide, pointing out unseen treasures especially in new places.
There is a passage I’ve been reading every day while I’ve been traveling, praying, “Lord what do You have to say to me?” (and yes, that’s a smudge of coffee and chocolate in the picture :))
Luke 7:37-47. The Message translation. The story of the “harlot” who comes to a “Pharisee’s” house where Jesus is visiting, anointing Him with expensive perfume and her tears. The indignant Pharisee is schooled by Jesus who calls her “impressive” and points out that those who have a lot to be forgiven, will have a lot to be thankful for.
It’s a passage that often speaks to us about the power of God’s forgiveness, but the main thing God has impressed on me is that it’s a story of mistaken identities. Look at the labels and the corresponding expectations of the players in the story – “harlot”, “prophet”, “Pharisee”.
There is the power of Jesus using Simon’s name, not his title, “Pharisee” – seeing the possibilities for him to be more…different from his label.
There is Jesus’ challenging question, “Do you see this woman?” As in really see her, not her label, “harlot”?
And then there is Simon’s realization that Jesus is not who he thought he was. He is so much more than the label, “prophet” and Simon’s corresponding expectations. Simon says, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was…”
And I ask myself, “Am I open to Jesus going beyond the labels…showing up and being different than my preconceptions? Bigger than my safe box for Him?”
On this trip through Zambia and Tanzania, one of the challenges has been to get beyond the labels, “poor”, “Illiterate”, “third world”, “missionary”. It seems that each day I have met people who look so…ordinary. And yet, when I listen to their stories (so many stories!) I am blown away.
Yesterday I met one such unimposing looking woman. Terry. Unremarkable at first glance. I might label her “ordinary” and move on. But then, her story.
It turns out she was a doctor in Mozambique with World Vision, caring for the starving, and the sick, and the AIDS infected… When transferred with her husband to Sierra Leon she was convicted that she had given them physical help, but hadn’t attended to their souls.
After being literally caught in the cross-fire of the war in Sierra Leon, they were evacuated to Guinea. There Terry decided to start a children’s Bible club for her extroverted son and any kids she could get to come. She befriended the local Imam and they had honest conversations about their differences. Terry asked if the Imam might be open to inviting some Muslim kids to join her for Bible club. The first day in their tiny, enclosed front yard, 60 kids showed up!
Using some young Christian refugees from surrounding countries to translate, Terry’s Bible club grew as she started with the story of Creation. Quickly the kids couldn’t be accommodated in her yard. A local school principal opened his classrooms to her and it continued to grow. Muslim parents loved it because their kids came home more respectful and kind. Muslim moms competed to memorize Bible verses.
At a nearby military base, the Muslim commander threw down a challenge. He agreed to let Terry use his facilities, crumbling and leaky as they were, for three months to see if her God was more powerful than his (think Elijah and the prophets of Baal!).
Terry had to leave Guinea one month later, but returned when the trial period was up, carried to the base by children cheering. The facility had been transformed – painted, roofed, repaired. The commander said to her “We had prayed for six years for the government to come and repair our base, but it was only after you and your God came that they responded. Your God is the most powerful.” Later this commander came to know Jesus as his Savior and now over 250,000 children, mostly Muslim, in West Africa attend Bible clubs started by Terry.
Yep, pretty ordinary. There are so many stories like this that we never get to hear.
Who looks ordinary to you today? Is there someone you’ve labeled who Jesus would have you take a closer look at as His beloved? Whose story do you need to hear?