I remember as a young child, missionaries from foreign countries would come to visit our rural midwest church with amazing stories of the work that God was doing around the globe. It was fascinating, but there was a big disconnect–these stories had no real relevance to my daily life. Even as I grew older, missions was something others did and simply shared cool stories with the rest of us.
Jump ahead a few years to my sophomore year of college. I was attending a missions conference in San Francisco. And still there was this disconnect. Missions is what other people do. That is until the final night of the conference. I distinctly remember sitting in this church in downtown San Francisco, there was a great time of worship, an impassioned speaker… And in the midst of all this, a quiet voice asked me to say “yes.”
My first thought was: “Yes to what?” That seemed like a rational response, right?
But the voice was persistent. “I want you to say yes to whatever I ask.”
The half-naked young man before me lay stretched on a table, his lifeless limbs unnaturally awry. Long and lanky like many a twenty-year-old, his light-bronze skin, dark hair and angular facial features made him look the Arab that he was, while his clean-shaven face identified his Islam as moderate. He lay in Yemen, half a world away from me, but as my host held the screen and its image before me, the pain behind his eyes made death a palpable presence in the room. Adel, the youth in the image, was his little brother, killed two weeks ago.
Truth? Six months ago, I could have shown you Yemen on a map, and given you some basic cultural information — but while I may have had a nagging sense that things like human starvation, and violence, and oppression physical and spiritual should have prompted some kind of response in me — well, I may just have found it hard to care. I’ve heard this called “Compassion Fatigue” — which sounds so much better than “self-centered callousness”, the phrase I suspect may be more apt.
The difference now? An unlikely friendship.
I am a Jesus-follower, a “person of the Cross”, one who believes that real, vibrant, forever-life is found only through the person of Jesus, who is God-in-flesh, full of inexplicable love… and power… and goodness. And my heart cries, “Glory!”
My faith is irreconcilable with that of my Yemeni friends. The divide between us as bloody today as at any time in history. And yet…
In early March of this year, not even two weeks before the country of Yemen would plunge into civil-war-turned-international-conflict (or is it international-conflict-turned-civil-war?), our family received a remarkable invitation from people we had not yet met in person. (You can read here for the story leading up to this invitation)
On April 7, 1994, decades and even centuries of ethnic violence, inflamed by civil war, detonated genocide at a rate five times that of the Jewish holocaust in Nazi Germany. You all know the story. Africa’s most densely-populated country. Eight weeks. Upwards of 800,000 people brutally murdered on ethnic lines by neighbors, colleagues and militant mobs.
When the horror stopped, one in five Rwandans were dead — and nearly the entire remaining population carried the bloodguilt. The systematic use of rape as a weapon led to a steep spike in HIV rates, the number of child-headed households soared, and the economy and infrastructure were in ruins. If ever there was an entire nation suffering from trauma, it was this one.
In 2002, on the other side of the world, Rebecca “Becky” Byrd proudly received her school guidance counselor credentials. For more than a decade, she would invest her skills and her heart for kids in a high-poverty public high school in Washington State — and then she would transition to the sticky hugs and giggles and tears of a nearby elementary school. Becky loved her work with the kids, and esteemed her colleagues — but she began to have a hunger for … more.
It wasn’t more accomplishments or relationships or adventure, more money or pleasure that Becky was hungry for. It was more of God. More intimacy with Jesus, more of the life of the Spirit, more of the fruit of an active faith. And as her yearning grew, she began to hear God calling her to an extraordinary step.
When I mention “dodge-ball” what images come to mind? I think most of us think of that terror, not of red rubber gym balls zinging by our heads, but rather the greatest terror a third grader could face: the picking of the teams! At least for me, it seemed easier to just head to the nurse’s office before the game started than to face the agony of being picked dead last….
When God does something in a family, a company, a school, or a generation He always does it through a person. This is His strategy – always has been and always will until the end of time. When God brings change, He simply looks for a person.
But what kind of person? What characteristics is He looking for?
Being a Christian, a disciple, is simply following Christ.
If you have ever taken a road trip involving multiple vehicles, you know what it means to follow. On the long straight-aways of open highway, in broad daylight, you can feel a little freer to slow down, to go at your own pace. But, it only takes a few curves, the setting of the sun, or hitting rush hour traffic for everybody to quickly close the gap on the leader. There is typically panic in the car until we are once again riding the bumper of the lead vehicle.
Following requires proximity.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. -Mark 12:17
I confess to being a coward. Just recently I was in a cab in New York very late at night. The driver was an Egyptian who had been in the United States for only six months. As we visited, he told me he was a Christian, driving cab to support his family back in Egypt. […]
There is a mosque about a block away from the house where I grew up, the only mosque for miles. I remember Fridays, that Islamic holy day, watching our quiet neighborhood streets fill with cars that could not fit the small lot. Men with close-cropped beards and smart, professional clothes. Women in their colorful, […]
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. John 4:34-36 My prayer for you this morning: May you commute different […]
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 It’s hard for me to imagine being blind – but being […]