At 6 AM it looked like rain in the west and, sure enough, it came down in steady, determined drops as the ladies were trying to finish the morning laundry. By the time they were on the last rinse cycle, the rain had convinced them to go inside. The rest of the soap in the clothing would have to wait until the sun came out again. On and on it came, harder and harder, until it was a real gully washer. Streams of water flowed on both sides of our house while the rain from the roof wreaked havoc with our little garden by the front door.
We began our family devotions amidst the roar of the storm beating on the sheet iron roof of our concrete home. We usually start with various types of songs: hymns, psalms, choruses, and some Swahili praise songs we are trying to learn. It’s a good time to teach the children many of the songs we’ve learned over the years.
“Look Daddy!” exclaimed Jonathan, pointing to a trickle of water beginning to meander through the center of our living room. Even though the door of the living room is located under a small porch, the rain was blowing in against it hard enough to cause a small river to form through our living room. We watched in delight as it found its way into our front storage room. Having a concrete floor that is uneven and sloped can have its benefits.
A thought came to mind. “Let’s sing the song ‘I’ve Got a River of Life’,” I suggested to Mama, who was leading songs on her banjo. Watching the river rolling through our living room as we sang about the life that comes from God transformed our daily devotions into a festive occasion. It was a delight to watch the children jumping in time with the lyrics and the rain that continued pouring down.
This music and action reminds me of our festivities with Bishop Kwangu last Sunday. There was special set of services celebrating several important occasions. Eighteen men were being ordained to the ministry, the Bishop and his wife were celebrating their 20th anniversary, and he was also commemorating his 7th year as bishop. After a full day at church, our family joined several hundred people for a large dinner in a school gymnasium. There were several church choirs singing and dancing for our benefit while we were eating the sumptuous meal. There was even an apple for each person’s desert! Now that was a remarkable feat, considering the climate we live in here.
Sometimes people will get up to dance with the choir; waving their handkerchief as a sign of their approval of the choir’s performance, while weaving in and out and around them. There was one choir that roused everyone’s spirits until a large group was dancing in the middle of the room. Normally the church leaders only sit and watch, so you can imagine the great delight of the people when the bishop and his wife got up to join the crowd!
Soon afterwards, I thought to myself, “If the bishop can get up to dance, so can I.” So I invited Julie to join me out on the floor. It wasn’t long before nearly everyone in the gymnasium was up with us, having a great time dancing to the African praise and worship music. It really loosened everyone up and provided us with a point of connection with the people. They could see that we were not just bystanders in their lives, but were willing to join in with them where they were.
There are times of celebration that are special in our lives, and there are also encounters with people who afford us quiet contemplation of what it means to live out the Gospel message. Such a one it was for us the morning of the same day I have just described.
We had decided to first conduct our regular English worship service and then to join the main celebration at the Cathedral later. After the English service we spoke with an older lady visiting from another city who is currently taking care of orphans. She had originally come from Holland about twenty years ago to volunteer with an organization that provides health care for AIDS patients. She discovered that babies born with AIDS were often being left to die without any care. So what could she do, being a single lady, already in her fifties, living in a foreign country?
“What could I do, except what Jesus would have me to do?” she said. “I couldn’t just leave them to die, so I began to take them into my home. I couldn’t go back to my home country without trying to do what I could. Some of the children were extremely underweight, weighing only 6 or 7 pounds at the age of 12 – 18 months. But I nursed them into good health and the oldest of them is now attending a university.”
“Did you start an orphanage to care for these children?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied, “They live at home with me. They are my children and I am their mom. I presently have ten children with me and we are a family, not an orphanage.”
My next question had to do with visas. “What do you do about visas? Do you have a long term visa, or do you have to renew it every two years?”
“Well, I have to renew it every two years like every other foreigner. It costs a lot of money, but what else can I do? I have to take care of these children.”
When we think that we have given up so much to come work in a third world country for a couple of years, it does us much good to meet someone like this lady. With no fanfare or loud attention being drawn to herself, she has decided to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a truly sacrificial manner. We see her labor of love and are amazed. She sees herself as simply doing what God would have any Christian do; to take care of the orphans of this world. It is no “sacrifice” to love others, when that love finds its foundation in loving Jesus first.
The following week we met with some friends who also quietly love their neighbors because of their love for Christ. Last year we were privileged to meet a young couple with two children who are originally from Kenya. We reconnected with them over a late lunch at our home, enjoying a time of fine conversation and singing hymns together.
As Boniface related his struggle to find consistent work this past year, he told of how he had been blessed with a labor contract that would provide for his family for many months to come. He and his wife decided to give a tithe from that contract in a very practical way. They went back to his home village in Kenya to build a two room building with locally made baked earth bricks. Then they invited a homeless family they knew to live in one of the rooms.
The other room was made into a classroom in order to provide education for some children who couldn’t afford to go to school. Boniface made eight desks and set up a black board for a teacher to use for lessons. The little school was registered with the government in order to avoid any legal problems. I asked him how it has worked out for them.
“Oh, we now have 16 students and it is going well,” was his reply.
I asked him what made them think of doing this project.
“I was brought up to think of others, “ came his quiet answer, “when one has something extra or has been blessed , then it should be shared and bring some benefit to the community.”
We need to allow ourselves to be continually challenged in our concept of what it means to live as Christians; to be salt and light in our world. This does not mean we all have to travel to a third world country to care for orphans or to build a little school. Rather, it often means lifting up our eyes to see the “orphans” around us who are spiritually homeless, or who just need a friend to care for them in a practical way.
How would God have you show the light of His love to them? Begin to do it quietly and determinedly. You will be challenged beyond your abilities, and yet God’s grace will be there for you. Be a “little Christ” for those who need to be healed by God’s love flowing through you like a “River of Life”.
Forward in Joy,