Friday, May 04, 2007

Going Far to get Near

I am interested in people who are lost. What drives them? What touches them? If I could know that then maybe my demonstration of Christ before them could be more effective. It could have meaning to them and touch them in a powerful way. The sad truth is that too many of us are too good at making the old old story boring. If you want to lead a guy out of lostness you must first find him. I am not talking about prostituting Jesus for the masses, making him some kind of Santa Claus or anything like that. I am talking about sharing the real Jesus with real people.

A few years ago our family went camping high in the Gondor mountains. There is a beautiful blue lake up there and we set up camp and stayed the week almost alone. I say almost because there was one couple who was also up there. The day before we were to leave the guy came up to me and told me that the next morning he and his wife were going on a special hike. There was a cave high up in the mountains nearby and in that cave there was a mummy. He was hundreds of years old and they knew a guide in a local village who would take us up if we wanted to go. I talked it over with Arwen and we agreed; as long as the hike was not too long and not very dangerous it would be great for me to go while she stayed back with the kids.
At five the next morning we set out.

We went to a nearby village to get the Teacher and he took us up the mountain. It was very steep and as we climbed I realized that as we passed the 9000 foot mark there was no air up there for me. Walking became so difficult that it was all I could think about. One step in front of the other seemingly without end. We passed shepherds. We passed sheep. We went up and up. At one point our guide the Teacher pointed to a round bole miles ahead up on a sheer face of cliff and announced that that was where we were going. I knew he was joking of course. How could anyone get way up there after all? Yes, for the regular readers of this blog I was once again in over my head having completely misjudged the situation.

After a couple of hours we came upon some old men who were also traveling up. They were from a city in the north and had come just to climb up and see the mummy. I thought that strange. We came at long last to a small mosque. It was at the foot of a natural spring that came down the mountain. We stopped and rested. I thought we were finished, that the cave was somehow behind the mosque. I had a Snickers bar to celebrate. Now the Teacher, my camping friends, and the five old men were talking together. They were discussing me. The Teacher came over to me to fill me in on the deliberations. The woman could go no farther. She would wait here for us to complete the journey. She would receive her blessing just by coming this far. Then, in one of those 'whole world spins around and comes into focus' moments I realized that I was on a pilgimage. This was not a historically interesting sight. This was a holy expedition! Looking back I find it unbelievable that even I was that naive. The road ahead was dangerous. Only those with special strength from God could complete the journey. If I went would I obey the rules? Would I uphold the traditions? If I would not then I must stay behind because to come along could compromise everyone's safety. I agreed to do what they did as long as they understood that I was a follower of Jesus and He alone was my protection and strength. Yes, that was fine.

So, I washed myself in the spring- head to toe, which in spite of the fact that it was a purification rite felt great as I was covered in sweat after the already long hike. Then everyone went into the mosque and prayed. I stayed outside and did no small amount of praying myself. Then we went up the mountain. The road was rocky and we climbed using our hands as well as our feet in several places. The old men were determined. The youngest of them was 65 and the oldest was 84. After another hour of climbing we came to an open granite rock that sloped up for about two hundred meters. We took off our shoes and went barefoot from there. Yes, we were on holy ground apparently. After we reached the top of the rock we came along a ledge to a cliff face. This is the one I saw from down in the valley that I knew must be a joke. If it was a joke it was not funny, not close up. The cliff was sheer but at an angle and it was broken. We walked across the face of the cliff in the small crack which was no more than two to three inches wide. We leaned into the rock and walked like this for about 50 meters. Then the crack widened out and we stood straight up on a ledge that was about a foot wide. The drop off next to us was hundreds of feet down and it was so steep that I could not see the bottom. Of course, that may have been because I was trying very hard not to look. We stood in a line on that cliff for a while and then we all knelt down and said prayers one more time. I was praying fervently that God would not let me die doing something this stupid. The older men wept openly in fear. The teacher then held out a very thick rope that went straight up the cliff face about 30 feet into the cave. It was remarkable to see the old men go up that rope one by one. I had decided that this was as far as I was going. There was no way that I was going up that rope. I didn't have anything to prove to anyone. My camping friend went up and then the rope was passed to me. I said out loud, 'This is stupid.' I then laughed thinking that this was the first thing I had said in English all day. I went up. It was not as hard as I had thought it would be. It was twice as dangerous as I thought it would be.

Once in the cave we all knelt down. There in the middle of the cave facing out and buried up to his waist was a man. It was a skeleton but as I looked I could see the dried skin still covering most of his body and over half of his face. There are several stories concerning this man but the most likely one is that he was an Arab teacher who had come from far away Arabia in 1270 AD. He had made some enemies as he taught Islam along the way and they chased him to the Teacher's village below. They were very devout Muslims and he thought they could hide and protect him. But his enemies were too powerful and came after him. He was wounded in the shoulder with an arrow and then made the journey that I just made. He was doing his prayers here in the cave when he died of his injuries. He was not found until many years later and the local villagers left him alone since it seemed that God was preserving him.

The Teacher came up and we did prayers once again. We were then instructed to each take a rock from the cave- a small one- and that rock would give us whatever we wished for most. That is why these guys were all there. They needed something and they needed to demonstrate their dedication to God to insure that they got it. One guy wanted his grandaughter to be able to have children, another needed money to pay off family debts, still another wanted assurance for the afterlife. I of course, wanted to get down from this mountain alive and I didn't think this rock was going to help me much. I still keep it in my traveling vest pocket that I was wearing that day as a reminder of my foolishness and God's faithfulness.

I learned some important things that day about where I live and who I am sent to. These are normal people who live in a dangerous spiritual world. Evil forces surround them and they feel helpless and trapped. Their only chance is to be diligent and dedicated so that perhaps God will be pleased and take notice of their plight. Most of them don't believe that He will take notice. But they are very impressed with those who can be very dedicated. Everytime I mention where I went that day people are always amazed. One believing friend even said, 'Strider! You went there? Only people who have special power from God can go there!' I couldn't deny that. I came down that mountain safely. I had worn the skin off of both small toes coming down but was otherwise unscathed. It is incredible to me how very different Jesus Christ is to the God that these serve. He cares about us, loves us, and even died for us. He forgives us and calls us no matter how obstinate we are. We are faithless and yet he is faithful because he can not deny himself.


BKC said...

Speaking of what drives people...why did you keep going? What was pushing you to go up from the mosque and then up the rope? Just curious.

Great story.

Strider said...

BKC- I thought alot about this later. I suppose that deep down I just can not abide quitting. I wont quit, I can't. Not even when it would be the very best thing to do!

BKC said...

Strider, that's an honest enough answer. Not quitting is a good trait to have...except when it's not :)