Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Triumphal Procession

Things go wrong here in Middle Earth once in a while. But not all the time. If everyone was always late, if the electricity was always off, if the water was always brown then that would be predictable. Life here is not predictable and in order to maintain a proper state of unpredictability sometimes things go right. One day things went really really right. I thought I would tell you about it.
The year was 1999 and we were tired. We had started the office here in Minas Tirith, we had begun the work in northern Mordor, we had started a house church, and we had our third child. I thought that was a pretty good first term all round. But we were worn out and in need of some good time with friends and family back in the West. The trouble is that the very hardest thing we do here is travel. People often ask us how long it takes us to get here and the answer used to be about a week. We have a direct flight to a major airport out in Grey Havens now but back then we could not get very far and the layovers were always measured in days instead of hours. We had a guest come two weeks before we were to leave and they hassled him pretty good on his way out. I stuck up for him and got him through without paying any kind of bribe but I made a few customs guys pretty irritated in the process. I kept thinking that I was going to be here with my whole family and a lot of luggage in just two weeks and they were not going to make this easy.

We packed up and headed to the airport. Several friends went with us. When we got to the airport everyone was there. I had seen other people leave with a large procession of grateful nationals and honestly I never thought our leaving would be like that. But the King was good as always and many were there to see us off- except our secretary. She was supposed to be there and was not. We went to check in and there was a guy with a big broom handled mustache standing at the door. I had seen him there before but I don't ever remember speaking to him. He greeted me and then turned to the large room with all the customs officials and the passport control people and announced in a loud voice, "This is a very good man! He speaks our language, only use our language with him. He is a great diplomat!" I was in shock. I humbly said thank you to him and walked in. I went to customs and I asked to fill out the forms and begin the arduous procedure of checking in. The man looked at me puzzled and said you are a diplomat- go on. Ok. Everyone in our entourage followed us passed customs and then passed passport control which they should not be allowed to do. It was like a big party. Then we went out on the runway and said goodbye to everyone. We boarded the plane and waited. And waited. We wondered why we were waiting so long then it was announced that something needed to happen. I didn't understand. Suddenly the front doors of the plane were reopened and I was asked to go forward. I looked down and there was our secretary on the runway saying goodbye. The airport officials had held up the plane and let her out on the runway to say goodbye to us. Unbelievable. But this was stage one of a long trip. Things were sure to go wrong when we went north to one of the most difficult and corrupt airports in Middle Earth. Nothing happened. We arrived. People were not only nice, they were downright helpful. It was eerie. I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to come along asking for money, or trying to be nasty. It didn't happen. We got our onward tickets and we went on the US of A. I don't usually get too place specific in this blog but I will go ahead and say that we landed in Atlanta, GA- we went on from there but that is where we went through immigration. As we walked up to the line a large black man in a uniform and a big smile was waiting for us. He took our passports and looked them over. He said, "So, you're a missionary!" I had not used that word for three years. We never use that word. Sometimes we call it the M word but that is as far as we go. I looked around to see who was listening and I said, "Is that tattooed on my forehead?" He looked at the various visas in my passport- places many of you have never heard of- and said, "It's tattooed in your passport. How long have you been away?" I told him that we had been out of the US for three and a half years. He handed our passports back and said, "Welcome home!" I almost cried.

There are days when everything goes wrong. Plans fail. I almost never go to bed having accomplished what I set out to do that morning. In our work we say flexible is not enough, you have to be fluid. But our King is a most gracious King. He gives us just what we need when we need it most. The psalmist said that though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning. Here in Middle Earth it often waits until lunchtime but it does come. 2 Cor 2 says it this way: "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him." That verse is jam packed with meaning. In June of 1999 it took on a newer and grander meaning than I had seen before. It is true everyday even though I don't feel it every day. Life does not always feel like a triumphal procession, but it is. How I feel or what the next set of Government officials do to me can not alter the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ in me. So, I will march in this triumphal procession even when it is lonely, and dark, and full of troubles. Come with me.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Hope of Love

In a previous post I mentioned working with Boromir. There was another guy whom I also worked with at that time whose name I will call Ted. Ted spoke some English, was educated, had been a believer for over nine years and had a wife and three children. He came and participated in our Disaster Management Course and I knew that I had found a great asset to the team. What I liked about Ted, what made him so compelling was that he would cry quite easily when talking about deep emotional things. He had a lot of those kinds of things to talk about as it turned out. The more I got to know him the more I realized that he was really messed up. He had been treated very badly by some of the Churches that he had gone to. He had been thrown out of his original Church because when he got married- to a Christian girl- his parents gave him a Muslim wedding. The pastor felt he had not objected loudly enough to this so they excommunicated him. The next church he went to tried to help him but soon grew tired of his many needs and they too threw him out. He wandered from Church to Church after that trying to find a place to belong but could not. I, being who I am, was sure that I could help him.

I started to study with him and Boromir on a regular basis. As we studied together, prayed together, and worked together many things came to light. Boromir was an alcoholic. Ted had other problems. Ted was trapped in the worst marriage you have ever heard of. He was trapped in the lies of his own making and it was tearing him apart. Sin is like that you know. The enemy is not content to let us just wander cold and miserable down the wrong path, he wants us to suffer much more than that. If we let him the enemy will tell us lies to bind us up until we are nothing more than animals with no control over any aspect of our lives. This was Ted's predicament. His wife came from an abusive family and Ted married her partly to get her out of it. But she is now a very damaged individual. Their life together is really something to see. She yells at him, baits him, and antagonizes him until he finally hits her- which is the only way that she feels she has been heard. He then feels terrible about it and goes out and seeks solace with a prostitute. She hates him all the more for that and the cycle repeats. It has been repeating like this for nine years. She leaves him- often and then comes back to him because there is no where else to go. He repents and swears his love for her often but it never last long and he is back in the worst kinds of sin and self-hatred. Enter Strider with his big Bible and truck full of wisdom based on Open Windows. (Cue Mighty Mouse theme song, "Here I come to save the daaaaaaayyyy!") Yes, yes, I already know. I am an idiot.

I plead with God to take these guys away. I didn't want to work with an alcoholic or a wife-beater no matter what their situations were. All through that fall and through that winter I would get up in the morning and tell God He had the wrong man- there was no man- for these guys. Let's just cut our losses and move on to more productive people. I already told you what happened with Boromir, how he cleaned up at first and became really productive. I began to think that Ted would never get it. He would never understand what I was talking about. We went through John Eldridge's Wild at Heart book and talked about what a real man was suppose to be. We discussed what Ted should be doing to truly love his wife. He used what we taught to justify his outrageous behavior. Then in the Spring his wife left him- again. This time it seemed for good as she took the kids up to her parents house in the North. Ted came in and suddenly there was a lightbulb over his head. He said to me, 'I get it! I understand what you have been saying all this time. I know it will be harder than ever to fight for my wife and restore our relationship but that is exactly what I have to do.' He left the next day for her city.

Now, I have to be honest. I thought two things simultaneously: One, great, he finally gets it. God bless the boy. And two, he's gone. I don't have to deal with him anymore.
A few months later I heard he had found work. He was seeing his wife regularly. He was trying to be active in a church there that was related to his first Church. He repented of all his sins in front of the whole congregation. Then a few months after that his wife left her parents house and started to live with him again. There were some struggles at first but then everything seemed to turn out great. I was happy for him. Then she left him and the kids and ran off to Arnor in the far north. He came back down to Minas Tirith with the kids in tow. He was shattered and his parents decided they would finally intervene. They set him up to marry another girl. He got an official divorce. I and other friends told him not to marry this non-christian girl that he hardly knew. It would be a disaster. The second marriage lasted four days. Then his first wife came back. He left the second wife- her reputation and life destroyed- and rejoined his divorced wife. I saw him shortly after that. I felt that I couldn't just condone all this. I had to be firm. I had to lay it on the line. I spoke harshly to him and condemned him for destroying that young girl's life. He took my words pretty hard. He left and I didn't see him for a long time. He is back up north again. Living with his wife and children and working in a new Church start. He hasn't been back to prostitutes for 2 years nor has he beaten his wife.

So, here is my point. God is a lot more patient than I am. His mercy and grace are amazing beyond our ability to comprehend. I must grow even more in this area. I need to be able to love more truly. Love hopes all things. What does that mean to you? To me it means that despite the reality of sin and stupidity love knows that better things are coming. Love knows that the walls of sin and selfishness can and will be destroyed. Love knows that the captive can be freed. We separate from our brothers and sisters so easily and it is a testimony to our lack of faith. Our Lord is at work in people's lives. He will overcome every work of the evil one. We need to confront evil in others not out of anger at them, to separate from them, or to show our offense at them. We need to confront the evil in others by inviting them into closer, deeper, truer relationship. I blew it when I cast Ted out. I should have confronted his sin and invited him in and proclaimed my love for him at the same time. My Father does this. I must do it too. But we are afraid to do this. Afraid that if someone else sees us they will think we are soft on sin, that we condone what others do. That is what Jesus was accused of. If I am not accused of this is it because my actions are so good that they are not misunderstood? Foolishness. If I am not accused of loving sinners and being misunderstood as Jesus was then it is because I am not like Jesus and I am not loving others as He does. God make me misunderstood like Jesus.