It is said that when an expert European shoemaker gave a pair of fine French shoes (which had been produced with the greatest craftsmanship the shoemaker had at his disposal) to the Emperor Menelik II as a gift, the Emperor responded: “Why should I wear shoes while my people go shoeless?”
Have you ever felt ridiculously inadequate for something God has called you to?
Perhaps the same way that a sturdy, well-maintained tractor would feel about being asked to enter the Indy 500? The tractor is perfectly good at what it’s suited for, but this is not racing. This is how I generally feel about both missions in general and mission in Ethiopia in particular.
“Don’t you understand, Lord,” I said to Jesus, “that this is not the type of thing you made me for?” But he responded, in the canny way the Lord does of responding without answering, “I want you to be open to this.”
It is a strange thing that the Lord assigns tasks in this way, but we should expect it, because God is the ultimate standard for mission. God the Father sent God the Son on a mission, and became a man, Jesus Christ, to fulfill it. God had ultimate power and knowledge to work with, and what did he do with it?
Even though Christ fed crowds, he did not give them an endless supply of bread, and even though he healed the sick, he did not leave them with miracle cures. Even though the world was ignorant and foolish he did not establish a vast library in which every human question was answered. He dwelled among his people, formed relationships with them, and paid the price necessary for those relationships to yield renewal and regeneration.
God confirmed this again during our CarePoint visit to Bole Bulbula CarePoint last year. Our team was fairly small, but wonderfully balanced: just four people, very young, coming together very late, and facing many challenges just in getting to Ethiopia. When we arrived we had just red-eyed it and, due to a scheduling mistake, we were due at the CarePoint straight from the airport. Nonetheless, we had Jesus’s promise that he was with us. That was enough, because he was.
We had planned activities for that week—we had games and crafts and balloons and all that—but what is interesting is that everything most memorable and perfect about that week wasn’t planned or, in the case of a baboon who unexpectedly showed up in the middle of the city, uninvited!
Our visit to the coffee factory was lovely, but we could not have planned on one of us accidentally photobombing another team member’s picture with a hilarious expression.
This then became a theme…
We had a wonderful time seeing the Portuguese Bridge and eating lunch by the side of the highway.
We had a wonderful 15-minute museum tour, which led to us sending a text message with the map of Ethiopia to friends that we had been separated from by work and distance. The friend was a huge Tolkien aficionado, and the message read: “Gondor calls for aid!”
The soccer camp that two of us organized was great. The children loved it and it was easy to generate countless variations and new games, such as volleyball, but it was the banana eating contest that suddenly broke out that everyone will remember.
The paper lanterns that we planned as an activity produced lovely lanterns, but the unplanned drawing lesson I put together on a day’s notice produced one of the most memorable moments from the trip. The children were to use a drawing lesson I provided to do sight-drawing around the church. The social worker, however, drew one of us instead—and one of the children drew the social working doing this.
Our home visit with a sponsor child that we had just begun to sponsor was sweet and meaningful for many team members. It was a deeply affecting moment for the members of the team who had never been to Ethiopia before, especially when, just before we left, her mother suddenly broke out in English, “God bless you! I love you all.”
Within all of these surprises and interesting turns to events, it was deeply gratifying to know that the team was so well-constituted, so surprisingly adaptable, that I could merely say, “Come up with a new craft,” and a new craft would suddenly be devised, or, when the rain drove us all indoors, to have a team member immediately take over and produce a new activity. I saw one team member take over a rainy day by simply refusing to let it end, jumping up on the stage and beginning to teach the kids “Simon Says.”
In all of this, what really came home was the truth of something that Fikre said two years ago. I told him that our church was poor, and mostly made up of college students, missionaries, and blue collar folk—it’s a funny place!—and he said, “That’s perfect. Those are people who have passion. God can supply the money.”
Relationship is the currency of the gospel. Why were the unexpected events so meaningful? Planned events create the context for relationships to emerge, but the unexpected events are the moments when those relationships were being defined and the memories that will sustain them were being formed.
Christ could have come down with all his power and all his knowledge, and yet, God uses weakness that is stronger than strength. We could have come with all our big American knowledge and big American wealth, but what could God do with that? Relationships are among the only things that will endure into eternity, and it is within relationship that authentic transformation becomes possible.
I don’t know why God would send a tractor to the Indianapolis 500. But I do know that he would do something wonderful and surprising with it. Psalm 111 ends with the refrain, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” but notice what the psalmist counts as producing fear: seeing God at work in redeeming his people, in feeding his flock, and in demonstrating his faithfulness. The fear of the Lord is knowing that we serve a God who placed infinite power in a tiny manger and used a few handfuls of flawed individuals and flawed relationships to overturn and renew everything that was broken. Everything about this Lord is unexpected. Will you join his dance?
Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.