Saturday, July 12, 2014
“Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is to receive one graciously and gratefully.” ― Peter Nyambu
My second trip to Africa came in May of 2003, when I was the guest preacher for a week-long, three-nation (Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya) Methodist conference in Nairobi, Kenya. After the conference, I was driven across Kenya and into the area of Tanzania where I now live by a wonderful man and friend, Sam Mdune. We were accompanied by the Bishop of Nairobi, Bishop Simba. One Sunday, we attended the reopening of a church that had been destroyed by a bad storm and had taken three years to rebuild. As the visiting pastor from the U.S., I preached and was the guest of honor. After the service, the pastor asked if I would take a short walk with him to the hut of an old, blind pastor who had served the church for many years and had heard of my coming. Of course, I agreed, not knowing that a short walk to a Tanzanian is a half-marathon to an overweight American. We walked for almost forty-five minutes through the bush to a small kraal (compound with a thorn fence) that had just a few huts in it. We went to the one of the smallest, were welcomed inside, ducked our heads (very small doorway) and went into the very dark interior as the blind have no need of light. There was virtually nothing inside the hut except a mat on the floor for sleeping and a small, three-legged stool. The old pastor felt my hand and felt my face and welcomed me with much hand-shaking and a smile that assured me I was truly welcome. He offered me the stool and with great difficulty, I lowered myself onto it knowing it would be hard to stand back up. We visited for about a half and hour. He was a delightful soul and filled with the Holy Spirit. He laughed at my attempts at Swahili and told me he had never been so honored as to have an American pastor visit in his home. When we rose to leave, he insisted I take the stool—his only piece of furniture. I had to take it because to refuse would have been a great insult. On the way out, I forgot to duck and cracked my head on the doorway. I didn’t cry out, but walked the long way back to the car, carrying my precious gift. It wasn’t until I was back in the car and we were driving away that I let out a scream and grabbed my head. My hand came back bloody, but I was okay, just a nice scar and a terrific headache. Sam Mdune, who was driving, told me what an honor it was for the old pastor to give me his three-legged stool. He said the man would talk about this visit for a long, long time. I was back in the U.S. when I heard that the old man had died about three months later. When I returned to live in Tanzania for good in 2005, the pastor who had taken me to see that wonderful old man told me that the man had indeed spoken of my visit with everyone who came to see him until he died. I had always felt guilty about taking away his one piece of furniture, but the pastor told me it was I who had given the greater gift by receiving that old stool and asking God to bless the man who had given it to me. The rickety three-legged stool and the bump on my head are long gone, but the memory of that day is etched in my own personal history as one of those special moments that are gifts from God. Things I call God’s “thank you” notes. I don’t remember his name, but I will never forget his smile or the warmth I felt when he hugged me goodbye. He gave me more than his only possession. He gave me a glimpse of what heaven is all about. I will always love him for that.