Wednesday, December 10, 2014
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan
Throughout my now now long and varied life, I have been regarded as a friend by many famous and powerful people. I don’t mean someone who signed an autograph for me or shook my hand at a party, I mean people with whom I have shared meals, laughed with, and given and received advice. The list includes Nobel Prize winners, Oscar and Emmy winners, captains of industry, former Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, and men and women who have received major awards for their accomplishments, people who have buildings and foundations that bear their names. I once had lunch with the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Catholic church, in the Phanar in Istanbul, the ecclesial leader of 300 million Orthodox Catholics and who wrote me a personal letter of thanks (albeit in Byzantine Greek which took two weeks to translate and which I still have) and who just recently met with Pope Francis. I’ve been friends with those who have statues and other monuments that bear their names. As important and impressive as these people are and whose names are known all over the world, they are not the people whom I admire and respect the most. The famous have received their recognition in many, very public, and long-lasting ways. The people I admire and respect, most of you have never known or ever will know. There is a couple here who came here almost thirty years ago and established an orphanage for infants up to two years (these are the most critical years, if they make it to two, they have an excellent chance). At first, this couple from Finland were supported by their church but as their church decided to spend more and more on big revivals and less on humanitarian projects, they cut their funding in half. The couple didn’t quit, but the husband went back to Sweden every six months to work as a bus driver to support the orphanage. Then the church cut all ties to them assuming they would quit and come home. That was over ten years ago, and they are still here. Daniel still drives a bus six-months a year, and they can’t care for as many infants as they used to, but they still care for the abandoned and orphaned children often just left on their doorstep. They live a simple life and Daniel has built and fixed almost everything they have from a passive solar hot water system to ways to keep the cattle from being stolen as they need the milk for the babies. Few people even here know their names but Lizbeth and Daniel are very high on the list of people I admire and respect for their unwavering service to God and His children. There is a female missionary with her husband and children here who has been here for many years but had to take a lot of time off to return to her home country for major surgery, chemotherapy, and all the other unpleasant aspects of recovering from breast cancer. She survived and she didn’t stay in her home country or quit either, as so many would have, and has returned to Tanzania and is still here serving God and her church. I thought of her yesterday as we hung our Christmas stockings because she helped the women with whom she works to sew and to personalize them with our names. We have another missionary neighbor who has five children all born while she was serving as a missionary here who always remembers my birthday and makes sure I have a cake, gifts, and a party. The picture at the right is of a party she had to honor me, but the honor goes to her the other missionaries in the picture. Her husband is an Anglican Priest who works with young men who are learning to be pastors and carpenters at the same time. We have purchased tables and chairs that they have made for here at our mission. People like this leave me in awe and admiration for what they just take as what is expected of them on a daily basis living thousands and thousands of miles from home and family without complaint. I admire and respect the man with little education who will take a bicycle and five Swahili Bibles and ride out into the bush with no money and take the Word of God to people who have never heard the name Jesus Christ and will establish churches with only minimal support from those villagers who know the importance of his work. None of these people will ever have banquets honoring them, or plaques to hang on the wall, or often even the respect and admiration of the national denominations they serve. They do what they do because they heard a voice say, “Who will go for us?” and they said, “Here we are, send us.” I’m getting a little teary just thinking of their dedication which has overcome severe health issues, financial issues, and the betrayal and attacks from the very people they serve—and they do this without resentment (the real meaning of the word “meek” is to endure persecution without malice—what Hemingway would call “grace under pressure.”) These are the people whose service and love touches my heart and for whom I know without a shadow of a doubt will one day hear these words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” It’s not about how the world or even the community around you acknowledges you or recognizes you, it’s like that prayer that Elie Wiesel prays every night, “So God, how’d I do today? Were You proud of me or ashamed?” God is proud of these unknown, unsung, real bringers of the peace for which we prepare every Advent. “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” are what these folks bring with no fanfare, adulation, or notice. Well, I notice and remember. These people live lives that emulate the Gospel and demonstrate rather than preach the “peace that passes all understanding.” God bless ‘em. I love ‘em all.