Sunday, October 4, 2015
“Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God's scheme ultimately leads back to the cross. ” ― Philip Yancey
Around twenty years ago, my wife found herself in an antique store on one of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. She discovered a 300-year-old, Ethiopian cross of almost pure silver. The store owner had a copy of the National Geographic Magazine in which this specific cross was pictured explaining how when slaves died in the fields, they were seldom buried, and an archeological dig discovered this particular cross where the slave who was wearing it died and his body left to rot in the fields. The king of Ethiopia had declared around 1500 that all males were to wear crosses and the different designs and motifs identified various families and groups. Karen wanted to buy the cross for my birthday that was still some ten months away, but she didn’t have the money to pay for it. The antique dealer was struck by her passion for the cross and her desire to give it to me and worked out one of his first ever lay-away plans. We were back in Arkansas later that year in July when she finally paid it off, and he sent it to her. Instead of waiting four months for my birthday to roll around in November, she drove directly from the post office to my church office and proudly handed it to me, saying, “Happy Birthday.” I loved my African cross even though my very first trip to Africa was still years and years away, and I had no idea how important it was to be. I wore it all the time, and if you have a picture of me, the cross is probably is in the picture. Now, since I was flying to New York on an airline based in the United Arab Emirates, we thought it was probably not a good idea to go dressed as a Christian bishop. Still, I had to wear that cross, so I wore it under my shirt so I could feel it and her love always touching me. During a three-hour layover in Dubai, I was waiting in a food court (where else?) and being served by a man I suspected to be African. I spoke to him in Swahili, and while he knew it was Swahili, he said he was not from East Africa, but he was Ethiopian. At that point, I reached into my shirt and pulled out my cross (pictured at the right) and showed him. His face broke into a smile that would have outshined the sun. He then opened his shirt just enough so that I could see that he, too, was wearing an Ethiopian cross under his uniform. He leaned down, still smiling, and said, “We are Christian brothers here.” I nodded my agreement and slid my cross back under my shirt. It was one of those God moments that make our lives richer each time they occur. We were both still smiling as I was wheeled away to board the plane that would (fifteen hours later) deliver me to New York. It felt to me as if it was two thousand years ago and one of us had just scratched the outline of a fish in the sand and the other had added the three ribs that confirmed the bond between us and Christ. It was just a moment, it didn’t last long, but it is one that I will both never forget and always remember. Two strangers in a strange land that discovered that both were a part of a much bigger movement, a movement large enough to change the world. I didn’t think that my cross could have any more emotional meaning for me than it already did, but I was proved wrong at about three in the morning in a place surrounded by thousands of miles of empty sand. There are people who believe that God no longer speaks to humans. I am not among those people—I still hear His voice spoken at strange times in strange places and am always reassured.