Just as we had all the documents in place to get Karen’s residence permit renewed, the President of Tanzania fired the Minister of Immigration. With luck, this will only be a delay of a few days—just another obstacle popping up in our path. This life is indiscriminate in the ways it places obstacles in our paths when we are trying to do good, to do the right and Christlike thing. We can just give up, or we can choose to do something else in response. I can’t remember where I heard this story, but I used it as a sermon illustration when I was preaching in a Methodist Church in Curitiba, Brazil, around 1996. The Methodist Bishop of Brazil had come to hear me preach, and I had him help me as we acted out the following story. I’ll let you guess what role I asked the Bishop to play. He did it with grace and style, I’ll say that for him. He was a good man. Here’s the story:
A farmer in Brazil had an old donkey that he loved. He had raised it from a foal, and it had served him for many years with love and devotion. The farmer had also loved the donkey as they spent many hours together every day. At last the farmer realized that the donkey had gone blind and with its advance age, it needed to be put down, but he couldn’t do it. One day, as the farmer walked down to the old pasture, the blind donkey heard the familiar footsteps and followed as well as a blind donkey could. The farmer knew the donkey was behind him, but it only made him sad. Then the farmer heard the donkey cry out as it fell into an abandoned well. The farmer knew he could never get the donkey out, so with tears streaming down his face, he began to shovel dirt into the well to bury his old friend. The tears and sweat kept him from seeing into the well, but he didn’t need to see to keep shoveling. After almost an hour, the farmer stopped to rest. As he sat down, he felt the unmistakable muzzle of his old donkey friend against his back. He wiped away his tears, and to his amazement, there stood the old, blind donkey. As the dirt fell onto the donkey’s back, the donkey just shook it off and then stood on it. Eventually, there was enough dirt underneath it for the donkey to just step out of the well.
Life will always shovel dirt on us. The question is, do we let the dirt overwhelm us and give in, or do we shake it off and rise above it and on it? I think the old, blind donkey taught a very powerful lesson that day to itself, to the farmer, and to any of us smart enough to learn.