It’s not unusual to see ants crawling on the body of one of these rural folks while I examine them. They live close to the earth and often are comfortably lying in the dirt (there’s no grass here) while waiting to be seen by the doctor. They don’t wear shoes, rarely change their clothes, and live in grass-roof houses with dirt floors. Living in this desert climate with a rainy season of less than a month, they rarely bathe, and when I need to sterilize an area of skin, it might take several minutes of scrubbing before the cotton remains clean after wiping with alcohol. Most only bathe when they swim in a river (almost never as they age) and rivers and streams are rare here. I wonder if our hyper-emphasis on cleanliness in the west might be more of a preference than a health necessity. It is certainly healthy to avoid contagions (influenza, strep, mosquitos transmitting malaria, etc) and to properly separate our waste from our food and water, but exposing our bodies to dirt and most insects is harmless, as demonstrated by these beautiful (dirty) folks.
I pass the same rail thin man every morning on my walk at dawn along the river floodplain, below the cliffs on which our house sits. He is always wearing the same tattered clothes and standing in his crude, dugout canoe, tending to his fishing nets, and SINGING. I don’t know him and haven’t spoken more than a simple greeting to him, as he is always off shore, sometimes pulling a few, small fish out of his nets. His is a difficult, tedious, hungry life, that to this passer-by radiates JOY. Joy, especially demonstrated in a setting of difficulty, is so strikingly beautiful and stimulates wonder in the observer. If we would only remember that suffering in this life is the absolute best setting for our joy and pleasure in Him to impact those around us. Father, please send us difficulty and hardship, so that our joy in you would even more magnify your beauty.
After about 9:00p (when the mission generator is turned off), there are no electric lights for miles in every direction. It is dark. The desert sky is beyond spectacular. About once a week during the night, the hospital guard shows up in front of our house, calling for the doctor. During my ten minute walk to the hospital, I often stop and marvel at the profound stillness, the rich darkness and the sheer number of lights in the sky. I arrive to a dark hospital where only I have a flashlight, the patient having arrived by foot, sometimes walking for several hours in the dark because of a perceived emergency. It is always strange to walk up to our dark nurses station, where I see only empty shadows as I approach, and see multiple eyes looking back at me when I shine my flashlight in their direction. We’ll then discuss the situation and perform an exam by candlelight (if we can find a candle) and then round up the necessary instruments and medications for treatment.
The church building is empty at 8:55a on Sunday morning and there is no activity in the surrounding area. At 9:00a, the church bell is rung and people are then seen heading toward the church building on walking paths from every direction. By 9:15a, the building is close to full (perhaps 100-150 people) and the second hymn is finishing and the service begins. The church bell calls the church to come to the service. How long has this been a practice? Where in the world is the bell actually used to call the people, as it is here? No one here wears a watch, so the clanging bell tells people not when the service begins, but rather when it is time to leave home to walk to the service! There are no cars or motorbikes parked outside and those who walk an hour or two (many) arrive early and visit friends until the clanging of the bell.
A mother brought her two adorable little girls (4 and 7) to see me because of fever (malaria). They were at the hospital between 9:00a and noon, when we have generator power, and the ceiling light in my consultation room was on. The girls couldn’t take their eyes off of the florescent bulbs and they expressed over and over how they were so beautiful. They apparently couldn’t quite comprehend what they were and asked their mother how they could give off such beautiful light. Their mother tried to explain, but they just stared in wonder. I’m sure they had seen lights before, but likely rarely and perhaps only from a distance. Perhaps it was the florescent lighting that was so attractive? They live in such simple settings that even an electric light is a wonder. Isn’t the pure, wonder of a child so beautiful to behold? I watched and listened to their exchange in amazement that, in 2013, I could witness such an honest reaction to electric lighting, so uncommon in the rural, grass-roof, dirt-floor, Angolan home, yet something that, in the US, even the poorest don’t live without. Yet, even in this crude and simple environment, these girls will likely grow up, bear children, raise a family, work hard, experience love and loss and, just like every little girl living in the US, India, Russia, Egypt, Iran, China, Denmark, etc, be pursued by the One who created each of them in love with purpose and forethought, the One who died for them, and the One who invites them to walk with Him for eternity, in His kingdom.
I was interviewing a very pleasant, barefoot man my age (through a translator – a nurse who fluently speaks 7-8 languages) with severe knee arthritis and asked him where he was from, what language he spoke, etc. He began to count the languages that he spoke and stopped at seven. And these rural people are commonly characterized as simple or less intelligent! They do, however, have so little exposure to opportunity to learn skills and gain knowledge. I wonder how many Albert Einsteins, Isaac Newtons, Corrie Ten Booms, JR Tolkeins, Jane Austens, Mark Twains, etc are hidden in the African outback? Of course, in God’s economy, fame, earthly opportunity, success and prosperity hold little significance, as many of these folks will have an eternity to develop, learn and seek out opportunity in His Kingdom. I think we may be quite surprised at the racial diversity of heaven, as well as the number of people there who never used an electrical appliance during their life on earth.
I often need reminded to see our work and this world from an eternal perspective. As we read and study God’s truth and promises, we so often forget that all of God’s word is authored from an eternal “world view”. Seen from only a temporal perspective, earthly life is utterly unfair, by any definition of “fairness” or “justice”. Consider the millions of children that die before the age of five every year, the socioeconomic disparity of the world’s population at birth, the congenital disabilities, the millions of innocent war casualties, the tsunamis and earthquakes, the earthly experiences available to a middle class teen in the US today compared to a Calcutta teen in 1630, etc, etc.
But eternity is the great equalizer. It will matter little to Caesar in ten thousand years that he ruled in wealth for the duration of his short life on the earth. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps will care little about their sports successes in just a few hundred years. In fifty or so years, Obama, Bush, and Clinton, will not care one iota that they were once in positions of influence. It will matter little to the child, who has feasted at her Father’s banqueting table every day for two thousand years, that she died on the earth of hunger at age eleven. The smiling youth bowed in worship at the throne hardly remembers the gunshot that killed him in the drug war in the Rio favela. That my brief earthly life was pleasant or tragic will matter little to me in the year 3013. That I accomplished some success or accomplished little noteworthy here won’t matter when I hear Him call my name. A couple hours after his conversation with Jesus, the thief who died next to him was not preoccupied with his life of failure and regret. The severely malnourished and dehydrated 10 month old girl that I saw yesterday in the clinic will likely not survive the week. We set her up in the hospital with rehydration and a nutrition paste to take orally, but her caregiver left the premises to not return. There is no way here to track her or rescue her. That this cachectic little girl was born in the dirt in rural Angola to a drunk father and a mother who died of malaria when she was seven months old and that she was neglected by her mother’s sister to the point of death is simply not fair by any definition, but it will matter little to her after daily running and skipping in her father’s meadows, eating from His bountiful garden and having her every need met for the next thousand years.
We have such hope. We live this hope in every circumstance, with every breath. We share this hope with every person we meet. “Everyone… who trusts in Him… will know eternal life… For God so loved… that He gave… so that whosoever trusts in Him… will have eternal life…”
Let us make this our message, our passion, our life and breath, again today… in Angola and wherever we live, at our place of work, at home with our family, at the marketplace or store, on FB, with our neighbors…
He is alive today… He knows us and cherishes us, every one… We can know Him, trust Him, walk with Him… beyond the curtain… forever…
We can see this life, this world, every circumstance and relationship from an eternal perspective…
…and the things of earth will grow strangely dim… in the light of His glory and grace.
Thank you for this portrait of Joy in the Journey. It is sometimes difficult to look at the world around us and see how God can be good and caring and in control while so much suffering continues in the world. But that’s really the point, isn’t it? That’s what you’ve been trying to say in so many different ways for all these years – that God is at once so much more broad and deep than all of our sufferings, and also so much more intimately connected to us than we can begin to comprehend. And therein is the mystery – so great and powerful while still so kind and good and gentle. Everything we face in life serves multiple purposes, all of which are designed, ultimately, it all points back to Jesus, and to the Father’s desire to glorify his son.
Thank you for that encouraging reminder, and for pointing me back to Jesus.