My husband came to bed quite late the other night.
I was still reading when I should have slept. But I could hardly help myself. The book, which I am carefully reading with a pencil in hand, is a fascinating tale. It is a simple, elegantly written and interesting work by a woman who lived and worked in Afghanistan for five years entitled In the Land of Blue Burqas. I picked up the volume while we were in the states. I was curious about the format. I wanted to understand how the author weaved together her international experience, so someday soon, I might create my own.
I am surprisingly blessed once again with the re-orientation of my mind in terms of contextualizing the gospel with gentle grace and loving my neighbor. It will be worth a second and third read to me as a tool and an inspiration. To anyone who wishes to be a better minister in a foreign culture and/or understand Islam, read this book.
As I was saying, my husband came home late. He sat down on the edge of the bed, looking satisfied but tired. We began to swap stories about our day. Mine was about our children, the fact that our cistern was empty, my conversation with a woman at a market store, an inquiry into what certain words were on yet another announcement our daughter brought home from school and my thoughts.
His were more of the same from what I had heard so many other nights before. His words piled up in front of me like a tumble of bricks that the writer’s mind in me began placing in a neat and coherent pile. After his reporting, he rose to go brush his teeth and come to bed, without a shower. But he turned and sat back down, abruptly and with those tired, but bright blue eyes looked at me and spoke again, “Angel, tell me the truth. Am I making any difference here, or am I spinning my wheels?”
It is not suitable for a man or woman to be alone. It is good to turn our souls inside out for one another and voice the questions that sometimes haunt us in our most vulnerable moments.
I put down my book and looked at him. I was quiet for a moment as I thought on a response that would be the right word fitly spoken.
I went over the stories in my mind from just the last three weeks, the snapshots of how he has numbered his days.
There is the small group in the village of Trinidad he works with weekly, driving 45 minutes to sit with them on over-turned buckets in a little tienda. He takes them through a basic course for new believers. He will be the first to confess he is not a gifted teacher nor communicator. Words don’t come off his tongue, even his fluent Spanish, like melted butter. He’d rather let his hands speak through the strings of his guitar or the pounding of his hammer. But he loves, sincerely loves people, especially Mexican villagers. The people have come to love him too and more than that, to trust him. Which is significant in this culture. The questions they ask him are enough to break your heart or bring you to your knees.
Then there is Pedro, who Ben has explained the gospel to several times. He does believe. And he wants to grow. But how do you feel the love of the Father when you are rejected by your family of origin, again and again? How do you have time to think of things other than a 60-hour workweek in the local cement factory where you work so you can support your wife and two daughters who live in a house the size of our dining room? Ben meets with Pedro, every time he calls. He sits down in their house-room and shares their beans and tortillas and counsels him in simple, yet challenging ways. He teaches him how to pray, for Pedro has no idea what it means to talk to God.
I could not forget Victor, either. He came to church just weeks ago, with his brother who trusted Jesus just weeks before that. He limped on crutches, looking broken in both body and soul. Ben, drawn to anything that hurts, sat down with him after the service. He lay hands on his twisted ankle, and we both prayed for healing. They exchanged cell numbers. Ben called him the next day and picked him up. He took him on errands he had to run to pick up supplies to fix a water pump and work on setting up a new water project. Ben listened to Victor’s story and ached for him. He prayed for him in the car for 30 minutes straight as they drove. Then he took him out for tacos and prayed some more. But Victor still needs so much more healing, and his wife just served him divorce papers.
Now it was a pastor in another nearby town whom he shared dinner with. Ben had led in a team months ago to the town where this pastor works, and they broke ground on where a church is to be constructed and built a cistern for their bathrooms. They continued the friendship, and now are meeting to discuss more projects. This pastor has been hurt by so many sources and his work in shepherding his flock in challenging. He found Ben a safe place and told his stories. Of course, my husband responded not with articulate and lofty words nor a litany of scriptures. His response was, “let me pray for you.” The taco place was all of a sudden, a holy place where Ben was carrying his brother to Jesus. “Listen, I have a team coming down in June, our church from Florida. Tell us how for one day we can serve you, your church and town the best. We want to bless you, we want to come along you. You tell us how.” The pastor looked at Ben and starting laughing with joy and then wept. No agenda pushed on him, no stress to receive the help he hadn’t asked for, just a wish to come and serve.
There are so many other stories. So many. Big and small.
I looked out the window at the full moon and heard the radio playing outside next door. It belonged to the three workers, building a house next to us. They sleep on the cement floor at night and then get up the next morning and start working again. Ben invited them over last week for supper. We bought a kilo of taco meat with the fixings and the boys, and I made a giant fruit salad. We welcomed them in our home and sat down to a meal together, inquiring about their work, their families and like all good Mexicans, talked about food. They had never been invited — dirty, rough-handed and from the “lower” class– into a gringo’s house for a meal. They relaxed soon enough, and we stayed up far too late playing games. I sent them out with a bag of food and plenty of fresh fruit, for I knew they had not been getting a balanced diet. Ben sent them out with a bible in each of their hands. He spoke with them about the love of God as he walked them back. He has visited them several times since then. They are gone now. The house is still unfinished, and we don’t know if they will return.
I knew why my husband asked me this question. I knew he felt that all of his encounters don’t seem to be producing anything. He can hardly see that God is working and that transformation is happening. It is slow. It is hard. It is tiring.
Is it all enough?
I finally answered him. “The question is not if you are making a difference, the question is if you are obeying Jesus. I see that you are and this is all He asks. You are making disciples, and we are commanded to make disciples, not converts. You are taking the time to love and esteem others. I know you don’t feel like the super-missionary. I don’t either. We are not hip. We are not the most gifted or trained. We are not great evangelists. We would not win “parent of the year” awards. We don’t seem to have a lot of dramatic stories of deliverance or healing or mass salvation to report to our supporters. We probably will never start some tremendous ministry…we are pretty average and a little crazy.” Ben smiled.
“But, let me tell you a story your older brother once told me:
When you were little and lived in Guatemala, your dad taught at a seminary. He would drive home and go down a long dirt road to get to your house. At the start of that dirt road, a poor family lived. There was a little boy always playing in the dirt yard. Your dad, no-fail, would stop and greet the boy. Sometimes he would bring him a treat, sometimes he would tussle his hair, sometimes he would tell him Jesus loved him. It was not much, but your dad was faithful. Well, that little boy grew up and trusted Jesus. He went on to study God’s word. He went on to become a pastor. He leads a church now and feeds many with eternal words and hope. He is making disciples, and those disciples are multiplying.
You too are the one that stops by the side of the road. So many roads. It may not seem like much, but you are obeying in love. God did not call us to be successful, but rather to be faithful. I am so proud of you. So, keep on my love, keep on.”
My husband grabbed my hand. He had never heard this story. It meant something to him. A little misty-eyed, he thanked me. Then he went to brush his teeth.
I turned off my light. When I awoke in the early morning, my husband was gone. Off to another village for a meeting, he had that morning. The kids needed breakfast. A girl needed to be taken to school, and two boys needed to be homeschooled. The laundry and dishes were piled up, again. Ben left me a note, saying he had called a pipa (water truck). I was still a mom, a wife, a woman in a foreign land.
And I had my own disciples to make.
A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus. – Dallas Willard