A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon on Saul’s conversion to Paul in Acts 9:1-18; 22:4-16. While I was amazed by God’s power to transform a person like Saul and that no one is too far from God’s reach, I was struck by another person and his contribution in this story. What he did is something that I often overlook. But he played a rather significant role in God’s plan and indirectly impacted so many people.
You can probably guess who I am referring to as there are only two main people in this passage, Saul/Paul and Ananias. For sure, every Christian is inspired by Paul’s life and I am no exception. We are named and name our children after Paul but, sorry Paul, it’s not you this time. Now you know who I am talking about. Bravo! It’s Ananias. We don’t have much detail about Ananias’ life besides that he was a disciple in Damascus, a devout man according to the Law and well spoken of by all the Jews there (Acts 22:12). But one thing we know is that he was the first person to pray for Paul to receive Jesus.
I’m currently in the States, traveling around speaking at conferences, at churches and at various organizations. As I do, I share again many stories of what God is doing around the world. Sharing with a pastor today, I was reminded of a powerful story, one that started a few years ago and is still ongoing. It’s the story of the incredible sacrifice that some make for the gospel and God’s incredible faithfulness in the midst of that suffering.
In one village there were five Christian families. The chief of that village decided he didn’t want Christians in his village, so he tried to force them to denounce their faith. They refused. The chief had the village members beat the members of the five families. When the denominational leaders heard about the situation, they sent two people to the area to try to negotiate on their behalf. The villagers also beat them up and burnt their motorbike so they had to run for their lives. The villagers then burnt down the houses and destroyed the crops of the five families so they were forced to flee. The chief held fast that to live in that village they had to renounce their faith. If they continued to stay there then they would be killed.
Partnering with local churches is so important, but it can be tricky. Sometimes we can end up taking over like the kid who’s determined to get an A in chem-lab despite her remedial lab partner. We think, “This (whatever) needs to go faster, smoother, prettier. If only they’d listen to my ideas and just do them, we would ace this.”
But the truth is, when we outsiders give our ideas and our resources, we aren’t partnering with the Bride of Christ. We’re trying to take over for the Bride Groom. Really–who should they be depending on, looking to for wisdom and provision, thanking and praising when all is said and done? Who knows what’s best for them? Who defines their calling and ministry? Who has power to transform? Not me. Not a donor. Not a church a thousand miles away or a short-term team. Not an NGO.
Sometimes it takes years to see fruit from the seeds we sow. For the teachers at In His Image, patience is one of the most important assets, both in daily interactions with the students and as they look at the growth and development in each child year after year.
Koti came to the center at 12 years old. His parents were at the end of their rope because of his violence and inability to stay still, focus, and follow directions due to autism. He was struggling with constant anger and would hit, kick, and fight every time he didn’t get his way. His father, a very hands-on, involved dad, brought him to In His Image alone. The teachers wouldn’t meet his mother for years. In His Image was these parents’ last chance for any hope before giving in to complete despair.
This month’s Glimpses of God is shared by one of our TCT facilitators in Myanmar:
At the first TCT conference in our area, I learnt from the life of Mother Teresa who was doing ministry in India. Learning about the image of God from Genesis 1:26-27, God spoke to my heart. My heart was full and overflowed into tears.
Reconciled World’s second Core Principle is “Nurturing Truth and Confronting Lies.” In a nutshell, this means that we believe that every culture and community holds onto some truths and some lies. To see a community thrive, we must nurture the truths that exist while exposing beliefs that cause brokenness, poverty and injustice to the light of biblical truth.
Here’s how that played out in a typical village in our Truth Centered Transformation program:
Glimpses of God are everywhere – in the small actions of churches loving neighbors, speaking out against violence, loving the differently abled. They appear in amazing acts of culture change when one lesson changes the way that a community looks at women. They are also in the stunning miracles that we hear where God turned up and did something that none of us can explain. Sometimes, it is just in the compassion and love that is shared by some of our team.
Last month I visited our Wholistic Development Center (WDC), a vocational and discipleship school. It’s lead by an amazing couple who are models of Christ’s love expressed in everyday life. I can’t name them because they work in a country closed to Christians and I don’t want to be responsible for causing them to lose their visa. It’s probably just as well, they aren’t the type that like being boasted on. For ease of writing I am going to give them the names Joe and Susie.
This story comes from our TCT program in Southeast Asia. We love glimpsing the way God can fulfill His promise to lift up those who humble themselves. Tasks like creating dirt roads or cleaning up garbage can be pretty humbling. But God uses them in amazing ways…
In one area there was no road from the village to the main road. This meant that they had to carry crops on their back through the jungle to the market, so they were not able to sell very much and remained very poor. After TCT training, the church in the area decided that one way they could serve their community was to build a road for the 5 kilometres from their village to the main road.
Shame. Stigma. Discrimination. Rejection. Abandonment. These are the words that should come to mind when you put yourself in the shoes of a person living with HIV in the India of 2015. So much shame, that you’d rather die than go to the detection center where there is medicine available that could literally save your life.
For some crazy reason my latest relaxation reading has been biographies written by women about their lives in some of the more difficult nations in the world. Just in case anyone’s wondering, it’s not great relaxation reading. On the plus side it does burn off lots of calories as I go speed walking to burn off my frustration.
One of the latest books that I read was “I am Nujood, aged 10 and divorced.” I remember vaguely hearing about this on the news when it happened. As was traditional in her area, Nujood’s family arranged for her to marry an older man. Whilst he promised not to consummate the relationship until she had reached puberty, the moment they got back to his village he became incredibly violent and raped her multiple times a day, justifying it as his right as a husband.