Learning to See

I picked my way carefully through the crowded street in Beirut being careful not to step into the dark liquid pooling in the cracks and low spots in the road. My senses were assaulted with the smells and sights of a developing country recovering from years of bloodshed and revolution. I was in a slum, a place the world had forgotten, overflowing with desperate people trying to make a living. School age children were everywhere, as no schools existed to keep them occupied. Most of them were trying to sell gum, flowers or bracelets and zeroed in on me, the only foreigner in sight. I hadn’t planned on walking through here, but the cab driver dropped me at the wrong place so Google maps became my guide. 

Sweat dripped from my nose and the shimmering heat caused me to squint my eyes against the reflection of the sun from the dust colored buildings. I nearly fell over a small child squatting on the side of the road selling flowers in an effort to earn a few pennies for food.  Dodging the small girl, I bumped into a young boy carrying what looked like a shoeshine box. The boy immediately offered to shine my shoes and I reflexively shook my head and quickly stepped off the sidewalk into the street.

Only a few seconds past when I felt a tug on my shirt and quickly turning, saw it was the same small boy with the shoeshine box. His clothes were filthy from being worn for weeks at a time, his face dirty with streaks where rivers of tears cut through the grim. His eyes looked unnaturally large in his gaunt face and gazed piercingly into mine. With a voice husky from crying he begged me for money for something to eat. Remembering how I had ignored him just a minute ago, my heart broke and my hand went deep into my front pocket where I had some coins.  With a hopeful look in his eyes, the small boy held out his trembling, street stained hand, exhausted from wandering up and down the hot street. As the coins fell from my hand into his, my heart broke and quickly moving away, my tears began to flow.

Having become used to seeing syndicates who use children in other countries I had learned to ignore them. I didn’t really know the full truth of this little boy, but seeing the desperation and hunger in his eyes it didn’t matter anymore. Right there on a hot, crowded Beirut street corner, I cried out to the Lord and repented of my callous heart and asked the Lord to give me the sensitivity to see needs as Jesus does.

From Hatred to Home

When someone is called to share the love of Christ to a foreign land it can feel like a big mistake. As Chad sat one morning on the front stoop of the house they were staying in, the only thoughts that went through his mind were unhappy ones.

Sitting on the stone steps with his head in hands, he stared unseeing at the vehicle parked down the hill. He and his wife Sarah had only been in Italy for 7 months, but it felt like an eternity. “I hate it here”, thought Chad, “the language is impossible and there is nothing that I like to eat.” 

Chad and Sarah arrived at the camp a few days ago. They had been in language school outside of Rome for the past 6 months until the school closed for the summer. In order to keep going with the language, they signed on at the camp simply to learn more Italian in its proper context.

Hearing the door open behind him, Chad straightened up and accepted the steaming mug of coffee from Sarah. Grateful, but still lost in thought, he didn’t notice his 11-month-old toddler Jacob, teeter by him and slip on the steps. Startled by the sound of Sarah’s gasp, Chad dropped his cup of coffee in a futile effort to catch the toddler already falling down the stairs! They both watched in helpless horror as he bounced off of each step all the way down. When he stopped on the landing, they were one second behind and scooped him off the ground.

They could tell right away that he was hurt and panic started to set in. Shouting at a staff member passing by, Chad got instructions to the nearest hospital 40 minutes away. Loading his family into the car, they rushed off down the road, hoping that Jacob was going to be alright.

They arrived at the ER and presented their toddler to the Dr. with their heart in their hands.  “Was he going to be ok?”, they asked? The hospital staff did an x-ray and a full examination. Seeing nothing obvious, then observed him for the rest of the day. With nothing else to do, Chad and Sarah sat waiting for hours, praying nervously over their hurt baby.

Basically, ignored by everyone else, a janitor took pity on them and brought them bread and vegetables while they waited and hoped against all hope. This small act of kindness by a stranger was a bright spot in an otherwise dark day.

Finally, towards evening, the Dr. came and cleared them to go back to the camp. Jacob was fine, he had some bruises, but no breaks or serious damage.

As they drove the 40 minutes back to the camp, they thanked God in prayer knowing that this had been a close call.

In spite of God’s blessing, Chad still felt dread in his heart that maybe coming to Italy was a big mistake. This accident seemed to confirm how he felt.

A few days later, a letter arrived at the camp with the costs of their time in the Emergency Room that needed to be payed as soon as possible. Chad loaded his family in the car and headed back to the hospital to settle the bill. They arrived and were ushered into the small office of the financial secretary.

Fortunately, the bill wasn’t too bad, so Chad pulled out his checkbook and proceeded to write a check to cover the costs.  As he scribbled the amount on the check, Jacob squirmed suddenly in his lap causing Chad to lose his grip. Faster than a blink of an eye, Jacob fell against the corner of the desk, splitting his head open and screamed in pain! 

The Secretary saw it all happen, so as they scooped Jacob in their arms, she led the way back to the Emergency Room.  Explaining what happened, the secretary turned them over the nurses and doctors who proceeded to comfort him and then stitch him up.

Later as they loaded a now sleeping, exhausted, stitched up baby boy into his car seat, Chad and Sarah looked at each other unbelieving the day they just had. Chad got into the driver’s seat and headed back towards camp. 

Still in minor shock from all the events of the day, Chad missed a crucial turn and after driving for a while had to conclude he was lost. Without a GPS or smart phone, they drove on until they entered into a small village in the Italian countryside, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Pulling over in the middle of the village to take a break, they opened the windows of the car.

Jazz music slid softly into the car as Chad turned off the motor. Feeling very curious, Chad and Sarah slid the sleeping Jacob into the stroller and set off in search of this beautiful music. Rounding a corner, they came upon a small square. At one end was a small bandstand and stage where a jazz band was playing.  Ringing the square were small booths selling meat and vegetables raised by the farmers who lived close to the village.

Entranced by the beauty of the scene, they bought some food from the farmers and sat down at one of the many tables dotting the square to take in the scene. Completely captured by the beauty of what they were seeing, they forgot for a moment how they got there.  Completely lost, the moment seemed surreal.

Surrounded by other Italian families, happily eating and visiting with each other, the Lord spoke into their hearts. “I know you can’t do this alone, but I brought you to Italy to show my love to the people here.  They don’t know me and I want you to introduce us”, He said.

Chad realized in that moment how his heart had changed. The hatred of the country and it’s customs somehow floated away with the sounds of the jazz band. Even though they were actually lost, for the first time in months, it felt like they were actually home!

James 5:16 lived out

We were seated together in my office. He was about 63 years old, balding with neatly groomed grey hair and a perfect mustache. As he adjusted his silver rimmed spectacles, I noticed they had those loops that go behind the ears to hold them in place. With no nose pads, his glasses seemingly melded into his face, making them look like they were part of it. He looked like a kindly country doctor.

As he wiped the tears rolling down his tan cheeks, he told a story about abuse, rape, racial discrimination, personal failure and desperation. Without any sense of self-pity, he spoke of the things he experienced at the hands of his mother, his uncle, his father’s friend and the neo-Nazi’s at the garage he used to work at.

He also spoke of how God’s love has impacted his life and sustained him through all the years. And then he said this, “Some people say that all you need is God and you will be fine. I don’t believe that. God has provided his bride, the church to make up for the ways that God as spirit can’t do. Without other Christians, we are not fully complete.” I agreed.

Some of the things he said had never been told to anyone before today. As he spoke the words, the tears flowed.  And somehow as he wiped his tears he held his head up a little higher than when he walked in the door. He smiled at me through his tears. He was free!

And that, my friends is what James 5:16 is all about!

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

This passage is more than just confessing the sins we commit. It's also about the sins committed against us that we carry in shameful silence. Satan's power is in the darkness and when we expose his deeds to the light, the power dissipates. John exhorts us to live in the light so that we can be free! Are you living in the light?