It’s hard to believe our time in Mozambique is drawing to an end. The lesson has been so very simple but how in the world will we ever explain something that runs so contrary to normal Western values and thinking namely that as Surprise Sithole says, “relationship is more important than hard working”. The Mozambiquens understand it because as one youth explained “We live in a place where you can get sick at any time and be dead in a just few days.”
The village of Namoto sits peacefully on the shores of the Ruvuma river about four kilometers from the Tanzania border. “Namoto” actually means fire and was the site for one of our “Bush Bush” outreaches.
After ten and half hours on the road we finally arrived at the village of Namoto. There is no electricity there and the village was already asleep except for a 13 year old boy named Shamsi who stepped out of the dark to greet Cathy and me. Shamsi spoke Swahili and a just few words of English so it took some time for us to learn that Shamsi had recently fled his family of “another faith” in Tanzania to arrive barefoot and penniless in Namoto on the very day we met. Apparently his mother had recently died, his father was missing in action and he feared for his life. Several people did not trust Shamsi because his story seemed to change each time he told it. This was reason enough in the minds of many not to help him. But Shamsi would not leave Cathy’s side. Shamsi wanted a mamma and Cathy was the chosen one. Later the next day we went deeper into the village to invite people to the IRIS Jesus Film we would be showing that night. Shamsi witnessed a young man receive Jesus in Swahili and a he asked to receive Him as well. Everything seemed to be going really well. The only problem was that Shamsi was an illegal alien minor with absolutely no documents. This could mean prison for Shamsi and anyone harboring him if he were caught by Mozambiquen police. Shamsi was in effect a proverbial “hot potato” that no one wanted to touch. Everyone in authority within the village was completely freaked out and afraid they would be jailed for child trafficking. But later that night we met with the head pastor in the village. We squatted in a circle for about an hour while the pastor drew in the sand and told stories of how he had helped boys in similar situations. He assured us that he had favor with the local authorities and it would be “no problem” for him to take Shamsi in to live with him. Problem solved. Yay God!
The next morning we jumped on the truck for the 10 hour drive back to Pemba. We had travelled about 5 miles when Shamsi suddenly emerged from the bushes and began running after our truck. Our hearts sank. Luckily another vehicle carrying a Swahili speaking pastor from Tanzania was close behind. They stopped and the pastor reexplained the plan to Shamsi before sending him back to the village. Obviously the language barrier had clouded Shamsi’s previous understanding but now everything would be fine. Problem solved. We returned to the IRIS base in Pemba and I gave a brief testimony regarding our awesomely successful experience of “Stopping for the one”. Yay God.
About a week later Shamsi showed up at the Pemba gate just as we were returning from visiting a family in the outlying village. He had walked/ hitchhiked for four days to find Cathy and me. We got him some food and water and not knowing what else to do, I brought the situation to the attention of the IRIS staff. They freaked out for the same reason that the Namoto village leaders had. “Is he impaired?” They asked as they organized Shamsi’s departure alone by bus back to Namoto. I could see the anger in Shamsi’s eyes. “That’s not going to work. He’s gonna bolt.” Cathy told them. “Don’t worry. He won’t bolt” a staff member replied.
The next morning Shamsi was outside our door, hungry and smiling and looking for breakfast. So we fed him our morning ration of bread rolls and brought him to church thinking it would be best to just take him straight to Heidi. After all she was the author of stopping for the one. Surely she would lay her life down and help this boy who had just come into the kingdom. “What? Who invited him here? How did he get the address? “Beats me” I said, “I don’t speak Swahili.” You’d better pray!” she said as I knelt beside her trying in vain to explain the situation. “We are in a lot of trouble! They could charge us with child trafficking, shut this whole base down and take us all to jail.” There I knelt, face to face with one of my all time spiritual heroes on the planet second only to Mother Teresa and Jesus himself, having “stopped for the one” and possibly destroying everything she and Rolland had given their lives lives too.
Ain’t missions fun. Yay God.
As Heidi likes to say, there are two reasons for being persecuted in the body of Christ. One is for the sake of righteousness and one is for stupidity. I have a lot more experience with the later. Needless to say I wasn’t feeling particularly righteous at that moment. I was kindly asked to remove myself from the situation while they investigated. Then the Harvest School staff obtained police permission to escort Shamsi back to Namoto. Where is Shamsi now? I have no idea. In fact he could be walking back to Pemba as I write. “This is pitiful!” you say. “Why are you even telling me this?” Bear with me.
To be honest I was angry. I was offended and disillusioned with Heidi and IRIS as a whole. Then I finished my tantrum. Did I really expect the IRIS staff to go to jail, to forfeit the current and future welfare of tens of thousands of people for the sake of one 13 year old boy? What would I say to them; “Sorry but you all have to go to jail and or die so we can help this one boy who couldn’t follow directions”?
The reality in this life is that saying “yes” to the one usually means saying “no” to another. That we need to choose in the first place is a result of our choices not His. I was suddenly confronted with my own propensity to sit in judgment, positively and negatively, of all creation and subsequently upon God Himself. I realized that every time I am angry, depressed, offended or disillusioned, every time I slip into self-centeredness; every time I covet an alternative reality to what God has created I am actually condemning God. Gulp…
Instead of focusing on the character of God and acknowledging that his ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts; I judge God and others according to current circumstances when I should be judging both according to the character of God who is good and seeing Jesus in everyone.
How easily I forget where I came from, that I am where I am today because of His mercy that so frequently manifested as pain in my life. God is good and He is by definition love. That means His “yes” is love and so is His “no”.
We live in a universe that is literally composed of relationships. Believe it or not the goal is not to feed the poor, heal the sick, help widows and orphans or anyone else for that matter. It is not about fixing people or situations. Our purpose is to simply love God. But how do I love God? Well, we feed the poor, heal the sick, help widows and orphans and anyone He puts on our hearts to help. It’s a paradox. God doesn’t need us to save the Shamsis of the world and yet He does. He’s a “yes and no” God not a dichotomous “yes or no” God. No thing or situation will ever make sense apart from an intimate relationship with Him because that relationship is the goal. Everything else is fruit.
That is what we came here to learn or part of it anyway. That is why we quit our jobs, left our home in paradise, left our loved ones, sold our stuff, went into debt and came to a diseased and poverty stricken country literally on the other side of the world. We came to enter the fire, to have our self-centered pride, delusions and frivolous fluff burned off our souls. We came as proverbial Marthas to learn the lesson of Mary, that our lives are but a vapor and “relationship is more important than hard working”. There may be some here who’s dross is fully burned off and have fully comprehended the paradox of loving. As for me I’m still working on it. I’m still burning. I hope and pray that Shamsi is too. Because at the end of the day I am Shamsi, sincere, hard headed and wanting my own way.