Monday, September 24

Display of Grace

“Grace was etched on his face.” The words hung in the air with a poetic grace as Mindy Belz continued to speak. Her next phrases were blurred in my memory as I sat, contemplating the essence of what her words meant. Glory etched on his face…what does that look like? It’s a beautiful concept, but I couldn’t begin to imagine how that would be displayed.

When I walked into the chapel that Wednesday night I suddenly understood. There was no mistaking the glory that was beaming from the face of that man. As he spoke the name of Jesus and told of His works, the joy of the Lord was spilling from his heart. I had never seen such peace in a person’s soul.

Over the next few days he spoke of the feeding of the five-thousand, when Jesus calmed the waters, the wicked woman who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume, and His crucifixion, as well as many more stories which told of the humanity, yes Lordship of Christ.

As Christians we are so often told that the joy of the Lord is our strength…all we need is Christ, and everything else is loss…the Lord is our all in all…but it is so hard to live a life that way when we have never seen it put into practice. Americans are so hardened to the emotions of the gospel. We go to church each Sunday and sing and pray and at least pretend to listen to the sermon while perhaps getting a little half nap in, or at least figuring out our next week’s schedule. We forget how to be caught up in the abandonment of our God. Indifference is the key to our existence. But watching that man speak of the glories of God our Father you couldn’t help but come to a realization: This is it. This is absolutely everything we need. People or government or work or church or family or land may fail us…but that doesn’t matter compared to the surpassing awesomeness of Jesus Christ. And though we have been told those very words many times over, seeing a personal representation of that was beyond what I could ever possibly wish for. It was clear that all he needed was Christ. All his plans could not work out and he would be just as happy serving God in any way he could.

After his messages he stayed in the room to meet the students and visitors who came to hear his message. He and his chaplain shook hands and gave hugs liberally, blessing everyone he came in contact with. Though he was exhausted by traveling across continents and cultures, he still stayed hours afterwards to talk to anyone who wanted to talk to him.

The first time I met him, even though he was on his way out, I was immediately wrapped in the biggest bear hug imaginable. He said to me, “God richly bless you, dear.” Only one sentence, but it so impacted me. I had never met him, but I felt as if he had known me for decades. It wasn’t just a blasé remark, a blanket statement to all he met…each statement was tailored towards the person he was speaking to. I told him that I was so thankful and blessed by his coming. My small, ivory hands swam in his large, chocolate ones as his eyes took on a very kindly look and said thank you from the bottom of his heart.

Instances like this one came and went through the few days he was at our school. His utter genuineness and joy spread through the campus and through my heart as he continued to share his heart with us.

As he and his chaplain’s time came to and end with us at Covenant, he had two community speaking engagements to fulfill before he left. I could not explain it to anyone but myself, but I felt an intense need to go and hear his last messages to the Chattanooga area. God had been speaking through this man so much and I wanted to glean as much from his heart as possible.

The morning service came and went with songs of great worship and praise. The Presbyterian and Anglican churches came together under God as one body, one spirit, who loved Him and Him alone more than all else (or tried to). We were united as the children of God, not alienated from each other as different denominations. After the service, everyone wanted to shake his hand. There was a long line to thank and greet him, which I was not ready to brave at the time. I noticed his chaplain standing to the side. There were only a few waiting to talk to him and I took the opportunity to head over and shake his hand, thanking him for his supportive work. After introducing myself, I asked if I could get him any refreshments and he enthusiastically said yes, so I got him some coffee punch and finger food. He pulled out pictures of his family and introduced them to me one by one as he spoke about their differences and his love for each of them. He gave me his card and told me to call him if I ever came to Uganda and he would introduce me to them and show me the sights. I left with my friends, but was preoccupied with the events of the week and how mightily God was moving in me.

Later, I was fortunate enough to be able to sit under his teaching for the last time. He spoke of how Jesus was a friend to sinners, to the broken, to the desperate. Jesus is a friend to those who need a friend most. He didn’t care about their past. The past was irrelevant. All that mattered was the future. As he spoke of the faithfulness and friendship of Jesus Christ to sinners and the needy, tears began to stream down his cheeks. Suddenly his voice was raised in song. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” One thousand Christians joined in the a cappella singing of that great hymn which affirms how our God genuinely wants to be our friend, and a friend who we can talk to.

And then he was done. His time with us was over. He walked down the middle aisle for the last time and arranged himself to greet everyone once again, in true leader fashion. As one and all crowded to meet him before they drove back to their comfortable homes, hopefully not willing to settle again for the mediocrity of the American Christian life, I again notice his chaplain, standing to the side. As I walked up to say one final goodbye and thank you his smile widened and he cried out to me. The greeting echoed through the church as his arms were opened wide to embrace me. He immediately began to chatter away as though we were the oldest friends. I thanked him for his service to the kingdom of God and to his country and asked him if there was anything I could get for him. He handed me what he was holding, silently asking that I assist him as he continued to greet others. I stood by his side and helped organize the things people gave him: cookies, World magazine article, etc.

A gentleman came up and began to thank him for his work and asked him what had been some of the things which had blessed him during the trip. Suddenly I realized he was pointing at me and explaining to the man that he felt as though he was supposed to be a father figure in my life. I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation. My mind was reeling with honor and disbelief. I don’t know how this man chose me, but he did. As my time drew to a close, I walked over to hand him the belongings and say goodbye. He saw me and, with a glint of love in his eye, grabbed both of my hands.

“I feel like you and I have a connection,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very often. When we come to America we usually only connect with one or two people. You are one of them.” My eyes welled with tears as I hugged him and said goodbye. “We’ll be in touch,” he said as I walked away. I smiled to myself.

On my way out the door, the gracious speaker reached out an arm to hug me. When I mentioned I had been speaking with his chaplain he got excited and said, “Please come to Uganda. Get in the first taxi you see and tell them you want to speak with me and they will bring you to my home. You can meet my family and tell them to come to Covenant College.” I smiled and promised I would do so if I was ever in his country.

Walking through the door I sighed a sigh of contentment. God is so faithful. He is faithful throughout all generations, races, languages. He knows my heart. He knows that all my life I have felt called to help abolish racism, but have had minimal opportunities to do so.

This is the story of the Archbishop of Uganda. He has helped to change my life. I hope this story will be a small part in helping to change yours.


Joan said...

Wow, honey. What a great weekend. Wish I were there. We'll see how the Lord leads you. I love you.

Jennie said...

I heard a little bit of this story when you were home a few weeks ago, but how blessed I am to have read it in its entirety just now. I'm so excited at what God is doing in your life!