Thursday, November 27, 2014

Praying for Friday--the rest of the story

Last Friday around 5:30, I emerged into the balmy air of Kampala to my trusty minivan, accompanied by a couple of my students carrying my weapons (foam ones--for acting out the scene of Jesus' arrest, admittedly including a few pool-noodle light sabers and a Little Tikes bat), dress-up clothes (needed some garb for the drama, which I plundered from my kids' stash), and other random detritus that reflect my rather...creative style of teaching. The guys set down my stuff, waved and thanked me, and left me to the Irish friend of mine who'd waited there for me.

Spunky and exuberant, Jaz is a gift from God to me, and no more than last Friday. "I had to hear!" she waved her hands. "I waited for you, because I've been praying, and I heard you in there, and it was unbelievable to hear what was going on!"

We collapsed in the van's seats, and I thanked God for the only space in Kampala where I can regularly depend on frigid air conditioning, particularly when I am sweaty and rank from hours of teaching. (Poor Jaz.) But that's when we both sat there, exclaiming and incredulous over the events of the day.

The two classes had been packed because of the exams, with a scattering of students I'd never even seen before. Were there eighty students between the two? Who knew? But thankfully, the energy level had remained high and engaged during the entire class--with the exception of the last few minutes in the first (a prior long-running exam meant they'd sat in exams for four straight hours). But even then, the responses were invigorating--almost too good to be true, I told Jaz. I kept thinking, Is this really happening? Am I really getting to do this? Could they really be responding like this?!

After the story of Christ's Passion, I'd included a video clip from Prince of Egypt, of the last Egyptian plague. I hoped to demonstrate the significance of Christ dying on Passover, of the Lamb's blood ("Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!), of Christ calling Himself the door, of the slaves at last being freed. I'd had a couple other "road to Emmaus"-type examples, attempting to draw in Christ from the Old Testament from all the stories we'd studied this year.

I glanced around at my students in their religious clothing as I talked about God ripping the temple curtain from top to bottom: Because of Jesus, you can be close to God.

At pretty much the same point in both classes, this is the point where my voice cracked a little with emotion: "And this is why I teach you: This is what I've been wanting to tell you! Believe in Jesus, and you can be saved!"

Jaz mentioned that she got particularly excited, listening outside the door--"when you were asking for volunteers to be Jesus [in the drama]--and then you said, 'Ahmad! Great!' I couldn't believe it!"

I couldn't either. I'd talked with him before class, giving him a dual-language Bible so he could read in his own language, and a copy of the JESUS film in his own language, too--both gifts from Jaz. He told me he'd read the gospel of John, too: "The Word was before everything, and then God made the world"--pretty much a paraphrase of John 1. I grinned.

"So what do you think? Do you think He was really the Messiah?"

"Yeah! I do!" He grinned.

But did he have any Christians in his tribe, someone he could talk to when he got back?

"No, but there are some in the next tribe."

Of course, only God knows about the Christians there--and whether the soil in Ahmad's heart is the "good soil" Jesus describes. But when I was recounting this to someone the next day, I was mentally jolted: every tribe, tongue, and nation? To be a part of that promise? I was floored. Please--pray for him as he goes back to his home country.

And at the end of the second class, when the same question hung in its PowerPoint square on the whiteboard: "Who do you say that I am?", I was surprised by the enthusiastic, vocal response:

Was He a liar?

"What? NO!"

Was He crazy?


Was He "the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?"


And the vast majority of little "YES"es were circled on the handout in response to the last question: Would you like to know more about Jesus? If so, circle YES.

I'm so thankful God sent me Jaz, because even now, I find myself second-guessing. Did this really happen? Are their responses genuine?

Pray, please, for these students--that their faith would be genuine, that God would create real life in them--that I would get to hug them exuberantly in eternity. For right now, I'm just amazed that our God is doing this. Can I get an Amen?

Something tells me this may not be the rest of the story, but just the beginning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Praying for Friday

It was the end of my last official Bible class of the year at the refugee center. I'd taught about the "I am" statements of Christ; this Friday, for the two-hour exam period, I hope to bring everything full circle in the biggest lesson of the year: His death and resurrection. But for this class period, I ended with the account of Jesus' question: Who do you say that I am?

The question, suspended by PowerPoint, hung there on the whiteboard in the rectangle of the projector. Students began gathering their books and pencils in the shuffle and conversation that mark the end of any class period around the world. A student of mine, whom I'll call Ahmad (you may have read about him here), raised his hand. Ahmad has this gentle-giant quality about him, and always speaks with a gentle, halting voice. "I am shifting"--that's the Ugandan word for moving--"back to [my home country] over the holiday." He hopes to get a job; to find a wife.

My eyebrows pulled upwards. What? I asked a few questions to clarify. It was true, and of course good news for him, that he was leaving the center over the holiday. Just like any good counselor, I'm thinking a good refugee center hopes to work itself out of a job; to send you home healthier, richly nurtured despite a stormy season of life.

Then, he asked his next question: "Who was Jesus Christ?" I inquired further, head cocked, thinking, I've been teaching about that for the last four weeks--and comprehended (I think) that he wanted to find out what the words "Jesus" and "Christ" actually meant.

But I must admit my heart sunk like a stone, stirring up waves in my chest. Classmates were milling around, the question still there, like a man with a sandwich board that people walk by in intent conversation on a crowded street. Did Ahmad know enough about Jesus to make an informed decision about him? To move back to his (aggressively non-Christian) nation, and remain resolute in what he knew about the person of Jesus Christ?

I swallowed, and expressed my joy for Ahmad's...wonderful news. He asked if he could take a Bible with him. I lent him my easy-read version from the center, with instructions to a) read the book of John, b) return the Bible to me at exams, and c) come back with his questions and thoughts.

"And we'll have a..." he paused. "Con-ver-sa-tion."

Yes, Ahmad. We'll have a conversation about the most important thing we could ever talk about.

Our interaction stayed with me as I walked home in the warm, late-afternoon sun, as I sautéed dinner, even the next morning as I sang with EMI's Friday morning worship: Break my heart for what breaks yours... It was then that I felt hot embarrassment at the tears leaving telltale streaks on my cheeks in front of all my coworkers. Yes, I know that salvation belongs to our God, and certainly not to me or my most valiant efforts. But something feels appropriately crucial about what my students hear, and decide, about this subject.

Since then, I've secured a Bible for Ahmad and a Jesus film in his own language. And Monday night found me up late, pasting images and text in the PowerPoint for Friday. When I finally snapped shut my laptop, my jaw ached from the tension of seeking to communicate clearly and with the engaging presence deserved by the Greatest Story Ever Told.

I feel like the lesson--at least as it's planned--is comprehensive and direct, hopefully easy to understand. I've planned dramas and a movie clip to liven it up a bit (steered carefully away from a the more gory images; would refugees have distracting flashbacks?). My primary concern now is that I'll be able to maintain their attention for the whole two hours, so they don't lose anything.

But my heart feels magnetized by Friday, by the question at the end of the handout: If you would like to learn more about Jesus, circle YES. Even as I write, I swallow the thick concern that feels like it's formed in my throat as much as my eyes.

I'd love your prayer for Ahmad--and for Friday.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The feast

I have no deer or rabbits to wrestle with in my garden. But for the love--that  monkey just helped himself to my biggest eggplant.