The language barrier could not have been greater. But then again, she really had no need for words. Her smile said it all. She came from a simple family. She lived in a simple village few even knew existed. To most of the world, and even to most of her own country, she didn’t matter. But she had heard of a Savior who looked beyond social distinction and claimed her as His own. The baptismal waters were simply the sign of His cleansing, and the seal of His claim. In response, her smile spoke joy.
A few moments before, her pastor had asked the questions of baptism, clarifying her belief and faith in the gospel. The first of those questions was almost laughable. “Had anyone forced her to take this baptism?” It had to be asked. The authorities were suspicious of proselytizers, assuming they were coercing these converts. Oh the irony! These people were outside of society, or rather, under society...kept there by tradition. And the authorities were concerned she was being coerced?
No. She had not been forced to take baptism. She had heard the glorious news that in Christ, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11) She had heard “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
No. She wasn’t forced. But she was drawn, by the God who had chosen to love her from before the foundation of the world. She was drawn to love the One who had claimed her long before the myriad of false gods littering the landscape had been dreamt up by her ancestors. So as she rose up, she smiled. And so did I, reveling at the God of Sovereign Grace.
So why did I/we go? Was it merely to see the smile? Oh it would make a great story, wouldn’t it! Though her smile will linger through all eternity, we did go for more. But it was a question on my mind throughout the trip. I had actually been asked before leaving, what did I, a white guy from Alabama, have to offer the people in Southwest Asia? It made me think.
The truth was, I didn’t have much. I had some training in the Word of God. I had a love for the pastors and churches I was going to serve. And that was about it. Oh yeah, and over the course of the week I got sick. I tried to teach through it, but really all I had was my weakness. It’s all I really ever have, but there are just times when God graciously pulls back the curtain to make it that much more clear. But what I have I give, because that is what God calls me to do.
It was the same for our team. We went, bringing the gifts and burdens the Lord had given us…a physical therapist, a fireman and EMT, a social worker, and an engineer. We all brought our unique, God-given gifts and burdens, and we gave what we had, not really knowing the details of how the Lord would use us. Over the course of the week, He showed us. He gave us the joy of serving a people we did not know, but who in the wisdom of God were now our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We served in order to advance the gospel in a culture intensely focused on self. But this gospel which saves is also the gospel which transforms. So our burden is no longer primarily for self. It is for others. And that change just might be one of the most tangible markers for a disciple of Jesus…in their culture, and in ours.
Why did we go? We went to share the love of Jesus Christ. We went to encourage and support ministry partners. We did so using the gifts God had given us, diverse and meager as they were. But here is the thing. As we gave what little we had, we gained more in return. It is the same every time, whether we are serving over there, or serving right here. We give the love of Jesus, and we receive the joy of Jesus. Do you remember the smile? It was a smile of joy. I remember it. I pray I always will.