Saturday, November 22, 2014

Birhan ("Light" in Amharic)

“… to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:77-79 ESV)

We made our way through the old corrugated metal gate, and down a dirt corridor lined by adjoining tenement rooms. A woman, pleasant and talkative, met us at one of the entranceways. I scanned the teal green room behind her, windowless and spare, until my eyes fell on the small figure of a young woman sitting on a chair in the corner. My first reaction was a bit of fear—not of her, but for her. Immediately, I felt the weight of the significance of our team’s visit. How would we effectively communicate God’s love, joy, and hope, and her value in him, in our short visit?

Mary didn’t receive many visitors, I was sure. Left mute and largely paralyzed following a brain injury eight years ago, there was little remaining of the chic and confident teenager in the pictures to which her mother repeatedly directed our attention. This neighborhood in Mojo was one of the poorest our team from Joni and Friends Chicago we would encounter on our mission to Ethiopia. The people are diligent and industrious, and eke out subsistence through the steady work of their hands. One’s worth is closely tied to one’s ability to produce and support the family. Without resources to support even the simplest of impairments, to become disabled is to lose one’s value, to become a burden, to be deemed cursed and a curse.

There was a small stool next to her chair, and I positioned myself as closely to her as I could, holding her hand, rubbing her shoulder. She melted into the hugs and smiled widely. Kebede, our translator on staff with a partnering ministry, shared the gospel in the Oromo language with the wordless Bible. I prayed for her, and attached a bracelet with corresponding colors to her wrist to remind her of what was truer than the reality of that dark room, or her mother’s constant words of regret. Staunchly loyal to the Coptic Church, Mary’s mother had little use for our evangelism. But I watched Mary’s face—the sincere joy—and I wondered what the Lord might be doing in her heart and mind through our visit and the sharing of gospel truth. I love one translation of Psalm 119:30, which says, “Your word is a doorway that lets in light.”

A couple days later, as I read Luke 1:79, I immediately thought of Mary and other dear souls we had met on our home visits.  Mary’s life has been reduced to one task—to wait. She is suffering, having retained full mental faculties, but contending with a body over which she no longer has control. Quite literally, she has tarried aimlessly for years in darkness.  But the gospel has the power to transform her waiting. Titus 2:13 says the grace of God trains us to wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The truth of “the tender mercy of our God” breaks into our sorrow with the good news that the misery of our separation is now broken, and that we are now reconciled to the Father. The Son himself has visited us from on high—God with us—to rescue us in our darkness. Regardless of our station or situation in life, salvation through Christ snatches us from the shadow of death, and redirects us into his peace. What life-transformative news this is, and especially for one like Mary. How, by the power of the Holy Spirit, this can change one’s entire perspective, even in suffering.  

Mary’s needs are great. No doubt, she cries out to be freed from her disability. But the gospel is a help to her in her waiting by revealing her greatest need and directing her to her greatest Hope. Randy Alcorn, in his book, The Goodness of God, says this: “God uses suffering to break us of self-dependence and bring us to rely on him. He helps us learn that he alone can bear the full weight of our pain, and give us strength and life when we feel only weakness and death. Jesus said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

I don’t know if Mary accepted Christ, but I believe quite sincerely that the Lord brought us to her home to show us his heart. The Lord has looked upon her affliction. I’m praying that he sends others to nurture what was planted in our brief visit; and that as she comes to wait in hope, he would use her as a light to draw others to himself.

Pray: Lord, thank you that there is coming a day when you will open blind eyes, the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute shall sing for joy (Isaiah 35). But as we wait for our complete healing, continuously direct our hearts to our greatest Hope: your son, Jesus Christ. 

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