Once upon a time, a little slip of a Kansas girl was planted in a rural hiccup between two lakes. She dreamt of slaying dragons on the oceans of a Green Peace ship and rescuing exotically unexplored rain forests. She spent her summer days imagining danger-treks through Harriet Tubman trails, but nearly a century had passed since those golden fields had seen slaves. Then, at fourteen, she became a Christian and the slaying of dragons faded. Green Peace was deaf to evangelism, the forests had no ears and the history books had already heard the journeys of freedom men. And God? God wanted orderly, Christianly homes with safe citizens and predictable sermons of happily-ever-after lives.
So, it really is a shame that Baby X entered the picture a few years later.
The Bulgarian nurses called him Baby X. A screaming, squawking body of legs and arms and lungs ferociously announcing his arrival to a world that barely noticed. In a Slavic land where babies are bestowed with names like Божидар (God’s gift), Радост (Joy), Красимир (Beautiful peace), X screamed a voiceless truth: Unwanted. Orphaned. Broken. Unclean. A sexual oops of a momentary passion with skin a little too olive, and hair a little too dark, with features a little too fine, and a genetic code clearly written: Roma.
One begins to wonder what God wants to do with unwanted babies.
One begins to wonder what God expects us to do with unwanted babies and unsolvable problems.
I have learned that God calls us into the messiest, grayest, dirtiest, most complicated situations on the globe and then he begins his transformation in us. For his glory.
It makes no sense, really. Hell-bent souls and hellish realities and God wants to do some tweaking in me?
No epic dragons slain. No ultimate questions answered.
Our story has only one hero and it is not me. It is not you, either. And that is where the dying to what we can accomplish becomes painful.
A lifetime ago, we came east on an airplane with compassionate ministry inked on a visa. All the while , WE wondered what a couple of kids out of seminary could possibly accomplish for Jesus.
Prostituted women. Orphans. Adultery. Prejudice. Poverty. Illiteracy. Dirty water and dirty living and dirty bodies for sale. Souls rolling around in garbage and born in garbage and dying in garbage. It is the ear numbing, heart renting, mind blowing, exhausted ache of a world in turmoil. And, some of us wonder if that messy, sinful arena is where we Christians belong. And, some of us wonder if it is an arena where Christian holiness has a voice. This messy, complicated, controversial roaring question demands an answer: What do we do about the raw ache of hell on earth and souls on their way to hell?
The Sunday School children that we once were learned to say with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me.” But the sending and the going is only the beginning of the dying. I am learning that God does not want me to save the world. I cannot accomplish it.
I give my brokenness, my questions, my sins, my faults, my inability to say one coherent sentence in the midst of human tragedy and somehow, God, by the power of His beautiful, broken, bleeding Jesus-body dying for me, infuses the God-breath of life into this gasping world.
Only God is the hero of this story.
A humbling, upside down truth is this: we can only imagine that humans with perfect families and perfectly put together homes and perfect lives are the perfect candidates to fix this squawking, sinful, garbage-laden world. But, God birthed hope in a baby born to a not-yet family in the wrong place at the wrong time. And his letters tell a text of broken people with dirty pasts and diseased futures who get to be redeemed and adopted into his story.
The hardest part about being a missionary … the hardest spiritual lesson … is learning to die to the idea that I get to be the hero of this happily ever after. In all honestly, far too often, I want that glory for myself.
We seek to build Christianly safe, comfortable lives and we consider it God’s blessing because we have been good citizens. Or, we take on the world with projects and plans for sure-bet treks into the hellish points of the planet because we are big enough and strong enough. We know how to live good, orderly lives. We know how to slay the dragon, if only God would just get in line and help us accomplish our plan.
But, hell on earth is a horrible place, a desperate place, a tangled, torturous, unsolvable puzzle of history and culture and addiction and demons and my need to slay dragons, rescue people, and play God is foolishness.
In the twenty years that I have been a missionary, this is the second time to watch neighboring countries slide into revolution. It is the hundredth time to wonder what to do with babies nobody wants. It is the thousandth time to look at prostitutes and homeless souls and wonder where to even begin. In the face of these complicated issues, my only honest answer can be, ‘I do not know’.
But, God knows.
He sent Jesus who spread his arms, spilled his blood, and poured out his perfect life for souls that could really care less. His victory over death and sin is the only hero-hope for the screaming, squawking body of arms and legs that is our world today.
May God continue to teach me, to teach us, that our only happily ever after is birthed in our brokenness, our humility, our hearts and lives lived out in raw honesty. We are called. We must go. We must serve in the hellish points on our planets but we serve with our eyes and our hearts completely dependent upon our Hero-Hope.
From the end of our story:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (NIV)