As we de-planed the first thing we noticed was the smell, the rancid odor of a nation steeped in great poverty. We were told not to drink the water and to be careful eating the food. We had to be inoculated for just about everything under the sun. When I visited the Ivory Coast to teach local pastors, I did so outdoors for eight hours a day in stifling heat. The teaching was made even more difficult by the language and translation barrier. When we drove through the poor sections of the country (there were not many sections that were rich) I saw women with baskets on their heads, men defecating in the streets and kids by the thousands roaming around in virtually dirt soaked clothes. I saw cities where four pieces of tin was called home for a family of eight.
But the one scene that most dramatically impacted me took place in the woods. The missionary drove me to pay a “pastoral call.” As we drove along he suddenly pulled over and stopped the car on the side of a large wooded hill. I asked him why he stopped and he told me that we had arrived at the woman’s home we were to visit. I did not see any home but I followed him up the hill and into the woods. There, a middle-aged woman holding a baby in her arms emerged from the trees. She was dressed in rags and the first thing I noticed was that the baby was actually comatose. I asked the missionary, himself a medical doctor, what was wrong with the baby and he told me he had cerebral malaria that had killed his brain. This child was breathing but was actually dead.
We sat for a while and other women emerged from the woods. We chatted in the “living room,” a row of tree stumps just outside her condo, four pieces of wood on a dirt floor. The missionary invited her to come with us back to the church where my wife prepared to teach the women. She agreed to come and gave the baby to her neighbor and disappeared into her little castle. When she emerged I could not believe my eyes. This dirty bedraggled mother reappeared as an African queen complete with colorful clothes and a gorgeous headdress. In her bare feet she jogged down the hill (I crawled on my knees) and jumped into the car where we drove her to the women’s event. I can still see that baby and the transformed woman – two sights I will never forget.
Something killed that baby - perhaps a virus or bacteria. Whatever it was it killed that little boy. But as far as that mother was concerned that baby was her pride and joy. His little heart was still beating and I was sure she could feel it when she laid him on her chest at night. Maybe it was some form of Ebola. Maybe it was a brown recluse spider bite. Maybe it was something he ate. But I will never forget those bulging black eyes looking at but clearly not seeing me. She carried him as her “walking dead.” That mother is a Christian, a secret one because her husband, a devout Moslem would kill her if he knew she had converted. He was not home that day. Perhaps that is why she ran down that hill to get into the car. This is her life. She lives in hope, not fear. She cares for her baby, she loves Jesus and she knows nothing about the prosperity we Americans enjoy.
But there is something else I will never forget. She had the most beautiful smile in spite of her missing teeth and her crusty lips. Her face lit up the “room.” She reflected back to me Jesus. I could see Him in her face, her surroundings and that little baby.
While we may not live in such poverty or care for a baby destroyed by an unknown disease, we all live with a spiritual Ebola virus growing inside of us. It is the nature of our fallen man, our sin soaked souls. It eats away at our spirit from birth to death. It leaves us in a spiritual coma, the walking dead. Without treatment, we will surely die. But there is a Savior who carries us close, who holds us when we are spiritually dead and brings us back to life. He doesn’t wear protective gear that protects Him from our germs. He loves us with no strings attached. He is not afraid to touch us. He smiles at us during our scary night times and holds us close. And, He radiates and warms us with God’s love. Although we are dead we are made very much alive in Christ. He too was transformed from a piece of raw meat hanging like an animal on a cruel Roman cross, something even His Father refused to look at, into the King of all glory wearing the white robe of the Conquering Prince and the headdress of perfection, a perfection he imputes to all who trust in Him. Hear the Word of God:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in. Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence. I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27 ESV)
Whatever evil spiritual disease permeates your soul, Jesus is the antidote. His sacrifice redeems the broken, unforgiven, and guilty and transforms us into forgiven, healed and righteous children. Accept this priceless gift.
Next week: Spiritual AIDS
In His grip,
Digging Deeper: Psalm 27