He stood on the bank of a river in western Ethiopia whose color was that of chocolate. His friends stood beside him, and many implored him not to do it. They told him that the river was full of crocodiles, and several have died trying to cross it. He told them he had to do it. He had to go. He told them there were whole villages of people on the other side of that river that needed to hear about Jesus. He told them that he had traveled a long way, and was compelled by God’s spirit to cross that river and spread the good word of Jesus.
This man was not wealthy, but dirt poor. He had no financial supporters. He had no training, and no real plan. He had only the courage of conviction that comes with knowing that God has something for him to do, and the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is moving. He stripped off his clothes, and carrying them over his head, waded across that muddy, chest deep river full of crocodiles.
This man’s story did not begin at that river bank. No. The story for him begins in another country, but this missionary is not an American. He’s Sudanese. He’s living in western Ethiopia, not by choice, but by necessity. Islamic Janjaweed militias forced him and his family to flee their homes in the Sudan. This region of Ethiopia is full of Sudanese refugees, many of whom are committed Christians. These people — these proclaimers of Christ — have lost everything because of complicated mix of religion, ethnicity, and tribalism. Yet they are being used by God to start churches among villages in the nation that now protects them. At last count, there have been approximately 40 churches started by these missionaries of the Sudanese diaspora.
We can make our plans. We can have our philosophies, strategies, and books. Yet, God will use whomever He wishes, and He will use people who are running for their lives, who have nothing, who are likely illiterate. They are not white, not Americans, not powerful. They are not like us, but they are like Jesus.
We make our plans. This is good and necessary. We have really smart people writing really smart books. I’m glad. We need thoughtful Christians. But we must never lose sight of who we follow and why. We must never forget that our calling is to reflect Christ’s glory and invite others to do the same.
It strikes me that God is the God of dispersion. Though I doubt any of my readers have ever run for their lives because of who they are, it is likely that all of us have pain in our lives. Life in this world is a diaspora. We live in a place and we call it home because this is where we are, not because this is where we really want to be. Yet we know there is more to life than this, and there is a home waiting for us more grand than the one in which we now live. Do we have a vision for that Kingdom? Do we, like a Sudanese refugee, know that whatever lies behind us is just a shadow of future glory? Do we, as the author Hebrews tells us, know that we have inherited a city that can not be shaken? Do we remember, as Jesus told us, that we should not fear those who can kill the body, but only the one who can destroy a soul?
There is something freeing in coming to the realization that if you cross a crocodile infested river for the sake of the gospel and die in the process, you have gained eternity. It is also freeing to know that if you make it to the other side Jesus will be glorified, and the good news will be preached. To live is Christ, but to die is gain.
I’m not telling you to go do something “radical” for Jesus. No. I’m trying to remind us to simply live the life we have been called to live. Live as a simple Christian simply following Christ. If He calls you to cross a river, cross it. If He calls you to go to your desk and do your normal job to the best of your ability so that others may get a glimpse of Jesus, then do that. But do it knowing that God is the God of dispersion. The day may well come in all of our lives when we lose, or are asked to give up, everything for the sake of Christ. It is painful, but God has this way of taking pain, and working it out for His glory and your benefit.
It’s comforting to know that the crocodiles might get us, but either way, we win.