Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who needs whom

Nigeria, 1989, I traveled with a Christian evangelism team to the eastern part of Nigeria that was at one time the Republic of Biafra (1967-1970) . Prior to our arrival in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, we had spent a week in the jungles of Gabon just the week before. In Gabon, there were some very tiny insects that one could barely see with the naked eye, but when they bit, they injected an anti-coagulate that caused a purple ring of hemorrhaging about a quarter of an inch in diameter on the skin. The bites were mostly harmless, unless you are allergic to the anti-coagulant. I had an allergic reaction. I ran a fever, headache, body ache, much like the flu.

The land trip from Port Harcourt to Enugu was grueling. The territory was still tightly controlled by the Nigerian government. Military checkpoints covered the major roads, each check point within sight of each other. After being searched, harassed and intimidated many, many times through the trip, we finally arrived at our destination.

I don't recall the name of the village where we stayed. It was near the Biafran capital of Enugu. The hosting pastor gave us a tour of the area around the village. It was the site of a major bloody battle between the secessionist Biafran troops and the Nigerian Federal troops. Standing on the red clay soil made me acutely aware of the bloodshed that took place under my feet. My spirit heard the cries of the dying wounded, the mothers for their men and their sons. A gross injustice, the ugliness of humanity screamed all around me. One of the students assigned to my team related to me his personal story. On that very piece of land where we stood, his mother and father died. He was spared, but his body yet bore the deforming scars of malnutrition, and he suffered severe learning disabilities. None the less, he saw himself as a servant of the Most High God, and he wanted to be a pastor of his own church, someday.

Through the next days, my fever and body aches persisted. I finally announced to our hosts that I was sick and needed to rest. The hosting pastor let me use his daughter's bed. As I lay there, five of the students came in to the room.

"Mr. Tigerpaw, we will pray for you to get well."

I thanked them and listened as they prayed. They were like little children, praying in total expectation that God would hear them and that God would heal. They prayed with such intensity and fervor. As I lay there listening, I felt ashamed. I can't recall a time that I prayed actually expecting God to listen, much less answer. For the first time in my life, I saw what real prayer was all about.

The men huddled about me and laid their hands on me, praying with ever more intensity; then, silence. They let go. "Ok, sleep now, and when you wake, you will feel better."

I closed my eyes and slept for fifteen minutes, then woke. The fever was gone. The headache was gone. The body aches were gone. I felt great.

I thought, "How ironic that I would travel nearly seven-thousand miles to teach these young men how to present the Gospel, and they demonstrate to me something far more valuable." I thought to myself, "These Africans don't need us. We need them!"

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