Today's Lectionary Text
I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
In 2011, I had the tremendous honor to travel to Liberia, Africa, as part of my doctoral immersion. The immersion helped me experience the gospel firsthand. The immersion made it possible for me to look in a mirror darkly and see face to face; and to understand completely what, until that point, I had only partially known.
On one side of the hallway was a well-lit room with a ward of about a twenty beds. About 50 percent of them had children in them, and half of them had adults and other family sitting at children’s bedside. We learned that parents would travel from miles away from the hospital to bring their children there for treatment, often having to return home because there are other family members at home who needed their help. The consequence surrounding the practice is that sometimes parents would return to the hospital to find their child had gotten well, and sometimes parents would be devastated to learn that their child did not survive.
Across the hallway was another room and light from outside the room had been blocked out as much as possible. I could see a few children with family members at their side due to the light of a dim desk lamp, but when I looked into the room, I saw something I will never forget.
Sitting in the doorway to the room was a woman I believed was a mother to the child lying face down on the bed. I couldn’t tell if the child was a boy or a girl, but along the child’s hairline, the hair was not an African black, but a blondish-red indicating the child had experienced malnutrition. I don’t know why the baby was there and I knew nothing of the child’s disease or prognosis. What I was struck to notice was that the child’s mother, probably about 20-years-old, wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing.
At first, I wondered why; it wasn’t a culture I was overly familiar with. I thought it had something to do with the humidity or the temperature in that hospital ward. I smiled at her and tried to let her know with hand motions that I was praying for her and for her child. The hardest part for me to this day is not knowing the outcome of the prayers I spoke that day or the prayers that resonate with me still. When I motioned to her that she and her child were in my prayers, she smiled the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. It was akin to the bright aura of the light reflected through stained glass of historic biblical figures.
What I learned the next day, though, blew me away.
The next day, our professor had us visit with some of the African cohort in our D.Min. classes. After sharing what I had seen, I was asked if I understood why this mother was undressed as she was. I said I thought it was due to the heat or the humidity. It was neither.
Anna, my African cohort, led our discussion group. Once I shared the story with her and a couple American students, we were told this angelic mother was undressed because she was being vulnerable before God and her child because she knew that God could do for her child what the medicine was not. What she was doing was an act of faith that is deeper than any I think I’ve ever practiced.
I share this story because that June day in the Phoebe Hospital, I was not just introduced to a new way of thinking about the lengths people are willing to go for God’s healing provision, but what I saw that day became, for me, the image of the nativity of my mind because it is only in total vulnerability to God that the deepest and greatest healing – of God entering the world through human life – meets my need, every person’s need, and especially that mother and child’s need.
As I learned that day in Gbong, Liberia, God waits to heal and transform all God’s children; what it takes for that to happen is to go beyond despair, nakedness and vulnerability that are so often difficult for us to practice to the understanding that God is present in the aura a waiting mother, a child who has had the most recent contact with God, and in the prayers of a passing friend. That day, for me, will always serve as a reminder that God knows what God’s doing.
-Rev. Mark Crist
Crawford Valley and Plainview UMC's
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