It was 2 weeks ago to the day, the 5 of us Americans were sitting in a safe house in Nepal, designed to be a immediate refuge for girls who had been saved being trafficked into a life of sexual slavery in India. We had been traveling and working all day, it was hot, and we were tired. But here we were at yet another Safe House, to visit with another group of gathered miracles, and (speaking for myself) it was really hard to see what was happening right in front of us.
After we met the girls and visited for a bit, one of the women suggested that we have a fellowship, which is what they call a devotional time, or very basic church service. We were all sitting around in a circle singing and sharing, and at least one cranky American was ready to go to bed. And then it happened. In all my short term international trips there have only been a few times that I’ve seen the cultural barriers that are way too think and concrete come down due to an activity of the Holy Spirit, but this was one of them.
Maybe you could say it was because they sang some songs that we knew, or that the girls decided to pray the same LORD’s prayer, or maybe you could say that the Living God showed up, but whatever it was, suddenly we were more than just strangers sitting in a room together. We were the global, unstoppable, Hell-charging, Heaven bringing Church.
And then one of the girls started to tell their story.
She told about how she had been seduced by a man who had promised to love her forever, he had asked her to run away with him from her family, and then right when the eloping had been almost complete she had learned the devastating truth about the man who she had fallen in love with. Now we had been there for a few days and we knew that this wasn’t par for the course. Because of the Nepalese culture, and the nature of the crime committed against them, these girls were not this transparent, especially in front of American strangers that they had just met. But against all expectations, one by one each girl began to share her story.
Of course we had a translator helping us. And while the language barrier can be incredibly frustrating, there are times when not speaking the same language can be a real blessing. Because since Adam and Eve, humans have been struggling to name things. And sometimes cultures other than our own, help us to see things from a different vantage point by giving it another name.
So before all this broke loose, with the girls telling the stories, before the first girl shared her painful experience, she said something in Nepalese, and our translator repeated it in English. He said, “She wants to share her weakness.” Then he caught himself, and said, “She wants to share her testimony.”
I was once in a room where someone asked a group of people to stand up if their lives had been directly affected by cancer. As each person stood, there was a palpable change in the room. These people who were previously strangers were immediately bonded together by a common thread. Their weakness.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is doing back to back chapters filled with miracles. He’s healing servants and daughters, raising the dead and giving lepers their lives back. And tucked right in the middle of these 9 miracles, is the story of Jesus calling and forgiving Matthew, the Tax Collector. As if Matthew is winking at the reader to let us know that for him this was just as much of a healing as any dead person or leper had experienced. Because Matthew now knows that there are lots of ways to be sick.
But the religious leaders of the day will have none of this. They already were having problems with Jesus, and now Jesus is just making matters worse. It’s one thing to be healing the unclean, it’s an entirely different thing to sit down and have a feast with them. So the religious leaders ask Jesus’ disciples why is he eating with these tax collectors and sinners? And Jesus’ response is basically, “Do I have any other options?”
Actually Jesus says something that is brilliant, he says, “A doctor doesn’t come for the healthy, they come to help the sick.”
It’s been said that a church is a not a gathering of saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. And that’s a great idea, but it’s not really my experience. I’ve been working at churches for about 14 years now, and I’ve rarely seen this. The overwhelming majority of time when I bump into someone on Sunday morning, and ask them how their doing, they tell me they are doing, “Fine.” Jesus came to gather the sinners and tax collectors, the doctor came to help the sick, instead, church becomes a place for “fine” people to gather.
And so we go through the motions of pretending that we all have our junk in order, blind to the power of the Gospel that is happening all around us in the last place that we’d think to look: our weaknesses.
But every now and then Church breaks out, some brave soul decides to share their brokenness and the Gospel somehow shines through. So thank you to the brave Nepali girls who let us see how the Living Jesus can redeem anything.
Thanks for sharing your weakness.