International Ministries

I Wish We Could Stop . . .

October 12, 2010 Journal
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I Wish We Could Stop Talking about Documents and Just Praise the Lord

We were half way from the car to the door when we were stopped by our friend.   She was standing there with a Nigerian man whom we did not know.  Our friend asked us if we could talk to the man for a moment and see if we could advise him.  He pulled out a bundle of papers, written in a language he could not read, and began to tell us his story. He had been in possession of a residency document.  He tried to renew the document but was told it was not possible.  (This part of the story is longer that you want to read.) He had been arrested the day before because he did not have a valid document and taken to court.  The court told him to leave the country in 30 days and in the meantime to go to another city.  His court-appointed lawyer, who represented him in court, charged him 200 euro (about $260) to handle his case and then told him there was nothing she could do. 

It is a story we hear every week, everywhere we go.  People are subject to a system that they do not understand and that often appears arbitrary and forever changing.  They always have a fistful of papers.  Almost always, there is nothing we can do.  We can provide no avenue of hope.  When we could offer no good suggestions to this man and the conversation had dwindled to a silence, our friend said:  “I wish we could stop talking about papers and just worship the Lord.”  With that she turned and went inside.

And worship we did!  Three hours of singing, praying, preaching, dancing, and praising. As I looked at the posters on the concrete walls, I saw the words “empower,” “overcome,” “victory,” and “conquerors” everywhere.  In the service prayers were repeatedly offered for deliverance and victory and liberation.  It was as if they were at war.  And in a way they are.  They live lives where they often have no recourse against the powers that control their lives--their employers, the government, and the courts. They wonder whether anyone hears their voices, knows their dreams, and grieves their losses and their struggles.

Worship at a Nigerina church in Conegliano.

This is why they worship so hard, so long, so enthusiastically. In worship they hear the Word of the Lord; they are reminded to whom they belong.  They discover anew that they are not alone, forgotten, or uncounted.  They worship because there is little else left to do.

In Psalm 36, the writer begins by cataloguing the dangers and evil of their world.  The writer concludes this section with the observation:  They plot mischief while on their beds; they are set on a way that is not good; they do not reject evil (36:4).   But then he immediately changes gears and writes: Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD(36:5-6).  In the face of the evil all around, the writer knows nothing else to do except start praising the One who is always good, the One who plots only saving things. 

 Later the Psalmist writes: How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings (36:7).  We have chosen this verse as the theme for our ministry in Italy.  We work with churches, training their leaders and encouraging their fellowships.   In these congregations, within their worship, people find refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.  Sometimes there is nothing else left to do than “stop talking about papers and just worship the Lord.”

You, through your encouragement, your prayers, and your generous support, make our work here possible.  You are partners in ministry with us.  You are helping people find refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.

As you pray:

Please remember Emma as she faces yet another court date and begins school to become a nurse’s aid.

Please remember Ben and Luke as they move into a new year of school.

Please remember the Berean Baptist Church (Ghanaian) as they nurture their new mission at Lake Como.

Give thanks for people like our friend we met in the parking lot who remembers what it was like to be a newly arrived immigrant and are always ready to help others.

Peace to you,

Jim (along with Debbie, Ben, and Luke)