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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Table of Equals (A Belizian Tale)

      **There are some that have asked if I would start telling some stories from my recent trip to the Central American country of Belize. I realize I have not written a blog in a while, so I thought what better venue to tell some of the stories than this fortress of solitude.

      This first story will be not quite what you would expect, because I am not going to tell a story about the country itself or the people that inhabit that wonderful place, but this will be the story of two Americans, and a chance encounter.

      It was departure day. We were exhausted, unlike previous trips, we did not really take a day off, so basically we worked every day we were there, and the mornings and a couple hours in the afternoon were our times of rest, not a lot. So the looks on the missionaries faces was kind of the same, baggy eyes, men unshaven, nary a decent shower was taken, or a good nights sleep was not granted this group. After we had checked our bags and gotten through the rather easy security that is Belize airport we had a little time before our flight would take off, matter of fact the plane we would be leaving on hadn't even landed yet, so we had time to sit and relax. Generally this is the time when the missionaries will take advantage of the sandwich shops and souvenir shops at the airport, this trip was no exception. I began to wander about, the airport was crowded that day, and it is a small airport so places to sit were few and far between, so our group was segmented throughout the terminal. I went into one souvenir shop that I have visited a number of times, nothing new or interesting to be found, and thats when the hunger pains hit. So I wondered out to the two or three places to eat, where should I go, the sandwich shop is always reliable, as is the shops that sell candy bars and chips, of course I got a bag of fried plaintains as an appetizer. Finally, after a long week of God's work and through the exhaustion on thought would not escape my brain, it was Matthew 9:10. "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and his disciples. 
      So I found myslef walking to where I beleived Jesus would have gone, all the way to the other side of the terminal, at the bar.  I had been in this bar before, just to get food though, I never actually had sat down, this time I did.  Here he comes, the owner of the bar, let me see if I can put into words that can best describe this man.  He is Indian, about four feet tall, thick coke bottle glasses, and a voice straight out of the Wizard of Oz in Munchkinland.  He greets everyone of his customers, welcomes them, and will gladly take a picture with you, if you send him a copy, he will place it on his wall. He greets me and says," Hiya how you doin ma friend, we got some nice rum punch already made up, and we have a full bar, whatever you need ma friend." I politely asked him, " Do you still have hot dogs?" He says, "Bess in da worl ma friend!!" So I said to him, "Well then, I will take a dog all the way, a container of crisps, and a sprite." He says,' You got it ma friend'.
    
        I get my lunch and the thought occurs to me, do I really want to sit on a bench in the terminal and eat this in my lap?  Of course not!  In this place the bar wraps all the way around, from the open area where they serve drinks and around the wall. I find a place against the wall out of the way, sit down, and begin to enjoy the bess hotdog in da worl. Suddenly, a clinking noise beside me, its a glass of scotch, a double on the rocks, and it has been placed down at the seat right next to mine. There he was, looking at me and smiling. He asks if he can sit down would I mind?  'Of course I don't mind!', secretely wondering where this conversation is going, I am not entirely ugly he might be hitting on me. But he was like I am when I am in that country, when you see another Gringo, you can't help but wonder what brought them to Belize and where in the states they are from. We talked about why I was there, I am an international missionary and we have in the past done medical missions but now focus mainly on construction with our partner church in Belmopan Belize. He listens intently as I tell stories of what we have done, how we partnered with this church, and what we did on this trip. Then, the conversation flips, as it should, 'what brings YOU to Belize kind sir?' Turns out he owns a machine shop company, and he does work in Belize and travels there several times a year. He has a girlfriend in Belize that he stays with when he is there, I do not go into any illusions about the relationship knowing the people the way I do. And then he turns the conversation on its ear. He says." You know, I was brought up in the church, I used to be an associate Pastor, but I have not been in a church in years." So I say," Do you mind telling me what happened, if not that is ok, but you brought it up, so maybe you would like to talk about it?" He says," Well, my wife at the time started cheating on me with someone from our bible study group, I became disenchanted with God, religion, and the whole principle of faith that I walked away from the church and have not looked back since." I thanked him for his honesty, agreed with him that that really sucks, and assured him his actions were not inappropriate, given the same circumstance I am not sure how I would react, nor do I ever want to know how. I told him it is interesting that here are two different people from two different parts of the world who found their way into a bar in a third world country, and I did not think that was by chance, he smiled. We get to the point in the conversation where it is time to exchange names, so that I can commit this talk from short term to long term memory. I extend my hand and tell him my name, he smiles again, and tells me that is his middle name, which made me smile. He tells me his name, but with a small explanation, he says it is spelled a certain way, the common spelling is not the way he spells it, funny he felt the need to tell me that. Then I smiled at him and told him that his name, complete with spelling, is my identical twin brother's name, he smiled back. So I look at him and say," so how long are we going to pretend this isn't a God moment?" He agreed, and asked " what is it we are supposed to take away from this?" I told him for me that answer will come in time, but for him maybe this," God will be waiting for him when he is ready to return, and the Angels will rejoice on the day he walks back into the church." We toast, his scotch and my sprite, shake hands and part our ways only realize that we are on the same flight to Atlanta, we shook hands when we disembarked in ATL, I think there was a moment that he may have thought we would meet in an airport bar and continue our conversation, but I knew upon that handshake, I will never see this man again.

      So, what was the answer God gave me? The easy conclussion is Matthew 13, The parable of the seed sower. How at any given moment, at any given time, and any given place we may be called upon to sow seeds of faith. This may have been what I was supposed to do, I always wonder afterwards if I did good enough, but that is worry and not from God. But I think that the deeper lesson for me was this, in the Old Testament in Psalms 96:3 it says 'Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!' In the New Testament in Mark 16:15 it says 'And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.'  But what I cannot find in biblical text is this, where does it say it is my obligation to 'make' someone believe in Jesus? I cannot find it, so I did what I have found in the word, I spread the message, the good word to ones willing to hear. I have to trust that the seeds that I have planted will grow, but not for my glory, but for His. Since it is His glory, he will be the one to grow the seeds that find good soil. My prayer and my hope is that this man was at a point in his life, where the words I gave to him found a good heart, and that through Christ his heart will be healed, and he will find his faith again. The reality is this, in my life, I will never know the answer to that question, I will never see the fruit of the tree, or even know if a tree of faith has grown. Isn't that ok though? Where does it say all the answers will be given to me, here, or there? Along with faith must come patience, and with patience, peace. Peace He gives us, Peace he brings us, let not our hearts be troubled. Ultimately please remember this from this story, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.' Jesus words in Matthew 9:12-13**

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