Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Words Took Wings and I Found a Halo Rainbow

Just a few days before we left for Yei, Sudan, I read these words by Charles Spurgeon that summed up what was happening in my life. I was getting the focus off myself and on to the One who really mattered in all of this. This quote is taken from "The Gospel Coalition Blog" by Ray Ortlund dated October 3, 2009. He quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying,

"Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, 'What do you believe in?" they would not have stopped to go around with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, 'We believe him.' 'But what of your doctrines?' 'There they stand incarnate.' 'But what is your practice?' 'There stands our practice. He is our example.' 'What then do you believe?' Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, 'We preach Christ crucified.' Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ."

Within two days after I read these words, we left for Southern Sudan. I was about to experience a journey that I will always treasure. I was getting to go in peace and gratitude without the baggage of struggle that had erupted in my life. I could go with a sense that God was at work. I could do that because of the prayers of my wife, Betty, and many friends. I knew they would be praying for us and for the pastors and workers that we were about to meet. On the Sunday before we left, Betty had asked our home group to write notes and letters for me to take. They did and I got to take those notes with me along with other encouraging words from family and other friends. By the time we left, I had been blessed beyond what words could describe and it just got better with every passing day. I am thankful to God for all of this and for how He used others to help keep me moving forward.

I know others have made trips like this without struggles.  I know that I have had to face up to some things about what it meant to want Christ to be the center of my life and what it meant to live for His glory. This experience became the place for that to happen. I have had to face up to my own sense of inadequacy and see that God is my adequacy.

As I write these words, I know there is much more to this story than me. I didn't fully know how all of this would unfold. I didn't know that I would see in even a fresher way the role that my wife, Betty, would have - even after I left for Sudan. I didn't know that I would see how God was working in her life through what I was experiencing and would experience.

Rather than being a story about me, it would be a story about the men with whom I journeyed and what their lives came to mean to me. It would be about the pastors in Southern Sudan, their courage and devotion to God and their willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel. It would be about worshiping God in a new culture and about studying together with joy filled, gospel empowered believers across the ocean. It would be about coming to grips with the many foundational truths of the gospel and then seeing first hand how the gospel had impacted lives.

But in all of this unbelievable experience there is another thing that I would sense in a deeper way. It was the glory of God. As I watched events unfold over the next several weeks, I knew I was seeing God's glory being manifested in the hearts and lives of others. For the first time, I really begin to feel the weight of it. After all is said or could be said, I knew that only one thing ultimately mattered. It was His glory as revealed in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. I am glad I got to see that. As I think back to those days, I still find it so astounding that we got to be used to present Jesus in the glory of His gospel - to see something of His glory, to relish in it and, communicate it. We got to behold a multifaceted diamond of unbelievable radiance as the gospel was unfolded and as we saw how it touched lives and laid the foundation for future work among people hungry for and desperately needing Christ.

So on October 5, 2009, the words I had been laboring over for several months, together with the work of the other 6 men in our group, literally took wings as we lifted off from DFW Airport at 3:40 in the afternoon. Not only were the words in our minds and hearts; they were in 60 notebooks that would be our gift to the pastors in Southern Sudan. We take things like this for granted, I am afraid; but, as I would soon learn, not so among these pastors. It was awesome to watch the Sudan pastors as they received this material and begin to read. I have to fast forward at this point to mention a scene late one afternoon after a long day session of teaching. We looked across the grounds to a building where some of the pastors were staying and saw one of the pastor sitting off by himself pouring over the note book - examining each page. Words can't describe that scene and many others like that.

The flight to Yei, Sudan was long. I learned quickly that it would be a sleep depriving excursion for me. There were two 9 hour flights divided by a several hour waiting period in Amsterdam - not to mention what seemed like countless security checks. Those moments for me at security check points and customs became a team joke. I was always the last one to clear through security. We eventually arrived in Entebbe, Uganda late in the evening and by then I was not sure what day it was. As we entered the airport, I got my first glimpse of something I had never seen - soldiers armed with assault rifles. I remember, Jeremy Pace, our team leader saying just look straight ahead and follow him through the airport. Believe me, I did exactly that.  All the time I kept thinking of the old movie, "The Raid at Entebee" and the scenes at that airport. For us though, it was nothing like that.  I would not say I was afraid, but I stayed aware of the many assault rifles.

There was a thought that had been with me even before we left home. From the beginning of our meetings in preparation for the trip, I was aware that the flight from Uganda into Southern Sudan would be by way of a two engine, 19 passenger plane that had serious weight restrictions. I knew that on the previous trip by a team from our church, the pilots had not been able to find the dirt runway. They called for the help of the passengers. I know that I started this portion of the story on the high note of God's glory but there was another battle that I had to face that was obscuring higher thoughts of the gospel and God's glory - it was an overloaded two engine plane and an hour and half flight over a jungle that looked like a scene from a Tarzan movie.  I had no idea how God was about to handle this and introduce me to Southern Sudan. I had no idea He had a simple lesson for me about His glory.

After a day and night of rest we returned to the airport to board our "little" plane. Once again, it was the check point routine. I remember getting to the desk and presenting my passport. I evidently had missed the words, during our time of preparation, about being asked why I was leaving Uganda and going to Southern Sudan. So when I was asked why I was going to Sudan, I began to stumble for words. I finally said, "'Er, we are going to work with a church and uh..." Fortunately, one of our team members step up and told me to say. "teach." Relief. I made it through and we finally boarded the plane. I sat on the one seat row next to the window overlooking an engine. I would have a good view of any oil leaks and I would also be able to see the jungle below. Comforting.

I still remember sitting in an almost fetal position with my carry on bag in my lap. Come to think of it every thing was carry on, included the duffle bags filled with heavy notebooks. I tried to take comfort in the fact that our flight would last about an hour and a half. I did not reckon though on the fact that the flight would require one stop. Our first dirt runway landing was uneventful except for the mud puddles. As we descended, I could see a small school yard near the runway. A fence separated the school yard from the runway. Along the fence, children had lined up to watch us land and then take off again. Another scene caught my eye. The field next to the runway was covered in tall grass. Women, holding children, were either standing or sitting in the grass. I was not sure which. Only their head and shoulders rose above the grass.  It was a puzzling sight but it did say something about life beyond most of our experiences.

It was on the last stage of the journey into Southern Sudan that something happened that forever marked that phase of the journey. It still is in my thoughts today.  I had been filled with apprehension.  I remember closing my eyes and trying to pray but I was continually drawn back to the window, to the ground below - and to the jungle and the roaring engine. We were about 20 minutes out from the air strip in Yei, Sudan when I notice the shadow of the plane moving with a rippling effect across the ground below. It was the clear shape of the plane. I followed it for a few minutes and then looked away. When I looked back, I saw the shadow of the plane again but this time there was something remarkably different. Around the shadow of the plane was a halo rainbow. I later learned that the halo rainbow is an unusual occurrence that requires a certain angle of the plane to the sun and the right amount of water droplets. Believe me, this is an over simplification on my part. I found out that this phenomenon is appropriately called "glory." All scientific explanation aside, it had a much deeper meaning for me that went beyond just the happenstance of occurrences in physics. For over 15 minutes I looked at the shadow of the plane inside the halo rainbow - a shadow that had now taken the shape of a cross - the tail wings were no longer showing. I am not trying to get mysterious here, but I do know the impact that scene had on me regardless of whether anyone wants to give it a natural explanation.

We were on our way to talk to men and women about the cross and the promises of God - promises that He kept and fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I thought of that as I looked at this scene outside the window of that plane. I thought about the privilege God was allowing me to experience and about the life of the men with whom I traveled. I thought about the silliness of my anxiousness. God had provided me with a remarkable visual reminder that there was something more important than me or the journey. It was a fresh reminder that this was, like everything else, about His glory - glory portrayed in the cross, in His Son dying upon the cross, and in the promises fulfilled. It is amazing what God's glory will do for you. It is amazing what getting just a glimpse of His glory will do. It will capture your thinking and your life. It will drown out anxiousness and needless worry. It will do that and much, much more. I am thankful He opened my eyes that day in the skies above Sudan, through a halo rainbow, to the thoughts of His glory. What will it be like one day to live continuously in His glory?

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

1 comment:

Andrew Crory said...

Found this both moving and encouraging. In all the affairs iof life and especially in our difficulties such glimpses of His glory as outlined above remind us that it is not about us--and yet they also remind us that we are secure in His sovereign love and care and in so doing free us to serve Him as He desires. Thanks Monte.