The days are moving quickly and I find solace in the night. I long for solitude, isolation, and silence. I just need some time to forget myself and seek God. The voices of those who proclaim to follow God seem to never stop chattering, and the spinning of the chaos of the world has advanced to the doorstep of my heart. I cherish these days of intense fellowship with our group of ten students with Emmaus.
There is a story of Jesus' disciples who were walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He had been crucified, and after his death, everything they had believed was shattered. They weren't even safe any longer. They felt foolish, alone, and directionless. And suddenly a stranger walked with them along the way. They did not recognize who he was or what he saying... not even while he reminded them of the prophecies and promises. It wasn't until he sat with them at dinner and took the bread in his hands and broke it, giving thanks, and reached out handing it them that they finally realized that somehow it had been Jesus who had walked with them all evening. Their eyes were opened, they recognized him, and he disappeared from sight! They then said to each other,
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” - Luke 24:32
This is our goal, to encounter Jesus along the way, in the most unlikely of places. Emmaus was set up as a group of 10 college students travelling in a van driven by me, to provide them an immersive and unguarded experience of life-on-life direct experiences with the indigenous culture that has existed for thousands of years in central America. Raw, real, unscripted. We have jobs to do, but no blueprint in how to accomplish them. Supplies are limited and our experience is null. We will travel through four countries in five weeks: Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Our tools are shovels, pick-axes, machetes, paint-brushes, Bibles, and a giant parachute with hundreds of plastic balls. We'll break our backs, share smiles and stories, and sleep under the canopy of the tropical rainforests. Howler monkeys, tarantulas, dangerous situations, and a lot of unknowns await our experience. Our little clan is bound together for the duration. No turning back, no safety net, this is survival and fellowship.
This group looks to me as their pastor and their guide. I am to be both the Shepherd of their hearts and of their corporal safety. I recognize that I feel thin, and I pray for strength, energy, and wisdom, In the quiet moonlight at night, while the group sleeps, I walk among them, praying, and so deeply aware that I am not qualified.
Tonight, after a 15 mile drive through mountain passes, in a southwestern route out of Tikal, we are somewhere near Cobán. I can see the roof of a man known as the Chief Witch Doctor. The group that I’m leading this week is uneasy about his proximity to where we sleep in unsecured huts.
The volume of sound alone is shocking in the jungle. The insects, the inexplicable calls and howls and shrieks that compete for sound in the darkness. Our door is broken and so my bed is pressed against the open doorway. Our host gave me a machete and explained how my job is to keep the howler monkeys out of our hut. If they get in, he told me that I'd need to kill them. Of course I laughed at his joke, and then he leaned in to face and said, "No, this is serious."
This night was infinitely beautiful, and what in the world was I doing there with this young group of tender-footed Americans, to defend then against night terrors and what we once thought were only villains from fairy tales?
And yet... the Chief Witch... I am deeply fascinated by this man. I would love to encounter him. I imagine that I would find in him a sincere belief, maybe even more sincere than my own. I think that an intense encounter with this man could be enlightening, not because of his radically different beliefs, but because of the passion that must drive him to live out his beliefs with such commitment. I think of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al. I think it likely that Elijah would never had been so bold to call down the fire of heaven had he not seen the futile, desperate fanaticisms of the lost.
Surely I can be more committed to the one true God than the man that swirls with paint, feathers, and potions. And yet today I listed to the story him cursing the chicken this past fall. They immediately stopped laying eggs. For three weeks, not a single egg. Then local pastors gathered and prayed over the chickens. They began laying eggs again that night. There is something real here.
There are times that I am sure that I think far too much of myself. I too would like to take great risks for God, but sometimes I'm not even willing to be obedient with the basics like sharing my love for Him with the people I encounter during the rush of my day?
Pastors here in Guatemala wake up and walk for miles just to meet with people that are hurting. They are going to see them, to embrace them, to cry with them, to spend the most limited commodity of time with them, and to live out the love of Christ through actions.
It’s not about saving the world, how much I "Just love Jesus!", or how well I can evangelize. It’s about pressing into a life, touching a soul, deeply and truly loving a neighbor. Yes, I’m tired. I’m exhausted from rhetoric and sermons. I’m challenging myself to look for the man along the road, Jesus, that ate with the dirge of society, pulled water for a morally questionable woman, allowed a devoted servant to wash his feet with her hair in public, and touch the unclean.
I don't see Jesus in clean or pristine places... I see him along the rough edges of a muddy road, caked in the dirt underneath fingernails, in a shared bottle of water, and in the desperate eyes of those who know death all too well.
I see Jesus through the lives that rely on Him, that bleed for Him, that exist in the mud, the heat, and know that He is their comfort. The rest of us get blinded by the comforts of life and we forget that we too need Him to survive.
And so... I'm tired of my own heart that sometimes casually seeks Him. I'm tired and I'm going to fall back into Him... for rest. I need to again throw down my own plow, and slide in beside Him and allow Him to pull the weight.
I want to be Paul when he was facedown on the road, Moses when he had to remove his shoes, Mary when she wept at Jesus feet and dried them with her hair, Peter when he was restored three times... I just want to stay broken.
Maybe it's just me, but I only really see Him in my brokenness.