September 9, 1992 I landed in Johannesburg with my sleepy eyes wide open. A Journeyman Missionary. For the next two years. In Soweto. Twenty-plus formal & informal settlements that made up the SOutherWEstern TOwnships of apartheid-era South Africa. Over one million Africans. Add this one Texan.
I hit the ground running. Soccer on day one had the low-altitude Texan gasping dust at the altitude higher than a mile. Samp -- spicy, smashed lima beans -- & Ginger Beer -- think ginger ale with a wicked ginger punch -- on day two had me praying the missionaries prayer, "Lord, I'll put it down if you help me keep it down." And driving on the other side of the road on day three had my boss praying anything he could muster while he rode in the passenger seat!
Six weeks into my term I was past the "tourist stage" where everything different that was quaint a few days before is now an annoyance because "These folks just don't think or act or talk right! Agh!" Then I had a wreck.
Guy behind me is googly-eyed with his girlfriend. I stopped. He didn't -- soon enough. Swerve. Skid. Then. That terrible sound. Crushing metal.
Every Journeyman has heard the phrase. The Career Missionaries may not even realize how it sounds so contemptible. "Just a Journeyman." Implied -- not a RLM -- Real Life Missionary. As if because you are younger you are somehow less responsible. Any misstep gets you labeled as "Just a Journeyman."
My wreck. Not my fault. My first big failure. Wasn't even my fault. But. Brought the label. Just a Journeyman. Brought the shame. Just a Journeyman. Brought the despair. Just a Journeyman.
All the ideals. All the hopes. All the dreams. All that. Can be crushed. Just like a door in the way of collision bound Googly-eye.
We were having revival meetings for our little squatter camp church that week. A big yellow & white striped tent sat in the shack church yard. Yellow & white shining like the sun. Amidst brown, grey, dingy, rusty squatter shacks. A symbol of the Gospel. A symbol of hope.
Yet that night I stood outside the tent. Outside in the cool evening. Wanting to shelter my ears from the boisterous revival singing. Wanting to hide my eyes from the joyous faces. I had no joy that night. Only despair. Only regret.
I stood outside the tent plotting. To give it up. To go home. Face down. Dejected. Then I felt like a cartoon. As if two little beings alighted upon my shoulders. Redsuit devil guy with tail & pitchfork on one shoulder. Blond haired & haloed headed angel girl in a white robe on the other. Both whispering in my ears.
"Go home. You're a failure. You aren't made for this." Said redsuit.
"God called you. You can. You will make it." Said halogirl.
"You don't belong here!," said redsuit.
"Look up!," said halogirl.
"These people don't really like you," said redsuit.
"Look up!," repeated halogirl.
I interrupted the cartoon argument. "I don't wanna look up. I just wanna go home."
"LOOK UP!," she demanded.
I saw the moon. The moon rising over one million souls. The moon filling the horizon. The moon glowing molten nickel. The moon over Soweto.
Cartoons gone. The Holy Spirit of God spoke with authority Psalm 8:3-5.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon & the stars which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory & honor.
He continued. Speaking words just for me. From the Father.
I made you.
You are mine.
I called you.
You will love.
They will love you too.
That moon you see is the work of my fingers. You, my son, are made a little lower than angels. You are my creation. You are mine. You are called. Now serve. Now love.
I did not go back in that big yellow & white striped tent.
I stood there.
I could see the joyful faces of enthusiastic singing as I looked in. Yet I was in a quiet place all unto myself.
The God of the universe loves me. He made me. He has called me. And now... now... He has affirmed me.
He loves you too.
He has called you too.