I went to southern Sudan once. It was decided that we would visit an area where we had not yet been. We sent word ahead that we were coming with the hope that somehow arrangements might be made for our visit. I was also hoping that some key people in the area might change their schedules so that they could be there to meet us.
I arrived on a small airplane. As we landed I searched the landscape for some clue that our visit was anticipated. I noticed a small gathering of people on the grass landing strip below us. I sensed my body relaxing with the knowledge that word had made it that we were coming. I recognized that we would now have a place to sleep and may even have food to eat. I stepped off the plane feeling much more confident about the next few days.
There was a warm greeting from the receiving committee and a couple of English speakers in the group. We lingered on the airstrip. I began to wonder why. That question was soon answered as we began walking toward the village. Preparations had indeed been made and the final touches were being accomplished as we stood on the airstrip.
We began the 3 kilometer trek to the village. I began to hear calls of African worshipers and the hoots and hollers of an excited and energized village. It was as though time stood still and the only thing in focus was the present. The rape and pillage of their women and children was not even a distant memory. Their hunger pains ceased and no thought was given to survival. It was almost as if the harshness of the African sun gave way to a cool and gentle breeze. I found myself enjoying all of this immensely even though I could not fully comprehend it. We walked the entire 3 kilometers lined with a cheering crowd. As we approached the hut that was to serve as a meeting room, my enjoyment of the occasion began to turn to anxiety. I began to wonder what they wanted from me. Fear gripped me as I realized it would not be possible to meet their expectations.
I sat nervously as the leaders of this village gathered with me in the meeting hut. With great ceremony, appreciation was expressed for my visit. I was kind, but waiting for the “ask.” When it never came I began to explain that I had come with nothing on this trip; no food, no medicines, no money, not even promises. As I spoke they looked at me perplexed. The leader of this warrior tribe spoke, “We celebrate just that you have come. My people have suffered for years and we have prayed that God would send someone to see our suffering; someone to share in it with us. Now we celebrate because God has answered our prayers. He has not forgotten us.”
Now, tell me the ministry of presence isn’t powerful. It may not be all that is needed but it is out of our presence that all good things of the kingdom flow. Thousands found renewed faith that day simply because by our coming God proved himself to be real. Thousands that day found hope; hope that set itself up against the despair the enemy had sown in their lives.
Missions really isn’t complicated. It is merely our response to God’s simple injunction to go. I fear our culture has polluted the simplicity of our call by training us to focus on what we are going to do. It is not impossible for us to get lost in the doing to the extent we never go. Said another way, it’s really what the incarnation is all about. Think of it. God came in the flesh to dwell among us. The ministry of incarnation. Just as incredible, or maybe more so, He made it possible, by atoning and defeating sin and death, for us to constantly live in His presence. He sent to us the comforter, the Holy Spirit, so that He could remain constantly in our presence.
A friend recently reminded me in a gently way that the peace I was searching for would be found as I sought, not the plan, but the planner. Later that night as we worshiped on the mountain here in Central America, I forced myself to stop asking all the questions that have recently so filled my mind. Instead, I just began to tell God that I wanted Him and I wanted to be in His presence.
I am finding power in this ministry of presence. I am watching as answers to my questions begin to come into focus without me even asking them. Beyond that, to the extent I go to Him, I find a measure of peace regardless of circumstance. In short, I am seeing in a new way that he is in fact, everything. All emanates from Him. Being convinced that He is good, I am praying that He would fully swallow me up. Wishing you were here but, even gladder that He is!