Don’t we all, really? Isn’t there a part of us that always wants to be captains of our own destiny, always in command of our circumstances and surroundings? Being head of Grace, who, like the centurion in the gospel story, has “many people under my authority, to whom I say ‘go’, and they go,” my day-to-day reality creates a sense of control. Even if you aren’t the boss at work, we westerners have access to transportation, technology, and time-management devices and constructs that allow us to feel as though we harness the clock and our lives, direct our paths, and guide our futures.
But, it’s all really a lie, isn’t it? Or, more accurately, it’s an illusion? The reality is that we live moment-to-moment, second-by-second by the loving, caring will of a gracious, Almighty God. A God who holds the molecules in our bodies together by His constant, continuous command (ever wonder what would happen if He stopped)? Our schedules, our lives, our plans– they’re all completely His. Always are, no matter what Google Calendar says.
What’s causing me to reflect on my vain attempts to control my life on this particular day? I’m sitting in a pastors’ and wives conference in Mbarara, the main purpose of this trip. The conference, attended by 400 pastors and their wives, was supposed to start at 9 am. As you know, that normally means 10 am African time. However, Ugandan President Museveni is in Mbarara today campaigning for reelection, and wanted to meet with some of the pastors who were attending the conference. Just like America, what the president wants…
So, the conference was in a holding pattern, with the pastors’ wives and the speakers (including the Clarks, the Tanners, the Nixes, and me) sitting in a conference room, loudspeakers blaring outside, and yellow-clad motorcycle riders (Biker Chicks for Museveni?) throttling their engines just outside our window, rallying for their candidate. Meanwhile, we are singing, serving lunch and post-Christmas discount candy canes, spontaneously preaching whatever comes to mind, teaching topics out of order, doing everything we can besides making hand shadow puppets on the wall to entertain the wives, stretching time until the pastors show up from their meeting with Museveni because, well, you know, a pastors’ and wives’ marriage conference kind of needs pastors and wives to make it work.
Trivia question: What is the only thing more unpredictable than regular Ugandan time? Answer: A Ugandan politician’s schedule.
And, so, we waited. And waited. By this time, any American conference planner would have long since thrown themselves out the window, in front of the Biker Chicks for Museveni.
But, guess what? God showed up. In the always-beautiful, joyous, worshipful singing of Ugandan Christians, but somehow even more sublime when voiced by full who had given their lives, sacrificed and suffered so much for this Jesus and they loved and praised. In the way that God used our cobbled-together, stretched-out , duct-taped schedule to put together something that actually resonated deeply with the pastors and their wives, as reflected in testimonial after testimonial. In the way that God reminded me, as He always does when I’m among my beloved African brothers and sisters, that people matter more to God than getting stuff done, and that I’m never closer to the heart of my Lord than when I’m just sitting down and sharing my life, my time, with someone else, especially someone with whom I have nothing else in common but the saving blood of Jesus Christ.
I’ve done a bunch of these conferences, and they never, ever turn out the way we’d planned them. The more we plan, the more it unravels. But, God always reaches into the chaos and brings forth something spectacular, something transcendent, something that reminds me that He is God and my job is to just bring what pitiful obedience I have, relax, shut up, and stand in awe at the work of His Hands.
I need Africa. Regularly. Desperately. To remind me that I am completely out of control.