Today, I went to Columbus to visit Janice, a member of our Saint Matthew congregation who suffered a stroke on Monday night. She is doing remarkably well and may be discharged soon. Fantastic care at the hospital in Columbus, buttressed by the prayers offered by many people, no doubt explain Janice's progress. We said a prayer that included thanks to God during my visit today.
I've been feeling sort of "flu-ish" over the past several days. So, I decided that while in Columbus, I would see my own doctor. He diagnosed a sinus infection and prescribed an antibiotic. Knowing that I was planning on visiting Janice, he asked if I would like for him to send the scrip to the hospital pharmacy. That's how I found myself sitting in the hospital pharmacy when Daniel walked in today.
Daniel works at the hospital as a custodian. I'm sure that the table next to me needed dusted and polished. But I'm also sure God sent Daniel at that particular moment to teach me a lesson.
"Hi," I said. Daniel, who up to that point, had looked intent on being unobtrusive, stood erectly and smiled at me while returning my greeting.
He saw my clerical collar. "Are you a priest or a pastor?" he asked. I explained that I was a Lutheran pastor.
He told me that, at the hospital, he had a ministry. Every day during his breaks, he and his supervisor go to the chapel and pray for the intensive care patients and for anyone else, aware of their ministry, who asks for prayer. (Often, I take breaks, all I do is stuff my face and scan a magazine. Daniel prays for people!)
As our conversation progressed, he told me that he and his wife were from Ethiopia. Both worked at the hospital, taking different shifts so that they could take turns caring for their son. They had just flipped shifts.
He went on to explain that under Ethiopia's previous regime, life was difficult for Ethiopian Christians. It still can be. I told him that both Saint Matthew and I personally had been praying for the oldest Protestant body in Ethiopia, the Mekane Yesus Church, which is a Lutheran denomination. In recent months, more than 50 congregational buildings of the Mekane Yesus Church, which is larger than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of which I'm a part, have been burned by radical Islamists.
In Ethiopia, it turns out, Daniel had worked for a Bible society which distributed audiotapes of the Bible, part of a program called, Faith Comes Through Hearing. At many Ethiopian churches, believers and those seeking to know the God of the Bible, ultimately revealed in Jesus, gather to listen to segments of the Bible on tape, then discuss what they've heard. It's one means by which faith in Christ is growing in depth and in numbers in Ethiopia.*
Daniel told me about the day he went to visit one of the churches that was using the Bible on audiotape. The church's building had been attacked by radical Islamists. That was difficult enough for the church's pastor and for Daniel to accept. But Daniel told me that he and the pastor wept when, going through the ash and rubble, they found the case in which the Bible tapes were kept, burnt. "Look, Daniel," the pastor said, "they even burned the Word of God." Daniel told me that on seeing this, both he and the pastor wept.
Two years ago, Daniel and his family came to America. Because of persecution, they had been praying for the chance to leave Ethiopia. "Then," Daniel told me, "God let us come here."
Today, Daniel and his family are involved with an Ethiopian immigrant church in Columbus where 300 believers regularly gather on Sundays. His smiling face betrayed none of his past pain.
My guess is that Daniel would like one day to return to Ethiopia. But I know that wherever he goes, he will have a ministry. He will carry Jesus with him everywhere.
I also know this: All who believe in Jesus Christ can live in the confidence that through our crucified and risen Savior, nothing can separate us from God. When I think of all the bellyaching I can do over minor inconveniences and setbacks, it makes me feel ashamed. That's especially true when I meet joyful Christians with servant hearts, people like Daniel.
People like Daniel inspire renewed confidence in the Lord Who promises to be with His people always, Who promises to meet them even in eternity, where He has prepared places for all who turn from sin and believe in Him.
Thank You, God, for sending Daniel to dust that table and to teach me to trust in You.
*The Mekane Yesuse Church, for example, grew by 300,000 members from 2009 to 2010!