Yesterday an IMB media team and I road the streets of this megacity in South America. We walked among the destitute and lonely. We laughed with little children. We hugged and kissed the residents of two different communities. We looked for ways to be the light Jesus told us we were.
While both places we spoke with people were delightful, I was particularly impressed with one area where some of my colleagues work. I am their supervisor. It was my first visit to this new preaching point. Spiritually speaking it was a dark place to visit. I discerned this as soon as we stepped out of the relative safety of our Mercedes Benz van.
The media team and I stood on the streets, observing the residents of the community. It was a bitter-sweet sight. To our left stood ramshackle huts that the residents called "home." In front stood a newly-painted church, the building of the predominant religion; it was surrounded by run-down buildings people used for other homes and businesses. Children rode bikes and roller-bladed in the streets, not worrying much about cars because few could afford one. And those who could would not venture into such a neighborhood. Men and women of all ages sat on park benches in the small, unkempt park we approached. The trees were beautiful; the grass was in sore need of a good ole Yazoo lawnmower (pardon my Mississippi roots).
One cameraman rolled film. Another photographer snapped photos. Another group took notes as I explained the history of our involvement there. Soon a policeman approached, as I watched a tattoo-covered youth stroll by, staring with a hard look. The policeman told me we were being scoped out and that we were in danger. I told him I had seen the potential trouble-makers and appreciated his interest in us. He assured us they were there to help. When I translated this to my group of American visitors, they decided we should pray. I told them I agreed, but that I would be praying with my eyes wide-open. After all, thieves use the element of surprise; and I don't handle surprises very well.
We decided to leave the place of darkness. But I wasn't quite finished. I took a couple of steps toward three people sitting on a park bench. I greeted them, told them who I was and what I did, and asked if they had ever encountered my two colleagues, a husband and wife, who labored there. When I described them, they told me they knew who they were. I asked if they would do me the kindness of taking care of them, of not letting anything bad happen to them when they came. In the course of this conversation, God opened a door for me and I began to preach on the light and hope that is in Jesus.
I looked intently into the eyes of the man. He was amused, perhaps even mocking me with his eyes. I looked more closely at the woman at his side. The scratches and bruises on her face suggested that this man was probably abusive. The fear in her eyes, the deep hurt I saw, said even more. I looked to the young lady beside her. She tried to look non-chalant, cool, unattached; but you can't hide from the Holy Spirit. He was tugging at her heart, too. The more I gazed at her, the less confidence she showed.
I turned to my left. There sat tattoo-man, perched on a bicycle. On the seat behind him was another man scowling ever so fiercely. Before I knew it, about twenty people--men, women, and children--were gathered around me. The police were now very concerned. They sent two motorcycles and one car over towards us, motors running. I kept on preaching, telling this instant congregation of the one true hope they have in Jesus.
I looked at tattoo-man and saw two words inscribed on his right bicep: amor eterno--eternal love. I reached over and did the unthinkable. I touched those two words as I told them those words were exactly what I was referring to. Tattoo-man's eyes opened wide in surprise. A touch will do that, you know. A touch will bring people to a different level. The hard, suspicious look melted away. He grinned; it was a genuine smile. Something else happened, too. When he smiled, the police drove away. My suspicions were confirmed; he was their chief concern.
My chief concern was the darkness that enveloped tattoo-man and the others. I kept preaching, pleading for them to turn to Jesus. I helped them to pray, but everyone here prays. So I had to explain that they would find Jesus when they searched with their whole heart. Even tattoo-man nodded in agreement.
We turned to leave. I discovered most of my media team was standing close by the van that brought us there. My cameraman was still by my side, grinning a million-dollar grin. He felt what I felt. He knew we had shined the light in the darkness. As we left, we shook hands, hugged, and kissed the residents. They waved a friendly wave. The man with fierce scowl? He just grinned and said in English, "Thank you."
I cannot say this prophetically; but I believe we saw the birth of a church yesterday. And it happened just by being light in a dark place.