A couple years ago my brother and sister in law moved from the chill of Minnesota to the warmth of Naples, Florida. We love being with their family and Naples is definitely one of the best Spring Break destinations around.
On a warm and sunny April night we went to a beautiful spot overlooking the Gulf of Mexico to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Ingrid’s parents. We went to the beachfront restaurant at the RITZ-CARLTON in town and enjoyed great seafood, ocean views, awesome desserts, remarkable service, and the always spectacular Gulf of Mexico sunset.
As our dinner was ending and we walked down the path to the beach my phone buzzed with an update from Facebook. It was from all places Zambia, a message from new friends in a remote village community where we had experienced love and hospitality in astounding ways as part of the new ministry partnerships with our dear friends at Jubilee Centre.
One person in particular had made that visit truly memorable because of his boundless energy, brilliant smile, incredible ingenuity and courage, and love that seemed to spill out from the very heart of Jesus. He was the spiritual leader, the community force in this forgotten village. He made an unbelievable meal for us as a group of 25 people and he listened intently as I shared my passion for developing young leaders here in the African church. He had helped start a school, empowered entrepreneurial women, and was a pastoral presence in a place of real hardship and joy at the same time. His name was Tuesday and I remember him kneeling down in thanksgiving for the copy of my book I gave him along with gear from Cornerstone University he immediately wanted to put on.
Tuesday was a fast friend, a person I prayed for and looked forward to seeing again in our next trip to Zambia. We loved soccer, Zambia, and the people God had entrusted to our care as shepherds of God’s flock. As I looked at my phone the message was simple and devastating from our friend Noel: “We are in sorrow. Tuesday is no more.” I found out later he had passed away following a stroke, far away from modern medical care. In the moment I couldn’t think of anyone who would leave a deeper and bigger hole in lives and a community than this man who had quickly become one of our heroes of the faith on the other side of the world.
Our beautiful Florida night continued as I sent back a short Facebook note telling Noel that we sorrowed with him tonight and that we placed our hope in the resurrection with them when we all could be with Tuesday once again. And then I began in silence to ponder the juxtaposition and tension of the two worlds converging in my life on this day.
There I was at literally one of the nicest spots in our country enjoying an experience where the goal of the staff was to make sure that our every need was met to the fullest of Western contemporary expectations and standards. It was something that my friends in Zambia could never even begin to imagine or ever dream they would experience.
In the midst of those moments the reality of early death, absolute poverty and devastating illness, and immense fear for the future came across the oceans with the cries of a Zambian community that had lost its leader and friend to all. And once again I was faced with a litany of questions and feelings about what I was supposed to feel and do and love in this world and my own life.
Should I never enjoy extravagance and luxury? Was the guilt that often rose up in my heart valid or just my way of trying to cope with the fact that I really didn’t experience the life my friends in Zambia did? How could I live in a way that allowed me to engage and enjoy the people and place God had placed me in America while not forgetting or living differently because of what was taking place in a community God had led me to connect deeply with thousands and thousands of miles away? How do you rejoice and mourn both?
I sat up late myself that night and sent a note out to the students who had been with me in Zambia letting them know that our friend had died and left a huge hole in his family and community. And I thought of the many conversations I had facilitated over the years with those who also felt trapped between these 2 worlds. God’s Spirit reminded me again of 2 things I have come to believe over the last decade or so:
1. Live in and embrace the tension—it’s easy to want to seek to get rid of all the tension and ultimately responsibility in our lives, especially when it comes to things we can’t easily solve. But I am and will continue to be for the rest of my life to live in the middle space where I engage the wealthy world I have lived in all my life and learn from and advocate for the African communities with sometimes overwhelming needs and often a lifestyle that reflects God’s heart and Kingdom values. I must have one foot in each...because I think that is what Jesus did as I see him love the rich and the poor both in the Gospels in ways that transformed them from the inside out and created opportunity for new and fuller lives.
2. We have to let the rest of the world into our daily lives. It’s crucial that I know how my friends in Lusaka or Santo Domingo or even Chicago spend their days and the challenges they are taking on in their lives. It is far too easy to live in my own zip code and to believe that my problems, my issues, my reality is what life is like for others in our global community. I think it matter so much that I know what’s happening across the world and to live with the other in mind rather than continuing to be fixated on my own problems and needs.
I recently was corresponding with my Zambian friend Noel sharing that we were still praying for him and his community. He thanked me and simply told me that I couldn’t understand how much it meant to them that we would still care about their lives and community. In so many ways it felt bizarre and out of place to try and put together the Ritz Carlton and a village without electricity or water or health care. But I think it’s exactly the world God has called me to engage...to learn from another, to share resources from the remarkable blessings when needs are present somewhere else, and to pray that God’s Kingdom would invade both places in wealth and poverty and in arrogance and brokenness...because Jesus would have gone and walked among people on the beach and the dusty village road...and may I walk His path today...CHIP