The Gospel of Mark tells the story of a man healed by Jesus who had been set upon by a legion of demons. The man had suffered an agonizing existence. He lived naked and among the dead. Given to fits and violent tantrums, he could not be restrained, even with chains. When the man heard that the Lord was coming, he ran to meet him and begged for help.
Jesus commanded the demons to leave and cast them into herd of pigs nearby who in turn, raced to the edge of a steep cliff and fell to their deaths. When the people of the village came to see what had happened, the man was sitting fully clothed and in his right mind. Everyone was amazed.
The healed man was so grateful, he immediately pleaded with the Lord to let him leave his home and join Jesus and the disciples in their travels. But Jesus gently refused him, saying “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
A few days ago, I was making room in my garage for more stuff. I reached up to retrieve my travel backpack stored on the top shelf. There was something in it, and I brought it down to see what.
“Oh, there they are! I was wondering where they went!” I said to no one but my cat, who was “helping” me. I smiled. And yes, there they were, wrapped in a cloth, the shoes I wore all over the bush, villages and towns of Burkina Faso, Africa last summer. The soles were still caked with the rich red clay from a land more than four thousand miles and two time zones away.
Once a cute and might I say, quite expensive pair of canvas slip-on shoes, they had lost their shape and most of their color. I had worn them every day I was in Africa, sloshing around in the mud. It was the rainy season in Burkina, a time of year no one complains about because eleven months of blistering heat and drought will surely follow.
And I had worn the shoes home and tucked them away in my backpack.
I wondered why. Why hadn’t I left them behind? I guessed I just wasn’t ready to let go. Africa left a mark on my heart. A deep appreciation and a fondness for the lessons she taught me will remain for the rest of my life.
They say mission trips change you. I can safely say they, whoever they are, speak truth. We in the mechanized, technology crazed, excess driven Western world can never know or understand Africa until we see her with our own eyes.
For fourteen days I was moved by the desperate need all around me; intrigued by the simplicity of lives lived; honored by the hospitality and captivated by the faces of the children in Burkina, the fourth poorest nation in the world. I knew I would see my own world much differently from now on.
I wanted to stay. I wanted to do whatever I could to help. I wanted to share the gospel. I wanted to serve. I wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
But I had to go home.
So, I thought about the man who had been healed by the Lord, freed from the evil that held him and the chains that bound him. I thought about the charge that Jesus had given him. Was I really much different from the man? Evil had once held me; chains had bound me. I had been healed. Jesus had shown me grace, mercy and love.
“Go to your home. Tell them about the mercy I have shown you,” Jesus said.
It was clear I had already brought home some of Africa on soles of my shoes. Over massive seas and sprawling continents, I had carried a tangible piece of her beauty with every step.
Perhaps, my unexpected find that day in my garage was a reminder to share the stories. We use words like “amazing” and “life-changing” when asked about mission trips. That’s just not enough. I think Jesus wants us to tell stories about the grace and mercy he has shown us.
So what stories shall I tell?
The story of the little girl carrying a baby on her back, picking up loose gravel along the road? She will sell whatever she finds at market.
The elderly widows who stoop to pick up dropped kernels of gifted corn? No one cares for them. They survive any way they can. Nothing must be wasted, not even a kernel of corn.
The story of a man whose smile nearly covers his broad face and how he regularly welcomes visitors into his home, a clay hut deep in the bush? How he does so with the hospitality and grace of a Southern gentleman, serving up glass after glass of sweet tea brewed over an open fire?
The story of a woman who after long hours of labor in a bush clinic and the subsequent birth of twin girls, called us to her bedside, and smiled entreating us, strangers, to name her newborns?
The story of an entire village who came out to greet us with song and dance gloriously happy and oh so thankful for the wells that would bring clean water to their village for the first time in five years? No more brown, diseased filled water. No more long treks to gather water from a neighboring village.
The story of orphans with bare feet, torn clothes and runny noses waiting patiently in line for a meal? And how when they are served a mound of plain rice on a large metal platter, they sit on the ground filling their bellies with dirty handfuls of whatever they can grab? It would be their only meal of the day.
All these stories and more need to be told.
So come along with me as I shake the dust from my shoes…