Good Friday morning ...
Modesti is an unlikely name I will never forget.
It's not a common name by any means and I am uncertain of its meaning. The man who bears the name comes out of the Chugga tribe who inhabit the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania and who, for reasons unknown to me, have become well-known as builders.
It was in his role as a builder that I first met Modesti. The year was 2006. I had brought a team to Tanzania to work on building a church at Njoro, a small village located on the side of Ketumbeine Mountain at the 7,000-foot level. Modesti was the lead fundi (builder) with whom I would work on this project.
It was Modesti, who with his broad, toothy smile would patiently encourage members of the team in our efforts at bricklaying. It was Modesti, who using a simple plumb line and eyesight, was able to construct a curved wall of brick and mortar. It was Modesti who using a few broken, simple English words was able to communicate with us non-Swahili-speaking westerners. It was Modesti who, because of his noticeably shy demeanor, would be the last one to get involved in kicking a soccer ball back and forth just before dark. It was Modesti whom I saw, over the course of two weeks, repeatedly withdrawing a piece of rag from a back pocket to use as a make-shift handkerchief.
It was Modesti whom I approached for a final Wednesday morning farewell and it was into Modesti's outstretched hand that I placed a clean, folded handkerchief as a parting gift.
I don't think I will ever forget the smile on his face ... nor the clutch of his arms enfolded around me in a less-than-shy, uncharacteristic farewell embrace ... nor the two teary, dark eyes staring into my own. I don't think I will ever forget Modesti reaching into his back pocket, removing his rag of a handkerchief, and replacing it with a clean, folded, cotton one ... and then patting his pocket with a I'll-have-this-forever look.
Over the course of years, I have seen Modesti from time to time when I have been in Ketumbeine. He often finds fundi work in the area because of his close association with Dr. Steve, my in-country host and sponsor. He came to visit me last week, when I was in Tanzania, calling on me where I was staying with Dr. Steve. We spent a few minutes together catching up on life, then ended our time, as we always do, with a parting prayer.
He is older now, well into his sixties, and still working hard for a man in that culture. And he has yet to give up the handkerchief, a keepsake he cherishes from a time long ago.
As often as I have been to East Africa over the years, I am finally coming to realize a major change in the way I think about missions. I have always been, like so many other Christian westerners, a go-and-make kind of believer ... preoccupied with the end-of-Matthew's Great Commission to "go and make disciples." And, indeed, we are to "go and make."
But I have come to realize this emphasis focuses on me ... on us ... as if we are the go-and-fix- it people. As go-and-make people, we act as if it's all in our power and all we have to do is "finish the task." However, it's not about us and we are certainly not in charge.
Perhaps a better passage might be the Great Invitation. It's what we find in the beginning of the Gospels rather than at the end. Jesus says, "Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Not "go and make" ... but "come and I will make you." It's all about Jesus! And Jesus' last words to Peter were similar: "Follow me!" The last words were the same as the first.
Modesti is but one of many to whom I have been introduced in my "following" of Jesus beyond my comfort zone, beyond my culture, beyond my language. And our simple meeting on that mountain so many years ago was a demonstration of Christian love that could NOT have been shown from my home in Jacksonville, FL. And my simple, humble greetings to Modesti and so many like him, was a God-so-loved-the-world-message that he would never have received had not I and others gotten up and followed.
It is really very simple ... this mission stuff. It's as simple as "Come and be with us with no agenda other than to be with us." And I know now, that message can be enhanced by a gift as simple as a handkerchief.
Have a great weekend in the Lord ... following where He leads ...