Good Friday morning ...
On my right wrist is a beaded bracelet ... an unusual adornment for this lad of simple jewelry. The only jewelry I own is an inscribed, gold wedding band and a Timex, leather-banded, traditional wrist watch, both worn on my left hand and wrist.
The beaded bracelet has been a constant companion on my right wrist for ... actually I don't remember for how long. It was a gift, as I will explain momentarily.
The beads are two-inch long brightly colored bands of blue and green, interspersed with tiny rings of black and yellow (the colors of the flag for the Republic of Tanzania). Though I am not the kind to seek attention by what I wear, the bracelet attracts considerable attention. Not a week goes by without someone noticing the bracelet!
It happens at the check-out counter at Publix ... signing a document at the bank ... working out at the gym ... paying for gas at the Gate station. It could be a waitress, a pharmacist, someone standing in line, a fast-food worker. It could be an adult, a child ... someone known, but mostly unknown strangers.
"I love your bracelet," they will say. "Where did you get it?"
Or some might ask, "What's the meaning of your bracelet?"
"I'd like a bracelet like that! Can you get one for me?" asks another.
Some will reach to touch the bracelet when they make their comment or ask their question. Little kids will try to remove the bracelet and realizing it doesn't come off may ask, "You never take it off? Doesn't it get wet? How do you sleep at night? Doesn't it hurt?"
And the answers are always: "No! It never comes off! Yes, it does get wet. Sleeping is never a problem. And, no, it doesn't hurt!"
The bracelet has become a regular conversation piece, as intended. But there is another intent as well.
Given to me as a gift by a Maasai Evangelist named Filipo, the bracelet was painstakingly made by his wife, Deborah. It was presented to me on the occasion of my first visit to their boma after I had encouraged Filipo to become a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. Filipo and his wife are blessed with four sons and two daughters. In addition, they have taken in two orphan children from their community. They live a very simple, primitive life, as is the Maasai culture.
Filipo became a Christina in the late 1980s when an evangelistic singing group came through their village. He told me, "God opened my eyes to the truth!" He was baptized later that year. At the time he was a morani, a young Maasai warrior, who had finished 7th grade. His fellow morani beat him for wanting to become a Christian. The morani leader cursed him to die. His mother and father rebuked him and asked questions but failed to believe.
Another Maasai morani, Lazaro, who would later become Filipo's brother-in-law, taught him how to worship. He was soon called to become an Evangelist by the local Christians and studied for three years at a distant Bible center. He then served for ten years in various locations, leading tiny village churches separated by a day’s walk.
I met Filipo in 2004 and we became fast friends. One morning as we were preparing to visit his churches together, we were sitting in the darkness of his hut drinking chai. I was anxious to get started, knowing we had a day’s walk before us, when, in his quiet, humble spirit, Filipo said, "Before I walk ... I must pray." The next fifteen minutes were spent praying for our safety, for the people we would meet along the way, for those we would visit in the villages, for his family staying behind and for my family in the States, and finally, for the churches he served.
It was upon our return two days later, after we had lengthy conversations on our walk, after he and Deborah had conversed and prayed through the night ... it was then he told me he would answer God's call and seek the blessing of his church body to become a pastor.
At that time Deborah went to the back of their darkened hut and reached for a small tin perched on a shelf directly under the thatched roof. She brought the tin into the circle of our light and, opening it, presented me with the bracelet. In fact, she gave me several ... "so one could never wear out." As she maneuvered the bracelet onto my wrist, there were tears in her eyes and a catch in her voice. She then asked me to pray for her husband and family.
We soon stood in the door way of that primitive hut, shooing chickens away from our feet, embracing each other in farewell. It was then that Filipo, evangelist, husband, father, and Christian friend, said to me: "Because you stand in my house, it will be blessed."
I have found through the years that just the opposite has become true for me; because I stood in his house, I have been blessed!
Filipo has since completed four years of study at Mwika Bible School and has been ordained as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. For the past three years he has been assigned to Loolera Parish, a very remote area where he fosters the care for 32 small village churches, many of which still worship under trees. It was to his village that I ventured last May to visit my friend and again this past June with a team of fifteen. As a team we were able to fashion concrete floors in two of those remote churches (Olkeleriti and Chem Chem) and to share a Gospel message with over 200 children from four outlying villages.
Much has been accomplished through this man since he told me "God opened his eyes" many years ago. Today he is but one of many for whom I pray, reminded by the bracelet on my wrist. I am reminded also that God is still growing His Kingdom ... all around the globe.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns." [Isaiah 52:7]
Have a blessed weekend in the Lord ...