Good Friday morning ...
I met Raphael in July of 2000. It was a bright Thursday afternoon when I arrived in Kimokouwa ... a tiny, dusty Maasai village about 30 miles south of the Kenya/Tanzania border. I was greeted by the ever-smiling face of Raphael. He was a new convert to Christianity who had walked three days from his village on Ketumbeine Mountain to be with the Christian "Americans." He wanted to learn English ... but as it turned out, he had much more than an English lesson!
In retrospect, I see the hand of God in bringing Raphael and me together. We immediately became fast friends, spending three weeks side by side ... working, laughing, playing and worshiping together. I realized how powerfully strong our bond was when I awakened one morning to find Raphael lying across the entrance to my tent just outside the zippered flap. Unbeknownst to me, he had slept there all night, wanting to be as close as possible but without intruding upon my space. He slept there every night thereafter ... until I left the village several weeks later.
Following this brief face-to-face encounter in 2000, we began writing back and forth ... sending and receiving a letter about every four months. On every subsequent trip to East Africa, Raphael would manage to meet me ... on one occasion even spending a night in a Nairobi jail for illegally crossing the border into Kenya without identification. Subsequently, I was privileged to support Raphael in taking several English classes and then to fund his training to become an Evangelist in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania.
But I am way ahead of myself.
When I left Raphael in July of 2000, he was a very troubled young man. He had become a Christian the year before through the efforts of a Christian singing group that came through his village. He had been touched by God's wonderful, freeing grace that released him from "the evil one." You see, traditional Maasai are very aware of evil. Evil spirits are common to them. Though they have always believed in "god" ... after all, he gives them cows, and rain and children ... they are afraid of him because of their belief that they can only have access to him through a traditional healer or through certain trees or mountains. So the simple message of Jesus under the conviction of the Holy Spirit was astonishingly liberating for this young Maasai.
Raphael was thrilled to have been promised the gift of eternal life. He was awestruck by God's love and grace and mercy extended to him ... a lowly, insignificant herdsman who didn't even know the day or year of his birth. But he was terrified of the "evil one" which he knew lurked around his village and still lived in the hearts of his parents and siblings.
The "evil one" lurked in the customs and traditions of his people. Whereas he now knew it was wrong to take more than one wife ... His father had already arranged three wives for him. What was he to do? And whereas this newborn Christian had inklings of a call from God upon his life to "do something for the Lord" ... his father forbade him from considering anything but becoming a traditional Maasai herdsman. He even forbade him from taking additional English classes beyond what he learned through his standard 7 education. Again ... what was he to do?
It was in this troubled state that Raphael and I parted company that summer. He agreed to return to his father's boma, to live under his protection and guidance and to trust God to provide direction. And, boy, did God provide!
His provision took place over the span of several years. Raphael's father first agreed that he could take English courses (meaning he would be away from the village for two three-month courses). Then he released Raphael from the three previously arranged marriages. And finally, after witnessing the change in Raphael's attitude, demeanor and behavior, permitted him to go away for training as an Evangelist (a three-year course). All of this took place in God's perfect timing ... and Raphael understood that.
In the midst of all this, I met Raphael's father, Sitelu, on several occasions when I was on the mountain. He was always cordial, respectful and appreciative of my friendship with his son. One morning, while having chai in Raphael's hut, his father joined us and we entered into conversation about Christianity. Sitelu was inquisitive, but non-committal. He was open, but not swayed. He was intrigued, but not convinced.
But, praise be to God, the Holy Spirit WAS working. After I ended our conversation with prayer, Sitelu said very clearly in his broken English, "One day I become Christian."
I have reminded Raphael of that simple sentence every time we have met and he readily assures me that he remembers. For some ten years we have prayed for Sitelu to join the rank of believers through faith in Jesus Christ. For ten years we have waited and wondered and watched.
Then came a call last Saturday (December 1st) from Dr. Steve Friberg. He is in the States for medical concerns but had heard from his wife Bethany in Tanzania. She wanted me to know that on Sunday (December 2nd) Raphael's mother AND father would be baptized by Raphael during worship at Njoro.
On Monday, I received a text from Raphael himself (Yes! A text! Never happened before) saying: "Hi!! Pastor RICK,My father have babtaized on 02,12,2018,and his wife thank for your prayer" I can almost see Raphael's smiling face all the way from Tanzania!
Does that send chills down your back? It should. God is so good!
Rejoice with me in knowing that two more souls have been added to the Kingdom of God
and realizing the work of the Holy Spirit sometimes takes a while. But be assured, God is at work, often behind the scenes from what we can see. And His work is always perfect and always perfectly timed.
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end" [Ecclesiastes 3:11]
Have a wonderful December weekend ... anticipating the return of Him who promised to come again in glory to take us to be with Him in eternity.