Wednesday, May 24, 2006
The Invisible Africans
I have spent the last week at the IFES General Secretaries Conference in Germany. It is always humbling to meet people from all over the world and to see their commitment to the gospel. Sharing meals with people who endure hardship and persection brings perspective to my own issues and situation. It was good to meet some new people and to see some old friends. It was the first time that New Zealand was on my badge at an international event. Some people asked me if I was going home, others asked when I was going home. Some meant Scotland, some New Zealand. I realised that I am not sure that anywhere really feels like home at the moment.
One night I was going back to my room when I realised there were people sitting in the foyer. I had not noticed them when I came in but there were a group of 5 or 6 africans sitting in the dark. They were camoflaged against the blackness of the wall. I made a joke about them being invisible and suddenly bright smiles illuminated the darkness. Their white teeth like the cheshire cat's and their warm laughter echoing round the room.
It is the smiles I remember. Many of God's people live in darkness but their smiles light up the stories they tell and bring hope to the communities they serve. Brothers and sisters sharing from some of the hardest places in the world but with a joy that comes from knowing that they do not really belong there either.
As these 120 friends go back to every continent I pray that they will smile in the darkness. The theme of the conference was "Leadership with Integrity". I prefer "Smiling in the Darkness"! Paul ties together the two ideas in Phillipians 2:
"Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns."
The NIV translates the same verse "Shine like stars as you hold out the word of life to a depraved and crooked generation"
I guess many of us feel a bit invisible in the darkness. Smile! Let your light shine. There is a hope and a joy to be shared by those who realise that their citizenship is somewhere else and have a heart to help others find their way home.
As the old poster used to say "Smile people will wonder what you have been up to" and even if they don't they will at least realise you are there!