The wrong road led to a wonderful witness.
Some people mistakenly refer to inexplicable, uncanny, timely, and/or especially appropriate happenings as coincidences. But Christians need to recognize them as God incidences. Deuteronomy 4:9 backs this idea, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Hopefully, reading about the following “God incident” will help you become attuned to such incidences in your own life.
Our son David and his wife Myriam are missionaries in Angola, Africa. He went there to serve as a pastor and Myriam as a medical doctor.
Life in the town of Luena, which is located in eastern Angola, is much like what you would see in a National Geographic magazine. All of Angola is slowly recovering from a 27-year civil war, which started when the Portuguese left the country. The war was between two major parties over who would take the reins of leadership in Angola. The war finally ended in 2001, but there are still remnants of bombed airplanes and abandoned tanks sitting around Luena. Minefields in the surrounding area are still being cleared to make the fields usable again. Within the city, electricity is available for only a few hours a day. Having a generator is definitely a gift, as long as it functions without need of repair. Water comes unfiltered from a river. Luena looks like it could have been a beautiful city at one time; on its outskirts, you see grass huts and a more primitive lifestyle.
With that bit of background, let me get to the God incident.
Shortly after arriving, David and Sebastian, a doctor who worked in the clinic with Myriam, were on their way to purchase some lumber that would be used to remodel the clinic. What passes for lumber there looks very different from what you would see at your neighborhood Home Depot. Their lumber consists of long, reasonably straight branches that have been cut from nearby trees, often used in the construction of roofs.
David and Sebastian were traveling to a certain village where Sebastian had arranged to get the needed lumber. Although Sebastian had directions to the village, neither he nor David had ever been there. As they traveled into the bush, it kept getting thicker and thicker until they came to a small group of huts at the end of the dirt road. Curious people came out to take a look at two white men in a white vehicle in this isolated location. David asked Sebastian if this was the place, to which Sebastian answered no. They were lost.
Sebastian greeted the people, explaining their situation as best as he could. The people assured David and Sebastian that they had some recently cut lumber.
As they were on their way to get the lumber with the village men, David asked if they had a church in their village. The men said that there was a Catholic church in a distant village, but that it was too far for them to walk to and so no one attended. David and Sebastian tried in their limited Chokwe language to ask if they knew about God. Silence followed. Then they repeated the question, saying “Zambi,” the Chokwe word for God, and to this the men shook their heads. Then they asked them if they knew about Jesus. After some discussion among themselves, the men said they didn’t know this Jesus. David and Sebastian again tried in their limited Chokwe to tell them about who Jesus is and why we all need him. After picking up the lumber, they prayed with the men and took them back to their village. A burden remained in David’s heart for the village that had no Christian witness.
Four months later, David still had a burden for that village, but he knew he needed someone fluent enough in Chokwe to share the gospel with them. Then he met Tiago. Tiago had once resided in this village, and had become a Christian while living in a refugee camp in Zambia during the civil war in Angola. Tiago had recently returned, and he told David that the missionaries in Zambia said that he should take the gospel back to his Angolan village. Now it seemed a divinely appointed plan was about to be realized.
David and Tiago returned to the village, Samufo. The following is an excerpt from one of David’s prayer letters, telling what happened next:
I managed to find the place again, but when we arrived we found that most of the men were not around. We were told they were out working in the fields.
“They’ll be back when the sun starts to hurt their heads,” the women told us.
We asked to speak to the village headman. I shared my story about how God had led me to Samufo and how I had felt him calling me back to teach them his Word. The headman said he would have to meet with the people to decide. This was what we expected. But the women started pleading with him in Chokwe. The headman turned to us and said that the women wanted us to start a church in their village. We could share the Word of God with them. I explained that a church cannot have just women. We should wait and hear what the men think.
It was mid-afternoon and the men were already starting to come back from the fields. As we waited, Tiago translated for me the conversation that was going on around us. “They are saying it will be good to have a church in our village. It will help them to raise their children and get along with their women better.”
Finally, Tiago stood up and shared the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in his slow, deep, captivating tone. He showed them visuals on something we use called an “Evangecube.” All eyes followed his every move. Even the young children were undistracted.
After about 45 minutes, Tiago was finished. One man stood and publicly asked for forgiveness, saying, “I have been sinning against God, and I even beat drums.” He was referring to traditional African religious practices. The others said they would think about what we had said and asked us to come back.
We returned a few weeks later with seven other members of our evangelism team. Two of them gave their personal testimonies. Several more villagers publicly repented of their sins. They proposed building a meeting place, and the headman accepted!
They did indeed build a church in the village, but God wasn’t done yet. The people in the village of Samufo have now planted a church in another village, and those villagers planted yet another worship center in a third village where there had been no church. The Word has spread from one village to another orally. There are no cell phones, televisions, computers, or other “modern” methods we might use for communication.
What we might see as a mistake, God used to build his kingdom. Indeed, he uses so many creative ways to reach people with the gospel. In the case of David and Sebastian’s “wrong turn,” we have a God incident! God made a way to make himself known to these people who, though isolated, had hearts prepared to hear the gospel message. Thanks be to God for those who answer God’s promptings. Circumstances are sometimes God’s tools for fulfilling his plans. A lot more than lumber came from David and Sebastian’s trip.
Psalm 22:27-28 says, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” Remember that as you go through life looking for God incidences.
Marilyn Trott is a freelance writer in Sycamore, Illinois.
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