I awoke the other night to a loud, insistent pounding on the door. My initial reaction was to remain securely bundled in the safety of my bed, counting the number of locks on the doors and bars on the windows between me and whoever was out there in the African night.
But they wouldn’t quit. More knocks on the door. More calls through the window for someone to please come and answer. A pang of conscience drifted through my sleep-muddled mind, reminding me that I had arrived at the university guesthouse under similar conditions only a few nights before. Perhaps this was another travel-weary guest, arriving in the middle of the night after countless hours on sleep-depriving airplane seats and bone-jolting potholed roads. Then again, perhaps it was a band of ruthless marauders come to attack and plunder us unsuspecting foreigners as we slept in our beds.
We make a choice whether to protect our own interests or to risk them for the sake of another.
As I lay under my mosquito netting trying to collect my thoughts, the pounding continued. Were there no staff people here to go and sort it out? I realized we were on our own. I had to make a choice whether to protect my own interests or to risk them for the sake of another.
Flipping on the lights, I shuffled across the gritty cement floor, unlocking barrier after barrier of protection as I approached the front door. I peered through the glass, unable to make out the figures that went with the voices calling to me from the blackness of the outside night. They were trying to explain who they were and why they had come, but I could barely hear them through the glass. Did I really want to expose myself to these strangers?
Call it an act of sacrificial love or of supreme stupidity, but I did it. With a quick prayer for protection and a fuzzy-headed analysis of the potential consequences, I stuck my key in the door and turned the lock. Little did I know that I was opening the door for the answer to one of my forgotten prayers.
Out of the darkness stepped a man, his countenance matching the night but his eyes radiating the dawn. His cheeks bore matching sets of scars, which he later explained to me as tribal markings that his parents had cut into his face as a baby to protect him from being mistakenly murdered during the tribal wars into which he had been born. But his purple shirt, white clerical collar, and chain with suspended cross told the story of another birth into a different tribe.
Love for Christ compels us to get up and open the door.
The next day I had the opportunity to pour him a cup of Ugandan coffee and find out more about my Nigerian brother. Born into a Muslim family, he had been among the first in his region to attend school, newly introduced by Christians from abroad. Along with a modern education he had also received knowledge of Christ, to which he responded in faith. Despite opposition from his family, he had persisted in his faith, pursued a life of ministry, and eventually risen to the position of bishop over the churches in the central region of his country.
I listened to this man’s story of life and faith with tears in my eyes, remembering the prayers that I have so fervently offered up to God on behalf of His people in Nigeria. How many times have I have wrestled with God in prayer, wondering why He allows evil, militant groups like ISIS and Boko Haram to overtake a country and torture its struggling Christian population? How often have news reports from around the world caused me to question Jesus’ claim that He will establish His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it?
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
And yet here sat this man, a living testimony that God is at work in these places, that the light of His presence has been anything but extinguished there. Yes, the persecution has been severe. Yes, many have lost their homes, their jobs, their families, and even their lives. And some have renounced their faith.
But as my brother testified, the church in Nigeria is being refined by Boko Haram’s fire. Its light is shining all the brighter as a result of persecution. Those who have remained are marked by a willingness to endure all things for the sake of Christ and to reach out in sacrificial love to meet the needs of one another in the Body. In fact, he had only been able to set out on this trans-African pilgrimage to bring his son for higher education in Uganda because of the many unexpected gifts his fellow Nigerian believers had showered on him.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:34-35, 40
I sit back in humbled amazement, privileged to get to witness God’s work in the world. I suppose that, like with the inconvenient, intimidating knocks on the guesthouse door, we have a choice of how far we will go in opening ourselves to what is going on in the world. We could simply shut out the media-amplified cries of people we don’t know, choosing instead to roll over and pull a pillow over our heads.
But love for Christ compels us to get up and open the door. They may be strangers to us, but they are intimately known by Him. We risk our own sense of security and safety by allowing in the painful awareness of all that His children are suffering for His name’s sake. But in exchange, we gain the joy of participating with Him in bringing about the most improbable of our prayers.
“Your kingdom come.“