We had this amazing opportunity at a coffee house in Johannesburg to talk to a group of church leaders about community, about being one and living in relationship. The conversation was lively and interesting, punctuated with gestures and observations and a bit of Texas banter.
One young man, a recent college graduate, wanted to talk about making mistakes and missing the target of perfection. Another among us wandered aloud about how to actually live well in community and commented on the challenges. The mystery for us was a man who came in a few minutes late and sat at the back, arms folded across his chest and an unreadable mask on his face. Absolutely immutable. Sensing the lack of feedback, we ramped up our attempts to draw him into the conversation. No response. At the end of the conversation, we walked through the crowd, shaking hands and trading niceties. I used a zigzag pattern to approach him, not wanting to startle or offend him. When I was within arm’s reach, I shook his hand; still no feedback. I told him we were delighted that he had decided to join us. With little to no emotion in his voice, he told his story. He had awakened early that morning to drive his wife to a “Christian” meeting. He didn’t want to go to a “Christian” meeting so he walked to a nearby coffee house and ordered coffee at the bar, sat down and realized he had landed right smack dab in the middle of a “Christian” meeting. His first reaction was to leave, then, when he realized he was enjoying the conversation, he stayed…the whole time. And God said, “Checkmate!”
Each of the three of us, Charlie, Kelley and I had experienced a similar chess game. We had committed to making this trip to South Africa months ago. We did the usual things that people do, moved appointments, planned ahead, studied, asked for and received support from friends and family, and prayed. And then, within three days of the trip, each of us faced significant challenges. They arrived in the shape of health crises of immediate family members. It was something. Then, Delta chose to not load some of our luggage in Atlanta. Lost luggage is not a rare thing and surely not a personal affront, but it was untimely and they were the bags with our “teaching” clothes. We were leaving the next morning, at day break, to travel 300 miles and be gone for the next three days. We would not be “standing in place” when the luggage did arrive. Then, Kelley’s Iphone, finding itself internationally challenged, would not wake up. It was our only communication link to our families and to the other teams. Then, Charlie’s granddaughter was involved in a bicycle accident and was hospitalized. Each event knocked us off balance a bit. With God’s grace, we became weebles; we wobbled but we did not fall down. Each worry, each event had the potential to distract us, to cost us our focus. Each time, God righted us and whispered, “Checkmate!”