Her name was Rachel. Fr. Greg, the rector of the St. Luke's HHI mission team, told us of just some of the lives that they touched, by the grace of God, during the recently completed mission trip to Tanzania. In the place in Dar Es Salaam where that part of the mission team stayed, they would encounter any number of people. In particular, people would stop and watch them on the lawns during the morning as they gathered for Morning Prayer and daily devotions. But, wherever they went, they encountered people who wanted to meet these people who wore a cross. Some were other Christians from Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, others were Muslim from the same parts of the world, and there were even unbelievers drawn to their witness.
Each of the mission team members had been given a cross to wear until they had given it away to someone in need. Many on the team agreed that Rachel was one of the ones most in need of Christ's love. Rachel had run away from home at age 16. She is now 21 and works as a physician's aide in Dar. Why did she flee home? Poverty? Seeking a better life? No, she fled her Christian father who physically abused her in the name of God. He was the head of the household, and the women were called to submit to him. When they did not, or did not submit in the way in which he wanted, he would beat the females in his family. And so she fled. Understandably, she is not active in any church or any religion right now. She is furious with God for commanding her father to abuse her. For the past five years, everyone she has met has wanted something from her. Some have promised her food or money in exchange for sex. Sometimes, they have even made good on their terms. Others have promised her good jobs that amounted to little more than slavery. Her life is a life that many of us can understand even if it is one to which we cannot relate. We might not be rich by American standards, but most of us have never eaten out of garbage. We might not have had the best parents in the world, but few of us have felt our skin peeled back and allowed to bleed from our beatings. We might have passing anger to God at times, but few of us have ever felt as abandoned by God as did Rachel. That is, until the mission team from St. Luke's descended upon her world.
Rachel's doctor's office was near the "hotel" where the Dar team was staying. Over the course of a couple weeks, she was able to watch this group of people come into town, work hard at the jobs asked by the local church, trek off to a river delta to perform surgeries in settings that lacked electricity and water, gather each morning for Morning Prayer, and generally lift one another up. Singularly, none of the mission team members were there to touch Rachel. Our reading from Matthew this week reminds us that our Lord's yoke is well-fitting. Jesus meant that no one is so ill-suited to His task that He can not bring His purpose to happen. Fr. Greg is a priest with nearly 30 years of ordained service in Christ's church. He is not the young buck of his youth and able to do much more than menial tasks and teach God's word. Dan is a surgeon. He is a gifted surgeon who felt God's call to go on this trip. He works in hospitals in Hilton Head. He lacks for very little. He could do little other than perform surgeries as he always hires someone to do many of the menial tasks at which others performed. Sarah, as you all know, is a young midwestern teenager. She has a love of Jesus and a midwestern work ethic. When others tired or griped, she simply tried to pick up their slack as best she could. Sometimes she made up for the shortcomings; at other times, she was unable. She was there to serve, not be served. None of those I have mentioned, nor any of those I have not, could have accomplished everything that happened on the mission trip by themselves. God yoked them together as a farmer might a couple oxen, and the results speak for themselves.
"My burden is light." The truth is that everybody with whom we come into contact carries some heavy baggage. Like Rachel, we may have the baggage of a broken family. Like Rachel, we may have the burden of a life spent without creature comforts. Like Rachel, we may have the burden of not being able to trust anyone. Yet, like Rachel, God calls each of us. "Come unto me all you with heavy loads, and I will give you rest." Jesus calls each of us into that relationship that defies all expectations. The Lord of all that is calls to us and reminds us that He loves us and wants us to spend eternity with Him. And so often we are so prone to wander, prone to reject His offer. And still, He calls. He calls you and He calls me.
How we respond often is the best witness many of us will ever make. Will you accept His offer and go where He wills, or will you postpone your decision hoping that you do not have to make the hard choice until it is too late? So often it seems like there is so much to do, and we are so insignificant when compared against the problems with which we are confronted. What difference can we make in the lives of battered women? What difference can we make in the face of such natural devastation as the recent floods and tornados? What difference can we make financially when so many of us are wondering whether to buy gasoline or medicine this month, whether to buy groceries or pay MidAmerican Energy? Thankfully, He is Lord of all, and the yokes He gives us make us perfectly suited for His purpose.
Ironically, for Fr. Greg, it was Rachel who heard the call and another ordained minister who did not. Over the last week of the trip, Rachel came and worshipped with the group from the United States. When left with free time, she would often try to find one of these mission team members just simply to talk. When they left, Rachel made sure she was there to wish them well and to thank them. She made sure to thank them that she had witnessed finally what so many had always described. "You asked for nothing from me." In her world, that was the opening that Christ needed. One of the gentlemen on his first mission trip had given her his cross. No doubt she will always be reminded of that group of people who simply loved her as Christ had first loved them.
"Come unto me all you with heavy loads and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for it is easy-going, and my burden is light." I was struck by the individual testimony of the team. Individually, they knew that they had really done nothing to make an impact in Tanzania. There are too many children to be educated, too many people to be operated upon, and too many demands upon their resources. And yet, the sense of accomplishment has given them all pause. "There is still so much more to be done, and yet we have completed far more than many of us thought possible." That, brothers and sisters, is what life in Christ is like! We are so impotent compared to the needs of the tasks at hand, and He is full of such abundance. Will you accept His offer of abundance? Or will you continue your struggle under the oppressive weight of your personal burdens alone and overwhelmed? A world craves your answer.