Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Always Be Prepared ...

There’s a verse hidden somewhere in the New Testament that I went looking for yesterday evening. Something about being “prepared” at all times. Something like the Scouting motto, “Be prepared!”

Because I was caught off-guard in an uncomfortable moment and had to do something for which I feel unprepared. I was asked to preach … at a moment’s notice!

On Sunday evening, I received a call from Pastor Jean Blaise Bikoy who told me that a member of his church, a young woman, had died. She was someone whom the Mission had helped with medical costs previously. Everyone thought she was better, but while staying in her village for the Christmas holidays, she unexpectedly passed away.

On Monday morning, Pastor Billong, Pastor David and I hopped in the Land Cruiser and drove to the tiny village of Kukde, which is located only about an hour’s drive north of Yaounde. The last several kilometers are on rugged, ditch-pocked roads.

When we arrived in Kukde, we discovered a growing crowd of villagers gathering on the premises of the family home. The family was too poor to send the body to a mortuary and have it put into a coffin, so the corpse had already been buried.

After giving our condolences to the family and sitting for awhile with the rest of the crowd, we asked if there was anything we could do … and the result was a request for me to give an “exhortation” (that’s another way to say “short sermon”).

I agreed, of course. But there was no time to prepare, no study to sit and assemble my jostled thoughts, no place to write notes and assemble outlines. It was time to put up, or shut up.

Within just a couple of minutes, I stood before a hundred or so people and opened my mouth to speak. I don’t really know what I said, except it had something to do with Jesus being the Bread of Life, and satisfying our hunger forever. Pastor Billong translated it to French, and another gentleman stood and translated it into Eton, the tribal language which most of the people spoke.

I didn’t speak very long, because the sun was hot, and the crowd was restless. I didn’t issue an altar call (I’m not Baptist, after all!), but I did find myself making the offer of Christ to people. That’s why I’m here!

But as we pulled out of the village, I reminded myself to look for that Scripture about “being prepared” … and memorize it!

I found it last night … I Peter 3:15. In the NRSV, it reads, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” But I like it in the Contemporary English Version even better: “Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.”

That’s what happened on that grassy plain in Kukde yesterday. A grieving family member asked me about hope, my hope, what hope there could possibly be in a world like this.

I gave my answer. But I wish I had been better prepared …