God works through big events that shake the world. He also works through little, life-changing moments that transform individual lives.
There’s been plenty of big stuff this year: global economic turmoil, revolutions reshaping the Arab world, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and fires. It’s some of the “small” stories that return to my mind, though, as Thanksgiving approaches. Here are a few from my annual thankful list, as told by International Mission Board writers around the world:
* Kiyoshi Sugioka entered a busy Tokyo train station with a single purpose in mind — to end his life by jumping in front of a train. The former high-powered investment manager had lost his job, his money, his family, his home and his honor in a financial scandal. “It wasn’t that I wanted to die,” Sugioka recalled. “It was that I didn’t want to live anymore. I wanted to erase my existence.”
He stood at the edge of the platform, looking left and right for approaching trains. Then he remembered a man he had met a year before — IMB missionary Josh Park. He fished Park’s phone number out of his pocket and called him. They met. “I just listened to him talk,” Park said. “I remembered that he wasn’t interested in hearing the Gospel. Then he said, ‘Tell me about God.’” After Park shared the message of salvation, Sugioka prayed to receive Christ.
Today, he works as an accountant, a job he found through a church friend. But he has higher priorities than money. “The people of Japan are very affluent, but their hearts are in poverty,” he says. “The people of Japan need restructuring of their hearts.” (See his story in this video: http://media1.imbresources.org/files/137/13728/13728-77173.mpg.)
* April marked a time of annual remembrance in Rwanda as the nation reflected on the 1994 Hutu-led genocide, when more than 800,000 mostly Tutsi people were slaughtered. While unity is slowly returning, genuine forgiveness is difficult. Many still suffer from the emotional trauma of seeing their families killed.
Georgina Nkubito lost several relatives during the genocide and often sees the Hutu extremists who killed her family. “During April it is hard because of what we have experienced,” she said. “However, we try to be patient when we meet those who wanted to kill us. We remember that the Bible says if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven.” (See the story of Nkubito and her husband at http://www.africastories.org/unthinkable-forgiveness/video-surviving-genocide/.)
* On a night like so many others in this South Asian country, multiple sirens blared — ambulances taking the ill and the injured to local hospitals. But no siren sounded for Solomon.
A frail bundle of infected wounds, Solomon lay covered by a white tarp, left on the street next to a trash heap to die. Few noticed him. Such bundles are a common sight in a place where dying on the street is a way of life. But a missionary passing by saw Solomon and wept. She called her husband, who discovered the young man was still alive. He called a missionary doctor friend who spent the afternoon trying to convince a local hospital to admit the broken, emaciated man.
Solomon, perhaps 18, still had the strength to raise his head and look at the strangers. He smiled as he gripped a missionary’s hand. Probably for the first time, he heard the name of Isa (Jesus). He heard that Isa loves him, that he could call upon Isa. He died the next day in the hospital. “Though Solomon has passed from this life, we can praise the Lord that he heard His name before death,” the missionary said. “We hope that Solomon called upon Isa, the One who cares for every overlooked bundle in this world.”
* IMB missionaries Abbey Hammond and Jessica Burke sat on the floor of the Roma grandmother’s house in Macedonia, sipping juice while their hostess explained to relatives on a Skype video call why Americans were in the background.
It’s intriguing to them. Puzzling, even. Roma gypsies — about 200,000 strong in Macedonia — tend to be a cast-off people in Europe. They’re known in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, for driving horse or pedal carts in traffic and rummaging through trash bins for plastic, metal and cardboard to sell.
But several times a week, Hammond and Burke walk the dirt roads of Roma neighborhoods in Skopje, greeting people by name, drinking coffee in their homes, talking about life and about Jesus Christ.
It’s not easy; Roma in Macedonia are, for the most part, nominally Muslim. They may not know much about their religion, but they know Jesus isn’t part of it. Still, a Bible study begun by missionaries has slowly grown into a church of Roma believers. It surprises Roma when they meet other Roma who are Christians — it doesn’t add up with what they know.
God is surprising like that, Hammond said. Recently, while visiting a Roma family in their home, she gave them a Bible. The father made the women of the family give it back to her. But when a family member was sick soon after, Hammond wrote a card to the wife saying she was praying for them and penned Scripture verses on the card.
“She was so touched she cried — she said it meant a lot to her, and she kept it,” Hammond said. “God got His Word into their home anyway, in a different way than I expected.”
What am I most thankful for? A surprising, unexpected, creative Lord, who brings hope to those in despair, who brings mercy in the midst of unthinkable evil, who reaches out to touch the forgotten, who seeks the cast-offs. And I’m thankful for the people He uses to deliver His love.