I n the village of Antenina where Adam and I went with a team of 6 other people to do ministry and community development, there is an old man who never comes out of his hut or speaks to anyone, not even his family. His name is Fongy. He refuses to bathe, he won’t cut his hair or his nails and he never changes his clothes. He’ll only accept food and drink left at the door. He’s been this way for over two years and his family doesn’t know what to do with him. Adam and I visited Fongy once and he didn’t move, just sat real still with his eyes fixed on the wall. There are different stories on how he got this way. One is that he had an infection in his eyes and it got so bad that it affected his brain. Another story is that his wife had another man, and he became so heartbroken and bitter that he shut himself off from his family and the world and became angry at God.
There was one girl on our team who felt compelled to visit Fongy every day, praying for him and sitting inside the hut with him if he allowed or just outside the door talking to him, with no response of course. She did this every day for the duration of five weeks just to show him love. At one point it became too much for her to bear seeing him this way every day. She decided that she would force Fongy to bathe hoping that this would be the breakthrough he needed to be healed of his sickness. She thought that if she sat outside his hut long enough he would finally accept. And so she did. All day she sat trying to convince him to bathe, and all it did was make him very angry. There was still no improvement in Fongy’s life and in fact she might have made the situation worse.
In her pain and disappointment, she brought up a very real and honest question to our team: “Jesus told us we have the power to heal the sick and that if we have faith we can heal and be healed. I have faith and pray for people to be healed all the time and I’ve still never healed anyone. I’ve prayed and prayed for Fongy and he’s still not healed. If Jesus said we have the power to heal, why am I not seeing healings?” It’s a very good question because Jesus healed people all the time from all types of infirmities and his disciples did the same. Doesn’t God want people to be healed? We all encouraged her saying that we shouldn’t be looking for what we want God to do, but that we should be seeking God for who he is. Then we might learn he’s doing more than we realize.
A few days later our team members were at a nearby village teaching about malaria and general hygiene. While they were there, 2 of our team members spent time visiting people. The last time they were teaching at this village there was a woman who hadn’t been able to walk for 4 years and she had one arm she couldn’t use correctly either. They prayed for her during that visit, felt she had been healed, and told her to stand up and walk. She refused because she didn’t believe she was healed and stayed right in her bed like always. During their second visit however, they prayed for her and she accepted. They helped her stand and helped her walk for the first time in 4 years, although her arm still wasn’t working well. It was exciting for them to see. They gave glory to Jesus for that miracle and then they left. Nobody knows what happened after that. The few hours they spent in that village was too short to develop any type of relationship with that woman and her family. We don’t even know how this affected her life or what kind of change happened in her heart.
Shortly after that, we had colleagues from town come for a very short visit to Antenina village where we were staying and working. The first thing they said was how they had heard from another team member about the miraculous healing that had taken place. They talked about how amazing it was. That was the big exciting news for them.
And of course it was great news. It was a wonder. Our team members had really been wanting to see healings and a few witnessed this big one. This brings us back to the question posed earlier by our teammate who had believed so much for the healing of that sick man, Fongy, but never saw it.
T he day after her big discouragement from trying to convince Fongy to bathe, she felt like God was leading her to spend time with his family. After all, during her visits the family had inevitably been observing. Surely they were wondering why anyone would care about this man, their father and husband, who couldn’t take care of himself or even acknowledge anyone else. So she began to talk with them about love and how to display it within a family. She began to tell them about the love of Jesus, and they couldn’t get enough. They wanted to know more because they had never heard of love like this. So she continued her visits, not just for the sick man but for his family as well. Every evening she spent with them, telling stories from the Bible and sharing about the love of Christ, and helping them learn how to show love within their family as well.
All the time before, she had been looking for the miraculous according to her eyes. She was expecting Fongy to come to his senses and start bathing and interacting with people. But what she didn’t realize the whole time was that God was using her visits and her love for this one old man to open the hearts of his entire family. There’s something new that has begun down deep inside of them. Through her discussions with this family she explained how a parent can show love to her child and how the child can show love to the parent. One of the boys told her: “We need to start showing love to our dad like this,” the very man who can’t show love to others. It became clear that what God was doing was not just for the one man our teammate had focused so much on, but that God was bringing restoration to and through the entire family.
D oes Jesus still heal our physical bodies? Does he still make the lame walk and the blind see? Yes, he can and does; but not always. Healings are wonderful in that they represent the new life that Jesus brings. Even things like community development are great because they can point to our Creator, the one who is making all things new. But our bodies still grow old; they still get weak and eventually pass away. What God really wants to do in us is so much bigger than what we expect because it’s a complete inner change. God wants to change us internally, in advance of the new and eternal resurrection that we’re all waiting for. It’s a complete change in how we see the world around us. It’s a complete change in how we choose to serve the people around us. It’s a new way to love.
Even Jesus often warned the people, telling them not to seek signs and wonders. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, speaks a lot about spiritual gifts and signs and wonders. He explains how such spiritual gifts as prophesy and healing are good but must be done in an orderly way and for the building up of the church. This is the actual context of 1 Corinthians 13, often known as the love chapter, though we often forget the reason Paul wrote it. It is here where Paul is actually comparing love to all these spiritual gifts, ultimately saying as good as these spiritual gifts are, they shouldn’t be our focus. Enduring love itself is the true fruit of the Spirit.
He says: “And I will show you a more excellent way. If I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 12:31- 13:1-3). “…Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy only in part” (8-9). “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13)
Both of these stories that happened in the village are praiseworthy. But like Paul I would say the greatest of these is the one of love. We often think that God’s work should look a certain way according to our eyes, all the while he is working in ways we can’t see or imagine. As Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.” (12)
W hen we always wait for and expect God to do great and miraculous things, we often miss the profound things he’s actually doing. When Jesus came as a baby born in a barn and entered Jerusalem as a man riding on a donkey, rather than the chariot expected of kings, nobody expected him to be the savior of the world. But what they didn’t know!
We don’t know what happened to the lady who got healed or if her heart changed after that. But we do know that an entire family has begun to know and practice love. We know that there is another man in the village whose life has completely changed, who went from a very shy man who never spoke to a man who smiles and is bold to talk to people, sharing what God has done in his life. He went from a man who never wanted to work in his fields and whose body always ached, to a man who by himself quickly did the work of four men in his rice fields and who for weeks has shouted to everyone as they pass by that he has the strength of God. He’s a new man.
We know that there is a couple so thirsty to know more of God that every time we pass their shop, they’re reading the Bible we gave them. And they can’t wait to tell others. The wife is already meeting with other women in the village to share with them about Jesus. Her husband is already talking about bringing the Gospel to nearby villages. They’ve become his disciples. It’s these stories that are most praiseworthy. These are the miracles God is doing.
And that is why we were there, not to spread a religion but to be the tools God uses to change lives, not just in outward appearances or practices but in true inward change. And it was all God’s work, not ours. We don’t even have to try that hard. Our focus and our efforts shouldn’t be on what we think God will do for us or through us. Instead we should be ready to know the heart and will of God and simply be obedient to where he leads us. Sometimes he leads us to pray. Sometimes he leads us to give. Sometimes he leads us to help someone else in their work for a while. And sometimes he leads us to sit with someone even in silence. So I encourage all of you to seek what God’s will is for you today and to be encouraged that no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, God is still at work and it’s truly miraculous.
Lora, Adam and Matimu