Would you pray with me as we prepare for a true Christmas around the corner in the Season of Advent?
Gracious, loving God...Christmas is right around the corner...and we've been waiting for that special feeling to come upon us...but it just doesn't seem quite like Christmas this year...would you bless all the wonderful family members we have, the great friends in our town, the heartfelt members of our church...and while you're at it, bless us, too...this is a terrific time of the year to experience something unique and wonderful. We'd like to ask that --- as Jesus was born in Bethlehem long ago --- we might be born anew. We'd like to start out right...Forgive us our sins, put into our hearts that desire to serve you and love others. We want to live our lives in your truth! We claim, in your name, that extraordinary Christmas you will provide! Amen.
Bible Verses and Quotations
"...Christmas is a look into the heart of God --- a God who finds chaos and creates harmony, who finds tears and creates joy, who discovers song and creates holiness...May this Christmas bring us closer to this God, who, in Christ, divests us of ugliness and adorns us with all the beauty of the Creation..." Bishop Will Herzfeld, Sierra Pacific Synod
"...being a friend of the United States is like living on the banks of a great river, the soil is wonderfully fertile, but every four or eight years, the river changes course, and you may find yourself alone in the desert..."
President General Muhammad Zia ul Haq to CIA Agent William Casey (1983)
"...I tell you the truth, no person can see the Kingdom of God unless that person is born again...I tell you the truth...no person can enter the Kingdom of God unless that person is born of water and the Spirit...flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit...you should not be surprised at my saying...you must be born again..." [Jesus] John 3:3,5‑7
It was frustrating, but we learned to wait on the Lord and His perfect timing. A lady at the mission-house in Minneapolis received a "word of knowledge" in the Lord. It was from Philippians: "...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus..." [Saint Paul in] Philippians 1:6
SITTING ON THE PORCH ONE EVENING
The date was Thursday, December 13th, 1979. I was sitting outside the parsonage, just before evening, reading an available book on German General Erwin Rommel's "Battle Logistics". The church compound was located on an eleven-acre plot going back to the British Raj. An upscale automobile drove into the compound and onto the path to the parsonage. The driver stepped out dressed in the uniform of the Pakistani Air Force, looking sharp and well groomed. (The Pakistani Air Force is something else.) The man was an non-commissioned officer representing one of the senior officers at Badaber Air Base outside of Peshawar, famous for the Francis Gary Powers spy-plane scandal.
He asked if I would be available to speak to his commanding officer after the sun had set. I told him I was free and I would be honored to receive his commanding officer. After some time the driver returned with his passenger---the officer arrived looking sharp in his uniform, olive complexion, obviously an Afridi, with olive skin and green eyes---he quickly looked to right and left, and entered the reception room of the parsonage.
He sat down and had tea. A must. He then asked that the conversation we'd have be confidential. I then responded by saying it would. He then went on to explain that his beloved mother was dying at their family home on the military air-base at Badaber. He said she was afraid as a Muslim she would not go to heaven. He said that somehow she had come to believe and know that Jesus Christ ("Issa Khan") would save her. She was confident that if she became a Christian that would assure her of eternal life. He said that he opposed her decision to become a Christian, but he would not deny her. The officer asked if I would be willing to help her, and as he asked, he made it clear that assisting in such a manner was against the Pakistani law, and if the authorities knew about it, I would be punished severely. He asked if I would be willing to come immediately to his mother's side in his automobile. He knew her time was short...cancer.
We drove to their home. His trusted enlisted Pakistani airmen were there outside and inside the house watching to make sure no other persons were around. One led me up a narrow stairway to the woman's bedroom. I looked upon a person who was very sick and beleaguered. She removed her face-covering.
The woman turned aside her dupatta (neck-covering) to reveal a cross on a chain around her neck for me to see...I was astounded...but I was pleased...and very much surprised by her faith in Jesus. I wondered where this desire had come from. I had to be careful now and in the future. If anybody in her community or family were ever to see this cross on her they could turn her in and have her severely punished.
This was a beautiful Afridi woman with a kind, though troubled face, also olive-skinned with green eyes,
like her son. She was obviously from a Afridi tribal background somewhere in the frontier. She smiled, somehow at peace with my presence there. Actually, I finally noticed, all of a sudden, her face was shining with a strange and wonderful radiance. I thought, the Christ in her is coming through and evident.
Her son acted as an interpreter from the English into the Pushto language. She somehow inherently
trusted me. She told me what she knew of Jesus. She wanted to know more. She asked how she could become a Christian. I asked her if she would repeat her confession after me---with her son as interpreter.
She agreed to do so:
"Dear Jesus, I turn from my own way, and in repentance, I freely choose to follow you. I ask you to forgive all my sins. I know that you died on the cross of Calvary for me. If I was the only human being who ever lived, you still would have come to earth to save me. I accept you as my personal Lord and Savior and I accept your free gift of eternal life based upon your grace and not my good works. Thank you, Lord Jesus."
I told her that this very confession made her "born again"...a child of God in Christ Jesus...nothing more
was necessary for eternal life...except, of course...Holy Baptism. At that point in the meeting we were interrupted. It was time to move. There was activity outside concerning enough that I had to leave immediately. Unfortunately our time had run out. I trusted that the Lord understood the circumstance.
"...that if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved...because it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved..." [Saint Paul in] Romans 10:9-10
THE RETURN TO THE PARSONAGE
I had to be rushed out of the building, get into the car quickly, remain unseen in the vehicle, and return to
the Cathedral compound some distance away. Things were intense for a couple of minutes. However, my heart was strangely lifted up and rejoicing. I was rushed back to the Cathedral compound. I got ready for bed and climbed into my "char'pie" (Pakistani bed). The next morning the Pakistani Air Force officer came by the parsonage to say that his mother had passed away earlier that morning. He thanked me, and told me in so many words, that there were some things in life he did not understand, but he would do anything his mother would ever ask him. He asked if I ever needed anything he would make himself available for me.
I sensed, in any case, a powerful seed had been planted in this impressive man's heart. I am sure his mother was wonderful to him and in general, a loving, caring person.
No wonder God had called us to Pakistan. Some day I will visit joyfully with this woman in Paradise.
THE PRESENT PERSPECTIVE
This year it seems so much different than a normal acknowledgement of the Season of Advent, but with staying-at-home a-lot-more than usual, remembrances like this one come back to me --- one of hundreds of memorable experiences forty-one years ago half-way around the world in Pakistan. It's a reminder to me that the Lord is at work in the most unpredictable ways with the most unlikely people. It's a reminder to me that people right under our very noses are like this woman, so near death, or, so far away from abundant life, needing the assurances of faith we have in Christ Jesus. Her heart had already been prepared to let God take over in last minutes of her life. It's a reminder that people in our midst need the Lord in their lives.
THE CALL TO SERVE AND HONOR CHRIST
If the Lord can touch the heart of a Pathan tribal lady from the Pakistani frontier, without any missionaries around to help out, He can touch the heart of that special person we've been thinking about. When we pray for a special person we've been concerned about, the Lord is faithful to prepare their heart.
It's just the right time to give ample thought to make evangelism fit us and our disposition. It's never a good time leave it up to somebody else who's more gifted to share Jesus Christ with others.
There is no such person!
After all these years I've been amazed the Lord touched this lovely Pakistani woman's heart with the thought that her destiny rested in Jesus. To leave this world in her condition, it was enough for her to go with the assurance of faith. Would that we should leave this world knowing that we'd meet someone in heaven who was there because we shared Jesus with them at Christmas time in 2020!
"...Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of he Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching hem to observe everything I have commanded you, and truly, I am with you even to the end of the age..." [Jesus to His disciples] Matthew 24:18-20
Blessed Advent to all!