2020 is here.
Usually I am a “Yay! It’s a New Year!” person, but last week I was not.
I was sad. Deeply sad.
“Accumulated sorrow,” a friend once described it.
Grief upon grief encircled me and stole Truth. Courage. And Joy.
I was grateful when Sunday came.
Due to traveling and illness, I’d missed many events and all the special Christmas services in December so I was hungry for church.
This morning I was reminded of how after our first Christmas in Ethiopia, we travelled to a mission-wide retreat at a hot springs ‘resort.’
Early in the morning January 1, 2008, curious me slipped through the security gate and wandered along the asphalt road.
Tin-roofed rectangle buildings.
People out-and-about in the fresh morning air: washing clothes in the hot springs steaming river, gathering at a bus stop, threshing wheat with oxen.
Looking up I saw the outline of a small Orthodox church.
A well-worn trail headed up the hillside and curious me wanted to explore the church, but I wasn’t bold enough to leave the public road.
Soon I heard the calls. “Ferenji! Ferenji!” (Foreigner!)
Everywhere I went, in the city or countryside, when children saw me, they would follow me.
Not just me, any foreigner.
Sometimes I humored the kids; after all, they were just curious like me.
But that New Year’s Day I wanted to be alone.
I ignored them, hoping they would go away.
Their cries signaled to others up the road that an ‘alien’ was coming.
People of all ages came out to watch me walk by.
I hated it.
Just as I was thinking of turning back, I saw a large white sign.
Curious me had to see it.
It was all Amharic, Dr. Seuss-like markings, and to my delight, after 5 months of language study, I could read it!
It said “The Savior of the World Church, This Way.”
I would visit the church on the hill after all.
A half kilometer of gravel road later, I came to the church wall.
The metal gate was open to the yellow circular building, with its tall tower, where daily calls to prayer were broadcast, and a large artistic cross perched at the top.
Over the main door was a painting of Jesus.
I walked into the courtyard slowly, without looking back, hoping the children would stop following.
No one was around, so I sat down on a cement porch step and watched the sun rising over the next hill, savoring the peace and protection, with a reminder of Jesus’ presence above my head.
“Here You are,” I smiled. “Jesus, Savior of the World. My Savior.”
A holy moment of comfort and joy for this lonely alien . . . .
Last Sunday, I got to church early for choir practice, a new-to-me anthem.
Here are the words we sang:
I am not my own, I am not my own,
Not in body, not in soul, in life or even death.
I belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
His own blood has ransomed me, from evil set me free.
In eternal life He gives me hope.
By the power of His Holy Spirit, I will live for Him.
It was another holy moment of comfort and joy, for this sad alien.
I am not my own.
I am not alone, and neither are the friends I grieve with.
We belong to Jesus Christ and He will take care of us all, just as He always has, year after year and forever.
No better way to start a new year that this: singing a new song of truth, comfort and joy.
*This anthem was inspired by the first question in the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism: Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death? A. That I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
You can hear it here: https://www.jwpepper.com/sheet-music/media-player.jsp?&type=audio&productID=10554807