When our faith is not rewarded as we expect, how do we respond?
Peter stepped out of the boat and the sea’s surface turned back to liquid. Those who step out on faith often find themselves overwhelmed, doubting, and crying out for help. Not all endings are happy ones, but only such water-walkers experience the firm grip of God on their flailing arm. Such risk and response builds faith like nothing else under heaven. It leads where it took Peter and his friends, “they worshipped Him saying, truly you are the Son of God!” Matthew 14:22-33
The following is my response to the opening question and a true story of faith, His catch, and their worship.
“Chief” was a friend of mine. He eventually became a Christian. We all expected that his political position would add clout and legitimacy to our fledgling church.
In the same village, Kiplagat lived. He was also my friend. Kiplagat and his wife took Donna and me into their home for nine weeks. They fed us, taught us, interpreted for us, and housed us at their own expense. They were the first Christians in the village, and they taught Chief the Gospel. Unlike Chief, Kiplagat wasn't a power broker -- at least that is what we thought.
By God's grace, the church in their village grew. But in its third year certain events brought Chief and Kiplagat to the edge of a tumultuous sea. Both had their faith severely tested.
The events began one evening late in April. It was planting season. Ailing trucks, laden with hybrid maize seed and imported Korean fertilizer, lumbered their way night and day along chipped highways from Mombassa's port to Mt. Elgon's peak. Farmers begged, borrowed, and bartered to scrape together the cash to buy enough of both the commodities to feed their families through the coming year. Some, such as Kiplagat, having planned, sacrificed, and saved for years, withdrew their savings in hopes of planting an extra two or three acres. Perhaps the profits from sales could pay for a three room mud house with a tin roof -- a dream come true.
Transportation, especially into remote areas, is inconsistent. The last public transport vehicle home was revving its engine in warning of eminent departure. Chief and Kiplagat had spent the day in town and Chief planned to stay in the town another night. Kiplagat needed to return to teach school the following day, so he asked Chief to buy his maize seed and fertilizer for him. Chief agreed and would supply the receipts from him next week. Kiplagat would arrange for transportation later. He handed Chief 6000/ Kenyan Shillings -- the equivalent of $250. It was his life's savings. Three days later Chief delivered a receipt.
Kiplagat’s village is remote. The rocky pass into the mountainous oasis doesn’t prohibits casual travel. In three years only two vehicles drove into Kiplagat’s village: one was mine, the other carried armed police. Both ended their journey in front of Kiplagat’s property.
A consortium of seroius-faced policemen marched up to Kiplagat’s main hut. "We have come to jail Chief. We need you to testify against him. Those receipts he gave you are a forgery. He has been making them and cheating people out of their money. You must help us jail him."
Kiplagat delayed his answer by offering his "guests" hot tea; buying time to think. Several cups later they pressed for an answer. He gave them one. "I will not testify against him."
"What?!" They were furious. "We demand your testimony!"
"I am sorry, but I cannot do it."
"Kiplagat, we'll have you put in jail! Now, let's get this thing done!"
"No. Please. I cannot. He is my brother in Christ. I cannot defame the name of Christ by taking revenge on him. It will cause the Church to look badly. I will not do it."
More haranguing followed, but Kiplagat stood his ground.
Fuming, they stomped away. Kiplagat withdrew to lick his financial wounds. He had done what seemed right, but it hurt. His dreams vaporized, never to come true.
Late that evening, with the moon high, and the night alive with sound, Kiplagat and his wife sat in their cooking hut sipping tea. Outside someone called, “Kiplagat.”
Subdued and whispering, Chief offered, "Kiplagat, Bwana, I want to talk to you."
"Welcome Chief. Come in."
He entered and they talked for a very long time. Chief confessed his wrong, promised to return the money -- which he had already spent -- and in tears thanked Kiplagat for not turning him in to the police.
More than three thousand nights have passed since that evening. Chief still owes on his debt. Oh, he paid a token payment in the form of a few wormy sheep, but he'll never fully repay the debt. Kiplagat has not required him to. The church has grown.
Kiplagat obeyed God, and what did it get him? It cost him his life's savings and his dream house. But, oddly, Kiplagat says it cost him nothing. He says it gained him a friend. He says God used it to strengthened the Church. He says it built his faith. He praises God and he says his temporal losses don’t matter because: "This (pinching up the skin of his forearm) doesn't last forever."
Water solidifies. Walls crumble. Seas divide. Fires don't burn. Water springs from rocks. Quail thrive in the wilderness. Bushes sprout rams. The dead are raised. God does the inconceivable, and when He does we shout "Halelujah!" But when He doesn't, Kiplagat is right....this doesn't last forever. Praise God.
Note to the story: This account was originally written five years ago. Since that time-- fifteen years after the day the police came to his hut--Kiplagat has gotten his three room tin roofed mud house, which is fun for me to report and good to know, but which Kiplagat insists doesn’t matter. (See also Habbakkuk 3.17-19)