The day started early when I was awakened by the hotel staff the pre-dawn hours for an emergency phone call. It was good to hear my wife’s voice, but I was shaken to hear the unexpected news that my 85 year old mother had died a few hours before. Although Mom had battled Alzheimer’s for several years, we had anticipated that we would have considerably more time before this separation. After a few words of grace and grief the connection was broken. I returned to my room and in the quietness read from the psalm of the day, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.” (Ps. 126:5)
When I returned to the hotel lobby to depart for the busy day ahead I found myself quickly surrounded by my Central Seminary students, faculty and staff offering prayers and presence.
We had all looked forward to worshiping on this day with our Burmese colleagues from Myanmar Institute of Theology. Four of us were invited to share this Lenten Sunday with the congregation at Yangon Kachin Baptist Church. As we joined the service, beautiful prelude music was being provided by an ensemble of violins, recorders and piano. The large congregation of over 1,000 quickly gathered for a time of worship and celebration of the 83rd anniversary of the beginning of the Kachin Baptist work. Even with the language limitations we understood portions of the story of the baptism of the first seven members of the Kachin tribe baptized in a river in 1926. The service was encouraging, the singing enthusiastic and the spirit contagious. Throughout the service I reflected on the great happiness my Mom would have enjoyed had she been aware of this sharing in worship with the fruits of Baptists joining God in mission through the lives of Ann and Adoniram Judson. Now, 200 years later, Kachin Baptists in modern-day Burma were praying for an American minister and his family at the time of their loss and grief.
Following the worship service our Kachin brothers provided an authentic Kachin meal that was punctuated once again with specific prayers for my family. The meal was delicious and the fellowship was delightful.
When we came to the close of the day, the Burmese students hosted us as their guests for a sumptuous dinner on the edge of a beautiful lake. As we gathered around the beautifully prepared table, there was an awareness of the holiness of the moment, and then, once again, the students joined in prayer for my family and me. And I wept. Surrounded by friends, old and new, at a blessed table, in a strange land, God once again confirmed his promise and my prayer “May those who sow in tears, reap with sounds of joy.”
I am a bridge builder who reaches across theological, geographical, and cultural divides to relate to people and pastors in many different kinds of situations, always bringing people closer to each other and closer to God. I am someone who listens deeply and responds out of a recognition of God’s giftedness in each and every person before me. I am someone who cares widely and looks for ways to be attentive to God’s ever-abundant grace in our midst.