When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power. I Cor. 2:1-5
The little girls in tattered dresses held their bellies and guffawed behind the African hut. One of them was putting on quite a performance to entertain her friends. “Good morning,” she hooted through her nose, distorting the words, screwing up her face in concentration. “Did you sleep well?” The other fell against each other in fits of giggles.
That was the phrase I had been practicing that morning in their language — their blasted, twisted, tonal, impossible language. And I’d obviously said it quite wrong. Jesus said to love the little children, but at that moment, I found it rather difficult.
I had to learn two African languages during my 12 ½ years in West Africa, and both times I achieved what some would label “fluency.” Could I share the gospel in those languages? Certainly. Could I do it eloquently? Nope. My accent was thick and my phrasing awkward. Yes, Paul, I exactly understand what it is like to open my mouth without “brilliance of speech or wisdom.”
Yet, hundreds of West Africans came to Christ while my team, our U.S. partnership churches, and I labored among them. Why? Most definitely not because of my stellar language skills or cultural knowledge. It was entirely because of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The power of that story – the story of a God who loved them so much that He died for them – arrested them. It didn’t matter that the story was told haltingly with grammar blunders. It was the God of the story, not the story-teller, who drew people to Himself.
For me, it was a new take on being “crucified with Christ.” The day those girls mocked me, and hundreds of other times while I lived in Africa, my pride was absolutely crucified. It was painfully obvious that the birth of West African churches had nothing to do with me or my skill or expertise. It seemed all that was required of me was my attendance. I just showed up, made mistakes, and watched God work miracles.
Now that I am back in the States, my focus should be the same. But here, I am competent. I speak and write well. I get the culture. I’m not socially awkward. It’s tempting to take a little credit for myself. Tempting, but erroneous, for even in my native land, I am crucified with Christ. Any good that I do comes from His giftings, His empowerment, and most of all, from His grace.
Praise the God of the cross, and may He always obscure me.