You can sit in a mud hut in Africa, talking about God and feel like an outed fraud.
The heat is unbearable. Dianah sits in a shaft of light from the only window. Her mother, wrapped in a vibrant orange shawl, sits beside her. Her brother, Noah, stands beside a curtained doorway that shudders with every gasping noonday breeze.
I’m trying not to think of how maybe it’s me that’s unbearable.
I’m feeling like a hoax when Dianah slightly moves her crutch that lays between her and mother and murmurs it like a prayer, the living and active words of the Old Book that keep her living, and the words sound the opposite of trite when she speaks them under the beat of the African sun:
“For God so loved the world, He gave — He gave His only begotten Son.”
And I nod, rung with it: God gives. God so loves that He gives. That’s what love is: Love lives given. Or it isn’t love.
What do I know about giving like God? What does my life show that I actually know about the truth: Love wins only when love gives.
You’d think that I’d focus on Dianah explaining how the pain of her dislocated hip threatened to keep her out of school until the ministry of Africa New Life found her a surgeon, a new hip, a community nurse named Rebecca who oversees her recovery and physical therapy plan, all of her school fees and complete support to keep her in high school full time.
But the honest-to-God truth of it is, I can’t stop this ringing with my own truth, the playbook that I tritely live by, and I don’t say it aloud to Dianah, her little brother, Noah, her mother — because maybe they can read it in my eyes:
Sermon on the Mounting Pressure of The Self-Gratification Gospel —
& The Ingratitude of The Fake Beatitudes:
Blessed are those who are poor for absolutely nothing, for theirs is the Kingdom of Amazon and the domain of next day delivery.
Blessed are those who mourn for more, for they shall be comforted with a comfortable life that calmly and consistently boils their souls right dry.
Blessed are those who put themselves first, striving to be great instead of ever being second to anyone, because what really matters is to be great for this vaporous nano-second, even if that means being dead-last for all eternity.
Blessed are those who keep up with the Jones’ instead of keeping company with Jesus, for theirs is a life of climbing ladders instead of going lower, to the least and the lonely and the lost.
Blessed are those who focus on upward mobility — for theirs is an eternity of futility.
Blessed are those who are meek only at being meek, for it’s the powerful who punch back, the offended who attack, and all who hate to lack any digital thing, who will inherit the soul-wounding ways of this dog-eat-dog world.
Blessed who are those who thirst for more gourmet coffee and hunger for greater accolades, audiences, applauses, greater garages, closets, and wallets, for they shall be filled with a toxic discontent that scalds the inside of their only soul.
Blessed are those who live with pure but subtle greed, for they shall see their god in things and not in faces of those in need who God made.
Blessed are those who are never persecuted for being counter-cultural, who never give until it’s a sacrifice, who never risk for the Gospel’s sake, for theirs is the message of fake good news, and the relief of no-suffering lives.
The heat under the rusting tin roof — or my own life — makes me feel more than slightly nauseous.
Dianah and Noah’s mother, a woman who’s lived most of her life as a Rwandan refugee fleeing other human beings who beat her with clubs, she speaks to me with her hands and a steady voice.
“We were living in a closet with no roof, when Africa New Life first found us. It was raining and we had nothing to cover us. Noah was two. I tried to hold him close, to use my body to cover him from the rain.” She nods to Noah in the doorway.
Someone hands me a picture of that day and Noah huddled in his mother’s lap in an open-air closet, exposed to the elements and the rain sheeting down.
“It is so humbling to us, because it is God Himself, coming through people, to help us,” she gestures to her mud hut and that tin roof over our heads. But it’s what she says next that reverberates like a thunder of its own:
“We never forget that people given — not because they don’t have other problems — but because they prioritize people.”
My eyes don’t leave hers.
This mother’s deeply and painfully aware that the people who are givers still have problems of their own — but they still give people priority.
The solution to any problem can never become more of a priority than any person.
She glances at her three sponsored children, and her voice is clear:
“Even when giving people have burdens — they still choose to give blessings.”
Noah and Dianah’s mother gestures toward her mud hut:
And I nod, hearing her:
Love is a wall for the vulnerable to lean on, not a wall to lock the vulnerable out —- and love is a roof to make a safe place for the wounded, not a roof to keep the safe far away from the wounded.
And then Noah and Dianah’s mother, she shakes her head, stretches out her hands:
“I don’t have anything to give you as a reward, but I believe God does. I fully believe that every giving person will be fully paid from heaven above.”
And I reach for her hand. We freely give because we’ve freely been given grace and getting to give God’s generous grace forward is our generous reward. How can we not give generously when we have generously been given such grace?
My heart burns.
Noah’s holding a yellow jerry can guitar that was imagined in his ingenious mind, fashioned out of the creativity of his own two hands.
Singing in his native Kinyarwanda with this high pitch ache, the lanky limbed boy strums his garbage repurposed guitar, and blessed are those who are brave enough to belong to each other and this world can be a heartbreakingly beautiful place.
I can testify to it, I can feel it: Noah sings like a boy who knows that God can resurrect the dead and rise the sun in even us.
Then right in the middle of his song, Noah breaks — and tears stream down the 10 year old boy’s cheeks like unexpected water through the desert. Noah’s singing doesn’t stop — and neither do his tears.
I swallow hard and try to read the wilderness of Noah’s face: Does one of Africa’s sons grieve hard while a multitude of his brothers and sisters live their own self-serving beatitudes?
Does Africa weep because the Word doesn’t change the world because too many of God’s people don’t actually live out the Word?
Does God cry with a boy in Africa, because His children in the church aren’t about living the Sermon on the Mount, but are about mounting our own Comfortable Kingdoms?
The last note of Noah’s song still hangs in the heat when Noah pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe off his tear-streamed cheeks.
How do you find words when you’re standing before a 10-year-old boy under a rusting tin roof in mud hut in Africa, who’s holding an empty jerry-can guitar in one hand and mopping up tears with a handkerchief that he pulled from his pocket with his other hand?
There are sermons made of moments that change your life in a moment.
Young Noah’s still brushing the handkerchief across his damp glistening cheeks when he upends everything with a few lightning-bolt words that come out of the clear blue sky and strike me dumb: “I just had to find a way to say thank you. I thought and thought of ways to just — thank my sponsor — and decided to write my own song, from my own heart, and sing it on my own guitar — that I just had to make with my own hands. It’s just — my thank you.“
Throats and hearts can burn and how you see Africa and the courage of her children can run a bit liquid and you can be not one bit ashamed.
When we give, those in need give thanks, and God gets glory, and giving begets glory, and we could make this the glorious story of the world. Giving begets gratitude and gratitude begets glory and when we give we are most like God who so loved that He gave His only begotten Son. Love lives given.
If there’s really overwhelming gratitude for His overwhelming grace there’s an overflow in our giving — and when our giving overflows into the lives of those in need — tears of gratitude flow in down the cheeks of everyone.
Noah with his jerry-can-guitar and gratitude-wet cheeks, he looks like a psalm, a sermon, a song of praise to me.
I look down at Noah’s guitar. Even an empty jerry can — can sing. Even our emptiness can sing when we live given.
Even a broken life can sing the beauty of the genuine beatitudes and it resonates within me standing there, sings like the gospel truth, like a rising to the notes of Noah’s song—
The Gratitude Attitude of the Genuine Beatitudes:
Blessed are us who miss the road to riches. For less stuff, lets more of the only Savior save us.
Blessed are us who deny ourselves of some wanted things, so those in need can have direly needed things. For when we refuse to deny someone in need, Jesus refuses to ever deny us in our need.
Blessed are us who are grateful with less. For there is no other shape of greatness.
Blessed are us who never stop loving giving, because love lives given, and when we don’t love giving, we don’t get to be Christ-like. For God so loved the world, He gave, and it’s the Givers who get to takeover the world with love.
Blessed are us who thirst with those who are parched for a glass of clean water and who hunger with those who crave crumbs from our brushed off tables, for our God is Emmanuel, God with us, and withness breaks brokenness, and being with the broken in the world begins to breaks the brokenness of the world.
Blessed are us who express our inexpressible gratitude to God by giving to those made in the image of God. For when we are mostly about protecting what we have — we have less God, and mostly have a god made in our image.
Blessed are us who prioritize other people over our problems. For ours is the passion of the Christ.
Noah wanders outside his mud hut, and then I watch him stand up on this heaped pile in a garden to again sing out his heart of thanks to God’s people.
And a kid out on a mound of dirt lifts praise to God, for the giving people of God, and there’s no hiding my blinking back and this moving in the hearts of God’s people to genuinely live out the Sermon on the Mount.
Outside of a mud hut in Africa, I want to ask Noah if there was a dry corner of handkerchief in that willing and ready pocket of his?
Join Us All In the Genuine Beatitudes — & Let’s All Together Support a Girl & Fill These Brand New Classrooms in Africa with kids like Dianah!
Only 500 of us will get the chance to partner with these girls and Africa New Life for their stellar education at one of the most respected schools in the country, with extraordinarily committed teachers, for their school uniform, supplies and textbooks, medical assistance, and a living hope in Jesus.
Be one of the ones who get to be a DreamMaker: Dreams ignite in us when we fuel a dream in someone else’s heart. Join me right over here to be a DreamMaker.
You could genuinely be one of the blessed & lucky ones who get to stand with the girls of Africa and help them dream. When we refuse to be part of helping girl’s dream — how do we refuse to be like Christ?