This true story about my husband is appropriate for today, Veteran’s Day, a day we honor the heroes who defend our nation. Pete isn’t a veteran, but in this age of glorified sports figures, media stars, and fictional super heroes, it’s good to stop and ask ourselves, “What is truly heroic? Who is my greatest hero?” This is a story about Pete’s.
A number of years ago, Pete traveled to India to participate in some strategy and training meetings on unreached people groups and church planting. His role was technical, dealing with computers and data. As a Silicon Valley consultant, this was his comfort zone, and he excelled in it.
God must take special pleasure in evicting us from our comfort zones. (Maybe He prefers that we depend on Him rather than our own expertise?)
It was late Saturday evening when Pete received a call from one of the meeting organizers, an Indian mission leader. “Pete, you should preach tomorrow morning! There is a group of Dalits (‘untouchables’) who meet by the river to worship. You should give the message! It starts at 9.”
Pete put down the phone, stunned. Preach? He had never given a sermon in his life—he got nervous just leading a Bible study! And what should he say? What could he possibly have to say to a church full of society’s outcasts? They had nothing in common!
But you don’t turn down a highly respected leader, no matter how inappropriate you think his request. So Pete began to pray. God—what do You want me to preach on? Please help me get through this!
Miraculously, Pete got an idea he believed was from God, and he went to bed. In the morning the driver arrived (on a motor scooter!) and shuttled him down to the riverside. There, a group of Indian believers had assembled for their Sunday church service. There was no building, no pews, none of the familiar accouterments we associate with church. But as Jesus said, wherever two or more were gathered in His name, there He was in the midst of them.
The service was conducted in the local language, not English, so Pete had no idea what was going on. After a while, they invited him to the front and introduced him as the guest speaker. A translator stood next to him. He began his sermon. His topic? His greatest hero.
Pete’s hero is a pastor in the underground Chinese church. During a time of great persecution, he was arrested and thrown into prison for his faith. There, he was made to spend every day—for years—emptying the latrines.
This wasn’t some nice job with mop and disinfectant. Rather, he had to stand hip deep in pits full of human excrement, scooping it into a bucket and hauling it a dozen meters to a cesspool. The work was backbreaking. The stench was overwhelming. Most prisoners given this assignment die from disease.
In the midst of this horrific situation, the pastor chose to worship. He sang praises to God at the top of his lungs. The guards yelled at him to stop, but they were powerless to do anything as they refused to come near him. As a result, both his fellow prisoners and his guards all heard the gospel. Many believed. God was glorified. In fact, his ministry was so fruitful that he hesitated when offered the opportunity to be released!
As Pete described his hero, he explained that he particularly admired this man’s attitude, while at the same time wondering if he would be able to do the same. “Would I have such a Godly perspective in such a hard situation? Could I really love the guards?”
As Pete wrapped up his talk, he was astonished to find the congregation in tears. The Spirit’s presence was palpable. People were collapsing onto the ground, weeping and wailing! Had he said something wrong?
When the service was over, Pete turned to his host and asked, “What just happened?”
“You don’t know?”
“No! What’s going on?”
It turned out that, while these “poorest of the poor” Christians were on the bottom rung socially, there was a group that was even lower. Those present may be rag pickers and street sweepers, but they were “above” those who cleaned toilets—the “night soil” workers. And, as is so very human, they looked down on those worse off than themselves.
And here Pete, mister high-tech Silicon Valley engineer, called a night soil worker his greatest hero.
Can you say “conviction”?