Thirteen Souls (Africa Journal #1)

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One of my many weaknesses is that I don’t, at least in my heart, believe that missionaries have weaknesses. I see them as super-heroes. How wonderful they must be to leave the comforts of home and family to go and serve. My mind knows better, but the heart has its reasons. Missionaries, I know objectively, are not super-spiritual people who do not sin. They are instead super-spiritual people whose consciousness of their own sin fuels gospel gratitude which in turn leads to sacrificial love for others.

As I type, I sit safely inside a DC 3, built in 1945, now serving African Interior Missions and Samaritan’s Purse. Until just moments ago I enjoyed a seat in the cockpit, getting to know our pilot, listening to the air traffic chatter. I asked a million questions about the airplane and flying. I was reminded of the marvel of it all, not just flying, but the machine itself. I suspect the pilot thought me odd when I noted, “Just think — everything that is keeping us in the air was once in the ground. It was sifted, heated, molded. Metal was forged, fuel was refined, and here we are crossing the Kenya/Ethiopia border at 12,000 feet.”

More astonishing still is what God did with the dirt. As the pilot spoke to air traffic control during our take-off, he announced our destination, our fuel level, our route, and this: “Thirteen souls on board.” There are thirteen of us, all sons of Adam, of dust. But God breathed the breath of life into us. Better still, when we were dead in our sins, He made us alive. Now we are thirteen souls that will see Him as He is, that will rest and rejoice with Him forever.

Our calling in the Garden was to learn to take dirt, exercise dominion over it, and make astonishing things. In creating airplanes we show forth His image in mirroring the glory of creation. Our calling now is also that we would reflect His glory through the proclamation of the gospel in bringing new life where there was death.

On the drive from Rafiki Village in Moshi to the airport in Kilimanjaro, we passed small villages, sundry herders of goats, cows and even camels. We saw regal Massai women carrying burdens on their heads. I have to confess to taking it all in like a tourist, eyes wide with curiosity. Then the pilot said those words, “Thirteen souls on board,” and I remembered why I am here. Each of these men and women, each of the precious orphans at Rafiki, the guards and customs officials — these are souls — souls that will last into eternity.

The church in our day is certainly infected with the world-denying gnostic spirit that sees the created order as merely destined for destruction and of no value. Those of us, however, who embrace the dominion mandate may, I fear, fall off the other side of the horse. Jesus told a story about a man who built barns to store all his wealth. When they proved too small, he tore them down and built more. This man was no gnostic. He was, however, a fool. His soul was required of him that night. Do we hear our Master’s voice when He tells us about the lost, whether in our backyards or in Africa? “Fool! Do you not know that their souls will be required of you this night?”

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