I know it makes many of the people who knew me in my teens and early twenties confused when they read this blog or hear about my life in Africa for the last 10 years. Maybe they even react with disgust or anger at the idea of trying to “brainwash” people in Madagascar with the silliness of the gospel. But I suspect most of them are just surprised to hear what Rebe and I are doing with our lives now. And one of the most often asked questions I get from people is “why?”
“Come to me, all of you who labor and are weighed down with life, and I will give you rest.” Those words of Jesus are “why.” I want rest. We all want rest. And how do we find that rest… not just a physical rest, but a spiritual and mental rest. Well, he tells us how. “Take my yoke upon you” because it is light and easy, and “learn from me.”
Everyone – EVERYONE – is under a yoke. What was mine? It was a revolving wheel of sin, guilt, trying to earn God’s favor, more sin and guilt, despair, anger at God, denial of God (really just doesn’t work), trying to earn favor again, and more sin and guilt.
What is the yoke of Jesus? It is accepting that I am not able to earn God’s favor on my own, I can’t “save myself,” but Christ has paid our debt for us… he has earned that favor for me. His yoke is grace. But here’s the kicker… the only way I can accept this grace is if I come to him like a small child. I can never accept this “foolishness” if I come to him with a proud spirit. That is the stumbling block for so many… it was 2,000 years ago, and it still is today.
But I want that rest that he promises, so I am in constant need to go back and sit at his feet… to be reminded of his grace, and learn from him. That’s also why we are here in Madagascar. To share that simple but life-altering truth with people who have never heard it in their own language. And my friends here have also been under a yoke. Theirs is filled with sin and guilt as well, but also with taboos, rituals, and oppression from their ancestors. And how do you think someone under that kind of yoke would respond to Jesus’ promise of rest?
Our team didn’t come here with promises of jobs, or money, or education, or better healthcare, or to build things. In fact, we have intentionally been as “no frills” as possible. We simply came into a few tiny villages, made friends, learned the language as best as we could, and began telling people about this promise of rest. We believed that Jesus’ promise, his story, his gospel, was enough. We weren’t the best… we have grumbled, we have fought, we have failed. But so what, his promise is too good to be stopped by the humans that he uses to deliver it… it always has been! So we have slowly made our way through the story of the bible, recently coming to Jesus… his life, death, and resurrection… his promise of rest, of taking off the heavy yoke of sin and guilt, curses and taboos. Again I ask, how do you think someone under that kind of yoke would respond to Jesus’ promise of rest?
They would run to it with open arms, of course! And we have seen that recently as some of our friends here have made public decisions to trade their yoke of sin and death for His yoke of grace. We have heard from Alexi and Mbotizara (a husband and wife with 6 children), and our team’s official Sakalava mamma, Blondine. And there are others heading down the path. This cannot be stopped now… when people hear Jesus in their own language this will always happen. Always!
If you are able, pray for these friends, and for the others who are on the way. We have started meeting together on Sunday, still on grass mats under a mango tree… nothing fancy, but it really is restful.