My New Friend
I have never been to Africa. Given that, the fact that I am a priest of the Anglican Church of Rwanda is a bit odd. However, I am grateful for my role as an indigenous missionary to my own people.
In order to more fully live out our ties to our mother church, my congregation (Church of the Redeemer) is in partnership with St. Peter’s Cathedral in Kibungo, Rwanda. We pray for them, their pastor and his wife (Frederic and Louise), and we support them financially. They pray for us, and aid in our discipleship through their witness for Christ. As part of this partnership, we sent four members of our congregation over to Rwanda last year. And this year, we hosted Frederic and Louise for a week here in Nashville.
Can I be really honest with you? I was a bit ambivalent about this visit. I have encountered several African priests and bishops. They are all amazing people. But I don’t often feel connected to them. I certainly don’t look down on them, quite the opposite. I think my lack of connection comes from my feeling that they are somehow superhuman. They are the most faithful and hardworking people I have ever met. Also, the lack of shared culture and language puts up barriers that are hard to overcome.
I knew I would be spending a lot of time with Frederic. I had friends pray for me, and I met him with joy and some trepidation. Less than an hour after I first laid eyes on him, he was preaching in “my” pulpit. And he was awesome. Not just awesome because his English was good, or because he had good things to say. But awesome in the way he was able to connect with the people, and connect the people with Jesus. He even used props, which I love.
During the rest of the week, we were together several times. I got to know Frederic. I did not get to know a superman. I did not experience a martyr, or a pushover, or a falsely happy Christian. Instead, I encountered a faithful, educated, humorous, challenging, and thoughtful man of God. I grew to know a person who loves the same Jesus I love, and hates the same poverty, ignorance, oppression and sin that I hate.
Let me give one of a dozen examples that linger in my mind. At our last lunch together, hours before he left for the airport, I was with him and several other people at the International House of Pancakes (where else would you take a foreigner?). My wife was there, and she asked Frederic if he had a favorite verse of the Bible. He thought for a moment, and said “yes, yes I do. It is 1 John 3:2. Do you know this verse.” I was moved in my spirit. That verse, which I have never thought of as one of those “memory verses” that people have, was the verse that I first latched on to as a new Christian. I recall it often.
“I know it I said.” I repeated it from memory. My wife asked why I knew it. I said I love it because it is about hope and transformation. It is about who I am in Christ, and the mystery of who I will be. Frederic pointed at me and said “exactly, it is about the love of God and transformation in the future, when we will see Jesus face to face.”
I saw Jesus in the face of Frederic. I now count him as my friend, and we are continuing our relationship through e-mail. I look forward to visiting him in Rwanda someday, and pray that we will know each other for many years to come.
Dearly beloved, we are already the children of God,
But what we will become has not yet been made known.
But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is.
(1 John 3:2)