set up

originally published May 2, 2011 at

On May 1 2007 I had half of my thyroid removed.  Three days later I learned I had cancer.  On May 1st 2009 I had several tests in one day with my dear friend Rachelle by my side.  The last was an ultrasound that showed several very large lymph nodes in my neck that appeared to be cancerous.  On May 1st 2011 I was invited to a Roma church.  I accepted the invitation.

I had this big revelation while sitting in the Frankfurt airport yesterday for about 8 hours (it would have been 10, but my flight from London was delayed).  I have had this feeling all week of being set up.  You know that feeling you have the second after you step on a banana peel or open the door to find a very unattractive blind date?  That knowledge that someone has gone out of their way and planned to cause you harm?  It’s been the opposite of that.  Walking through the Frankfurt airport I realized that there are very few moments in life when we get to experience what it feels like to be “set up” in a positive light.  It is usually only vengeance, jealousy or some other unGodly emotion that motivate a person to form a calculated plan that will effect the life of one other person.  People just rarely put forth the effort the do something calculated and grand that will only effect one individual person.  But you know what?  God ALWAYS does.  I’ve been offered phone numbers for people in high places and when I call, they seem to have been expecting me.  Throughout my day today, I’ve been asked, “Did we meet before?”  We attended the English church service in the hotel where we are staying, had a four hour meeting with my amazing new friend Anne, and were dropped off at the Roma village by another new friend Samuil.

Along with Rachelle and the bff who was by my side to build an orphanage in Mexico when we were still in junior high, I walked down an alley and into a Roma shanty town on the outskirts of Belgrade, Serbia.  The pastor is a Roma who speaks English.  As he escorted us down the alley he told us a little about the church.  There are more than 200,000 Romas in Belgrade and more than 800,000 in Serbia.  His church is THE ONLY Roma church in Belgrade.  Around one hundred people meet in a space that’s roughly the size of your living room.  We entered that room, found a place to sit, and were informed that a space had been saved for us on the front row.  As I sat, with my knees pressed against the pulpit, the pastor looked at me and asked, “Are you going to say something?”  I replied, “Huh?” He spoke slowly (I guess American mothers aren’t the only ones who think speaking slowly might help people hear you) as he asked, “Do you want to share something?  A testimony?  A word?”  As my mind was still saying, “Huh?”, my mouth opened and the word “yes” came out.  Without realizing it, I then said, “And Rachelle will sing.”  I just love her so much that I wanted to share the moment 😉

As I tried to grasp what I had just agreed to, I realized that the only thing I had on me was a flip video and my passport.  Time to talk to God.  I kept hearing, “relate to them”.  Uh, yeah.  The Roma people have had no land of their own for well over a thousand years.  They live in extreme poverty, desolation, discrimination and isolation.  The do not even have a Bible printed in their own language.  How do you speak to people who have never had an opportunity to read the Bible?

As I argued all these points to God, I heard the words, “one flock.”  I looked over and saw that Rachelle had a Bible in her hands and I asked if I could look through it.  It fell open to Isaiah 45.  Remember the whole “set up” feeling?  Isaiah 45:1-3  says, “Thus says the LORD to my anointed one…. whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him (her) and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him(her) that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.”

Got it, God!  I’ve been set up.

I then turned to John 10 and read down until I found the part about Jesus knowing his own sheep and his own sheep knowing Him.  And then the part about him laying down his life for His sheep.  And then verse 16 …. “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

After an hour of worshiping God in a language I did not know :), and several minutes of weeping as Rachelle sang (video to be posted later), I stood and read John 10:14-16.  I told the story of my own church.  A church that began less than four years ago, in a movie theater, with half the number of people that were in that small room. A church that had more than 1100 people in attendance on Easter Sunday.  I’m not quite sure how much of that was lost in translation, but there was gasping and I heard the pastor say quietly, “We will need a bigger building.”  I said a little more, sat down and listened to an entire sermon that I could not understand.  There were verses to reference shining on the wall in front of us through an overhead projector.  Of course, the verses were in Serbian and the sermon was in a Roma dialect (that was very different from Serbian).  Rachelle and I were able to guess what some of the book references were.  As we read them we laughed.  Most were about sheep.

After the sermon, we took communion and had prayer time.  Many people came forward seeking prayer and the pastor looked at us and said that they were there for healing.  We began to pray over them and it seemed like the line just kept growing.  After praying over an older lady who had a tiny little girl by her side, it became evident that this child, who could not have been older than five, was seeking prayer.  Rachelle and I got down in front of her and as we began praying over her, I heard very clearly, “Tell them it’s May 1st!”

When prayer time was over, the pastor handed me the mic and I began to cry (Eb, I know you’re shocked.)  I told them the story of May 1 2007 and May 1st 2009 and that today, on May 1st 2011, I am cancer-free. I can’t really remember what all I said or what all of the responses were from that moment forward, but I can tell you that the presence of God had filled that room.

We are one flock.  How can it be that people who love Christ and who sacrifice all that they have just to rent a room where they can gather, do not even have a Bible translated into their native language?  How, in 2011, can an entire race not have a land to call their own?  Why is it that this small church plant is the only place in Belgrade where Roma’s are welcome to gather and worship? Before we left, we asked if we could pray.  Again I wept, as I listened to Lisa claim the promises of unity and prosperity over that church and the entire nation of Serbia.

We returned to our hotel tonight burdened, full of righteous anger, and still in awe of just how far God has gone to set us up for this journey.

Can’t wait to see what He has planned for tomorrow…..

2 thoughts on “set up

  1. Pingback: Have you found your ‘thing’? | Waving a White Flag

  2. Pingback: It’s all about the “yes”. | Waving a White Flag

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