The New Testament writers would have been college football fans. Now, I cannot be certain of this, but I believe my theory holds water. Take into account their writing. Letter after letter is filled with references to teamwork, athleticism, and putting on your armor for battle. It just makes sense. Imagine, Peter and Paul arguing about the BCS over a bowl a cheese dip.
Recently, one particular admonition of these writers has struck me. It is the plea to persevere. The call to endurance is frequently found in scripture. We are told to fight the good fight, to run the race, and to fix our hope completely on what is to come. The message is loud and clear. We must set our eyes on the promise and never give up. We must let neither distraction nor hardship cause us to stumble.
During my time in Africa, I have met the definition of endurance, and it is not some 6’5” football star.
Her name is Uma (at least that is what we will call her).
Uma is one of the few believers at a church where we do ministry, and the thing that marks her is actually her unimpressiveness. For the most part quiet and soft-spoken, at least in groups, Uma really has no features that would cause her to stand out.
With no real education, Uma cannot read. She has no true job and is constantly doing odd tasks to support her family. This family consists of her and her four children. She does have a husband, but he lives in a different city. He visits her once every couple of years for a weekend, long enough to get her pregnant again. It is obvious he has absolutely no care for her or his children with her, never giving them a penny to support themselves. Furthermore, one of her children suffers from a severe mental handicap, a condition that is frequently blamed on voodoo or demonic possession by the other townsfolk.
This is Uma’s life.
Back at an earlier time in the life of this church, Uma began attending and developed a relationship with the missionary couple in the area. Through study of God’s word and the Holy Spirit working in her life, she realized the truth of Christ and made a commitment to follow in his steps. In her eyes, this commitment is the most important she has ever made.
How do I know?
In the beginning, her extended family was okay with her involvement with the church. Of course, their reasoning was quite different than hers. They were under the impression she was attempting to develop a relationship with the white missionaries that would allow her to benefit financially. In other words, they thought she was trying to trick the white people into giving her something.
It all changed when the missionaries went stateside for a year. Even with the white people gone, Uma continued to go to church. Confused, her family approached her about her continued involvement in church. It was only then they discovered she was being serious about her Christianity.
That is when the persecution began.
Uma was told to quit. It was demanded that she return to her old faith. And yet, she continued in her commitment. The family, her own family, began to refuse her. She was treated harshly, often kicked out of the home. Sometimes, she would come home to find her small amount of possessions outside on the ground. Other times, they were on fire.
With a husband who would have nothing to do with her, she was forced in this culture to turn back to her extended family for basic necessities like shelter. However, they did not want her anymore either. Uma’s life has been wave after wave of persecution. In a culture where the family structure is absolutely everything, she had made the decision that her commitment to Christ was more important.
Yesterday, like most every Sunday, I showed up to church to find Uma sweeping the leaves away from the door of the little building where we meet. Rarely a Sunday goes by where I do not see her, sitting quietly on her little mat, listening to the words of God. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to see her bring along someone who has become interested in the things of God, simply from talking to this little woman.
Peter, in his first epistle, exhorts us with these words,
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:19-25)
To stay the course when everyone wants you to quit, to sit in the face of hatred and do nothing back, to suffer continual injustices with no desire for revenge; that is endurance.
That is Uma.
May we, who know nothing of this kind of suffering, have the heart of Uma as we follow in Christ’s steps.
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