When one travels in Third ( also called Two/Thirds or Majority) World countries, one can hear first person accounts from other believers that reveal a dimension of faith all but lost in the post-modern/intellectual/technological/materially-oriented First World mindset. It is a sobering reminder that little of our world is traveling down the post-modern (First World) corridor and much of it is living in the more expanded perspective of the biblical age.
This past week we were researching Taino American-Indian sites on the western border of the Dominican Republic, across the mountains from Haiti. The Tainos were the peaceful settlers who occupied the Caribbean islands when Columbus and his marauding band of convicts and aristocratic-but-non-inheriting and, thus, fortune-hunting sons descended on them and changed the course of what would become the Americas.[i]
Our guide through this history was a vastly knowledgeable expert from the area who invested his time in roaming the surrounding mountains for Taino artifacts and researching their significance. He was also a devout Christian believer. One day, as we traveled through the spacious, empty highways that connected mountain top to mountain top, Ramon shared the story of how his faith became real.
Ramon told us that he had been the custodian of a church and had developed his interest in the Tainos from the local priest with whom he had become close friends and who had a zeal for the history of the area. Ramon also developed an interest and then a love for a young, orphaned girl who had come to live at the church. Seven years later, the priest married his two protégés. Today, theirs is a joyful union, now in its 19th year. They were blessed with four children, but, when their daughter was born, her heart was deficient. The local clinic treated the infant and inadvertently opened three more holes in her heart. The child was dying. An operation could promise nothing, but it was the only hope and Ramon sold his house, his furniture (he was then in the quality furniture business), the artifacts his friend the priest had given him, and invested everything he had earned so that the child could be airlifted to the United States for an emergency operation.
Beside himself with worry, Ramon walked the streets of his home town that evening, praying to God to empower him to accept whatever was God’s will for his child – to be able to be content whether she lived or whether she died. At the town square, he discovered a Pentecostal woman pastor preaching as a crowd gathered. Ramon circled the perimeter a number of times, unsure what to do. Even though he had given all he possessed for his beloved daughter, he still felt that one more act was needed before the operation the next morning. He had to ask for God’s help. So, he stepped into the town square with determination. A very thin young man he had never seen before stood in a corner collecting prayer requests from the crowd. Ramon poured out his to him. Then, amazingly quickly, he heard his prayer request announced from the loudspeaker.
The next day, this same young man came roaring up on a motorcycle to Ramon’s home. Ramon was astonished to see him. How did he know which of the many traditional wooden dwellings that crowded the narrow streets, behind, before, beside, beyond each other was his?
“Are you happy now that your daughter is going to live?” the thin young man asked him.
Ramon gasped. How had this stranger heard any news of this infant, far away somewhere in the USA, when Ramon himself had heard nothing? Much later, Ramon received word, as the doctors learned that his child had had a twelve hour operation and was now in recovery.
Immediately, Ramon wanted to thank the young man, but did not know where to find him. He asked all his neighbors and everyone down at the town square, but no one had ever seen the thin man that Ramon described.
All his life, Ramon had lived in this town of his birth and knew countless people, but no one whom he asked knew whom he was talking about. His friends began telling him he must have been crazy with worry. They said no one had come that morning to Ramon’s house and no young man had been taking prayer requests in the town square. Ramon could turn up nothing at all.
Today, thirteen years later, Ramon’s daughter is a healthy, growing, young teenager.
Ramon simply tells his story with heartfelt gratitude to God. His searching has still turned up nothing. He has never seen the thin young man again, does not know how he found his home, how he knew his daughter’s condition, and why no one else had seen this person that day of Ramon’s distress, or before, or after. But, for Ramon, the explanation of the mystery is clear. God had sent him and his family an angel for intercession and comfort.
The Bible tells us God is no respecter of persons (Mark 12:14; James 2:1-5), meaning God is not impressed by worldly position or renown. But God does respect our choices and lets us live in the consequences of what we choose. Ramon had prayed a sincere, devout prayer for the power to accept God’s will at whatever cost to himself and his family. He also asked other believers to intercede in his daughter’s behalf so she could be healed (James 5:16). And God blessed him with mercy and angelic intercession, for some strangers may indeed be angels (Heb 13:2).
Conversely, those of us who choose to interpret our lives and our universe as closed to God’s activities and intervention will quench the Spirit of Christ’s work among us (Luke 11:23-28) and, despite our wealth and our know-how, scrape out meager lives of faith on the rocky sand of subsistence religion.
Bill and Aίda
[i] Those who would like more information, please see the explanation of the true history of the invasion of the Americas in Bill's chapter, “The God of Power Versus the God of Love,” in our book, Aίda Besanϛon Spencer and William David Spencer, eds., The Global God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998).