The hot equatorial sun was beating down on the both of us. It was nearly noon time, and I could hear the cook, 20 paces away, clinking cups and bowls and silverware together preparing for the midday meal. I was sitting in the dirt with Lazarus. The meal that day, as it was every day, was what the Zande people of South Sudan call, “bakinda.” Translated simply, it means food.
Lazarus and I were working on a project for Hands of Mercy, the training center for people with disabilities with which I was working. Lazarus is blind and a paraplegic from youth due to a past polio outbreak. I had brought over some vegetable seeds from America with the idea to introduce some variety into their food supply. Lazarus was helping me plant cantaloupe, egg plant and sunflowers into peat pots, which I also brought over from the states. Neither of us said much to each other. How could we? He could not speak English and I could not speak Zande. So, our time together was spent mostly in silence, quietly passing dirt and seeds and water when we gestured the need.
I remember the look of his worn hands, delicately pressing the small seeds into the soil. I remember the contrast of my white, western skin to his black, African skin; two cultures vastly different and two lives so completely separate. But there we were. I think it was in this moment that I understood with greater clarity the Psalm verse, “Be still and know that I am God.”
The still quiet with Lazarus in Yambio, South Sudan was a far cry from my hectic life back at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. Not a single word was spoken between us, but I feel more was said than a thousand words could have told. In the Lutheran church we speak of a ministry of “presence.” The same way that Christ came to us with his presence hidden in human from, I believe He comes to us still, hidden in the brokenness of humanity.
Sitting there with Lazarus, his clouded eyes and withered legs, I must have been sitting with Jesus. He is a poor man with hardly a place to lay his head at night, but still he smiles, still he serves, still He says to me, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Yes, it must have been the presence of Christ dwelling richly in Lazarus that showed me how to be still. Because in the stillness, God speaks.