Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young God of Wealth (Part 1)

Can God really speak to us today?  Well, why not?  If He spoke to Jacob (the thief with two wives), Balaam (the greedy false prophet), Samson (who couldn’t keep his pants on when a pretty Philistine girl walked by), Jonah (the rebellious run away), then I’m sure he could speak to people today.1  God hasn’t suddenly become silent.  Nor has He disappeared into an unsearchable void.

            The problem with God speaking isn’t a theological one, but a personal and social one.  If you begin telling people that God is speaking to you, then you are crazy.  You make such a statement in a clinical setting, such as a hospital waiting room and you get free room and board for a while.  At least until the commitment hearing is over.  So, nowadays, people still hear God as much as they used to.  But they don’t talk about it as much.  I’m about to break that rule. Sorry if that offends you, but… well, actually I’m not sorry at all.  Live with it.

            Given the theological assumptions of our first paragraph above, as a young Christian I just expected that God would speak to me.  Perhaps that was arrogance on my part, assuming that God would WANT to speak to me, but, hey, I was a teenager.  (Yes, God made the world, but it revolves around ME.)  Anyway, I knew that if I asked God something, he would answer.  So I knew that I was going to participate in missions—cross-cultural ministry in a country not my own.  So I contacted a youth missions group called Youth With A Mission2 (aka YWAM, the organization my friend and I wanted to join when we were sixteen) and said, “Where are you located?”  They sent me a list of all of their bases, all over the world.

            So I looked them over and told God—“God, I’m going to one of these places.  I’ve chosen either Cyprus, India or Hong Kong.  Which one of these do you want me to go to?”  I’m sure that God remembered that I was only nineteen and so he didn’t project me into space in millions of unconnected particles.  God, quite politely, (probably sniggering behind his omnipotent hand) answered, “India.”  So it was decided, I thought.  I’m going to India

            Of course, I had no money to do this or any experience of travelling solo outside of Southern California, but my ignorant arrogance knew no bounds.  (I haven’t really changed much in this regard, although I consider myself to be marginally less ignorant.)  I sent an application to Madras, India, and they wrote me back to send it to Calcutta, for they weren’t accepting foreigners.  So I sent it to Calcutta so that I might be accepted to their six month discipleship school beginning in July.  Meanwhile, I got a passport and asked for funds.  Between my church and my father—who, amazingly, and perhaps naively, offered to pay for my airfare to Calcutta—my expenses were taken care of. 

            I was fully confident that I would be accepted by the school.  As July loomed closer, however, my brick wall of assurance began to crack.  By the end of June, the holes of doubt were large enough to drive a herd of elephants through it.  By July 1, the first day of the school in India, I had almost put it out of my mind.  Of course, that was the day my letter of acceptance arrived. 

            I spent about a half hour pacing, attempting to make a decision—I was actually rebuilding my wall of confidence, bricks, mortar and all.  By the next day, my mother in tears, I was on a flight to San Francisco to obtain an Indian visa at the Embassy there (they told me it would take a week, but I sat in their office for a full working day and they gave me the visa just to get rid of me), and in less than five days after the letter arrived, I sat in Bangkok, Thailand.  The telegram I had sent the folks in Calcutta said that I would arrive on Saturday.  But the Calcutta airport was flooded, so I stayed overnight in a plush hotel (at the airline’s expense!) and slept away my jet lag.  The next day I arrived in Dum Dum Airport (yes, that’s really the name of the airport in Calcutta—and they didn’t have a single lollipop!) and waltzed through immigration and customs only to find no one waiting for me. 

            Well, I figured, maybe they didn’t know when the flight was going to arrive, since it was late.  No problem, I will find them.  The only address I had was “Mission Compound, Uluberia, West Bengal”.  No problem, I just walked up to a taxi and asked, “Can you get me to Uluberia?”  He looked at me questioningly, and I repeated “Uluberia” about twenty more times and then he understood.  “OK.  Yes.  OK.”  He directed me to put my luggage into the taxi then turned around to confer with the other taxi drivers for about fifteen minutes.  After some hand waving and writing of notes, I realized that my chosen taxi driver had no idea where Uluberia was.  But it looked like he was getting directions.  And sure enough, after about two and a half hours, ten close calls with buses coming from the opposite direction, driving into a dark, mostly deserted town, asking for directions, we arrived. 

            The mission compound was closed.  The tall metal gate was locked and the taxi driver pounded on it.  The night guard told us the compound was closed.  I said they were expecting me (I hoped) and the guard went in to check.  About ten minutes later, I hear a male voice call out in American English, “Are you Steve Kimes?”  After spending the minutes trying to discern how I and my luggage were going to spend the night leaning on the gate, I said in relief that I was.  “We were just praying for you.  We just received your telegram tonight.  We thought you were lost in Calcutta.”  I said “No problem.  I took a taxi.”  “A taxi!” he exclaimed.  “No one’s taken a taxi from Calcutta to Uluberia before!”  I always seem to be first to do certain things.  Oh well, I just shrug off the shock of others.

(Continued in Part II...)

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