Travel with Eugéne to Cambodia in South-East Asia where he meets a great “oak”. Spend some time walking along the seashore in Muizenberg, Cape Town with a group of guys who chat about the intimate, the insane and everything in between. Then journey to the Middle East to meet a Palestinian man who loves Jesus in a bitter-sweet love story.
“We few. We happy few. We band of brothers, for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” William Shakespeare, Henry V.
We spent some time in South-East Asia way back when one could still travel above the clouds. Cambodia – a land void of Grandfathers courtesy of the devastating ministrations of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. It is in this land that I met Ponlok. I’m proud to be his brother. His name means “sapling” – but what an oak. He runs a youth centre home for teenaged boys in a village. These younglings are called orphans but most of them have simply been abandoned. He is their dad and father, carer and protector. I remember our last night together, reading Isaiah 61, “the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted… to comfort all who mourn… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour… They will rebuild… They will renew…”.
Then I notice a change in his demeanour and the tell-tail signs of waterworks fast approaching. I see the salty beads of prayer cascading over his cheeks and hear, “My brother. I will look out for you in Heaven one day”. Right there I imagine the scene – I’m enjoying the smell of colour in Heaven and hear “Loo-Gene. Loo Gene”. I look up just in time to see this oak of a man sheathed in that diminutive Asian body, dive tackling me from a dizzy height, sending us both rolling down the hill in delightfully childlike joy (as there’ll be no rugby-tackle injuries in Heaven). What a picture of brotherly love…
From South-East Asia to the Southern Suburbs shores – There’s a certain gravitas, a deep unfolding that happens when a group of guys walk ‘n talk together. It works because we don’t have to sit at a table and expend unnecessary energy trying not to make too much eye contact with each other. It’s true! We’re looking in the same direction because we’re walking in the same direction. We chat about the intimate, the insane and everything in between. It’s in these times that I’m reminded that I am more than just a bearer of burdens. I am a son-of-the-Most-High. I am a brother. I am a guy. These reminders unfold amidst dodging hectic waves cannoning onto the boardwalk whist trying not to spill too much of that milky black stuff in the cup. I have it milky. They have it black.
Sometimes during these Walk ‘n Talks, we hear Jesus saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. Sometimes we hear Him laughing hysterically at the many constructive criticisms we put into his divine suggestion box. There are times we get a klap at the back of the head. Sometimes we get a gentle pat on the back and sometimes we just hear the voice of the waves – because that is what we need. It’s amazing how we can hear the mind and heart of the Father through the lips and lives of his children…
And I begin to understand that “As iron sharpens iron, so one man [a brother] sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) – how we are not to forsake gathering together (whilst maintaining social distance), so that we may encourage (literally, to give courage) one another (Hebrews 10:25) and, in the old language, “Behold (I love that word – [Behold!]), Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).
From sandy shores to desert sands – We were in the Middle East a few months ago to celebrate the wedding of a Jew and a Palestinian, precious friends of ours who are passionate followers of Messiah Jesus. The new hubby (let’s call him Salim) kinda looked like what I would imagine John the Baptiser of old looked like – beard, gruff voice, biker. We got on really well. When you’re baking knafeh (a cheesy Arabic dessert) in a tiny kitchen or doing DIY projects together or biking at pace through Middle Eastern streets or going for a walk with an ice-cream cone in one hand and a cup of some serious black stuff in the other, you’re always going in the same direction (I refer you to the secret of unnecessarily expending eye contact energy). I often marvelled at the fact that I could pick up what he was putting down (and vice versa) even though my Arabic / Hebrew is severely anorexic (as was his English / Afrikaans). Yet, because we shared real life together, the kingdom of God filled in the gaps.
Last week we received the devastating news that Salim suffered a nasty heart attack, resulting in him graduating to Heaven. I found myself wondering about the wisdom of God’s plan. We had just celebrated their wedding. The eternal consequence of a Jew and an Arab being married in Christ within a region characterised by mistrust and division, carried with it such promise.
I imagined us having many more bike rides (it was my turn to host him for a ride around this bikers paradise that is the Cape Peninsula). I was hoping to share life with the man whose little house was in the ancient place where Jesus walked. Now his forever home is where Jesus is walking.
When we left each other, not knowing whether we’d ever see each other this side of Heaven, I heard him say, sporting his thick Arabic accent, “Ewe-gin, ewe – arr – my – brudder…” and the kingdom of God was in Jerusalem as it was in Heaven.
Methinks that we have lost something of the heart of the Father because we’ve, maybe too easily, become too independent of each other. Maybe, because of a sense of self-preservation, being vulnerable with one another is too much to risk (and it can be a risk). Yet we’ve been designed to represent God’s kingdom by way of Family.
Welcome to the family / We’re glad that you have come / To share your life with us
As we grow in love and / May we always be to you / What God would have us be
A family always there / To be strong and to lean on. (Debby Kerner & Ernie Rettino)