When I was growing up, I attended Sunday school and participated in Sunday-night Bible studies where each week, as a young teenager, I had to teach one part of the lesson. I went to church camp, Bible drills and of course, revivals. Those were all good things, but what captured my heart was seeing and experiencing the hand of God.
I was there when our church prayed for a man in our community who was a drunkard. In those days, we didn’t have any other term for someone whose life has been ravaged by alcohol. This man had the reputation of cheating on his wife, abusing his children and spending all the family’s money at the bar. I was there when our church prayed over and over for this man with such fervor that he had no way of escaping God’s pursuit of him. I was there when he stumbled into the back of the church, bleary-eyed and reeking of alcohol. I was there the night the evangelist laid out the claims of Christ, that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the price for our sins.
Even the most wretched of human beings can be set free by the love and mercy of God. I saw that man wrestle with his decision as we sang the old hymn Just as I Am. I saw him let go of the back of the pew and walk forward to talk to the evangelist, weeping uncontrollably. I saw him as he knelt at the altar, holding up his decrepit life to exchange it for a new one. I saw the collision of the best of best with the worst of the worst, and the best won. I saw this man when he stood up as a new creation in Christ. I saw him become a loving husband, an encouraging father and a productive member of the kingdom. I saw the hand of God, and I saw it over and over in my little church.
There is a generation growing up that has “had church.” They have attended camps, sat through Bible studies, enjoyed concerts and played at Six Flags, water parks and lock-ins. But they have not seen the hand of God. They have attended Disciple Nows, gone on mission trips and a host of retreats—and still not seen the hand of God. Seeing God do the miraculous and unexplainable connects our head to our heart.
Just this summer, our ministry had a team serving in The Gambia. The work combined medical ministry with evangelism. We had students as young as 14 learning how to give injections, run lab tests and work in a pharmacy. Some were taking vitals and medical histories while others administered malaria, HIV and pregnancy tests. After helping the doctors and nurses as they gave examinations, the students taught the local church members to do the same. The told the patients they were leaving medicine and equipment at the local church, so if they had a need, come to the church, and the members would help them.
One day, the team went into the village of Yuma. It was dusty and hot, with children coming from every direction. While the doctors were setting up the clinic, the students presented the gospel from creation through the resurrection of Christ via the drama Freedom.
An old man stood to the side, filming the drama on his ancient phone. He had come to get his eyes tested. Age was catching up with him, and his sight had diminished. A 15-year-old girl asked him to hold a tract and to read different phrases from it as she selected the right pair of glasses for him. After he got his new glasses, he went home and showed the drama to his family.
The next morning, he came back to the clinic. “Why are you back?” asked the doctor.
“Last night, I had a dream,” he said. “In it, a man named Jesus came to me holding this very book. He was showing me the same words I saw as I was getting my eyes tested. And I don’t know what it all means.”
Our students explained to him that this Jesus who had come to him in the dream was the same Jesus who was written about in the Scriptures. After hearing and receiving the good news, the elderly man shuffled away, rejoicing.
“Who was that man?” one of our students asked the locals.
“He’s the village witch doctor.”
The same man who had led in the practice of black magic had now come to faith in Christ. These students saw the hand of God—and they will never be the same.