Marty Caldwell works for Young Life International. He is the Senior Vice President of Young Life International South Division, which includes Africa, South-America, Mars and Pluto (even though it is no longer recognized as a planet). This is his story and I’ve asked permission to recreate it. I’ve not received that permission but expect it any day now. So,.. here’s the story:
A few years ago Marty received a phone call from a young man in Monrovia, Liberia named James. James had read about Young Life and had a strong impression that God intended to use him to start a chapter of Young Life in war-torn Liberia. This phone call was placed during the last phases of a 14-year long civil war which had rendered many if not most of the living in their nation homeless and destitute. On the phone, Marty shared with James about some of the complications of starting Young Life and the often lengthy process it can be. James was determined and asked Marty to come visit Liberia to meet some of the people interested in getting YL off the ground.
During the course of the conversation, Marty periodically heard what sounded like gunfire on the other end of the line. “Are you alright?” Mary would ask “that sounds like gunfire on your end.” “Yes, I am fine” James replied, “I am under the table. Now, tell me more about what we need to do to bring Young Life to Liberia…” Marty came to know later that James had intentionally traveled into an area of Monrovia where there were regular street battles (featuring rifles and grenades, that is… ) because he knew there was a phone there he could use. This was an urgent phone call for James. His sense was that God had spoken and that meant he was to act NOW. He would not be denied. His courage and confident faith moved Marty so that, not no long after that call, Caldwell found himself in Liberia talking with the community elders of about next steps in the direction of “Young Life Liberia.”
At one point near the end of Caldwell’s visit, he was gathered by a group of these men in order to pray together. Among them was a man named Marvelous. Yes.. his name is Marvelous.
(side note: Can you imagine meeting a guy named Marvelous at a party?
YOU: “Hello, my name is Bob.”
HIM: “Well, hey there Bob, my name is Marvelous. This is my wife Fantastic, my son Amazing and our daughter Muchsmarterthanyou.”)
Hand in hand with the rest of these men, Marvelous bowed his head to pray. Now I’ve thought often about what kind of prayer I might have offered up if I had found myself one of a handful of men who believed he had been called to begin the restoration of my nation after watching it turned inside out for a decade and a half. All the strategic and tactical obstacles.. Fund-raising, training, developing basic infrastructure… Where would I even begin such a prayer, with so much work ahead of me, and all of it daunting. Maybe I would pray something profound such as “ummm..” or “uuuh” to start with. I’d throw in a couple “OLordJesus” and “DearFatherGod” in there between the umms and uhhs. Later on I would mix that up with a “LordFatherJesusOGod” or even a “GodFatherLordGod.” Then I’d likely move on to powerful movements of prayer like silently blinking or looking around for someone else to pray instead of me.
Needless to say, Marvelous went a different route. His head bowed, he prayed…
“Jesus, thank you for my shoes.
Jesus, thank you for my pants.
Jesus, thank you for food to eat today.
Jesus, thank you for a warm place to sleep tonight.”
This is the prayer of a man who knows who his Source is. Seeing that way allows him to hope for and even expect great and miraculous works in a way that those of us who take our shoes for granted struggle to. Having my eyes set more regularly on what I perceive as lack in my life, I lose sight of my own provision as evidence of God’s goodness and blessing. In other words, when I consider that 1/6 of the human family lives on about a dollar a day, the fact that I have shoes on my feet at all seems a bit less humdrum. In fact, knowing that this has always been the case with me and that I have usually had a choice of which shoes to wear on a given day begins to seem less like “what simply is” and more like and extravagant blessing.
Last christmas, my wife and I sent a small financial gift to one of the boys we sponsor. Compassion International staff in Otovalo, Ecuador took him out to purchase soccer cleats with that gift and mailed us a picture of Roberto (our boy) holding his new shoes. It was a great pic; Roberto holding up bright green shoes, wearing a pair of hand-made sandals he had worn through months before and smiling as if he had just graduated from Harvard. His obvious joy was more than quaint and cute; It was profound, humanizing and grounding for both Amy and I.
Perhaps there is something more than just the beauty of a simple and thankful heart in those words “.. Jesus thank you for my shoes…”? Perhaps those words reflect the kind of seeing that makes every great work (such as the restoration of a nation) even possible at all. The words of Marvelous’ prayer, like the smile on Roberto’s face, are the fruit of a vine whose seed was buried and broken by its circumstances. But this is a vine that, because of the goodness of the soil in which it took root, could not be undone by hardship, be it hunger or war or abandonment. This is a vine which was born of the seeds of the kingdom of God…
-And the Kingdom of God is like a Liberian man who drove into the midst of terrible violence because he believed that hope for his country could be found on a telephone there.
-The Kingdom of God is like a Young Life Staffer who took that phone call from a man he did not know and responded to a request his organization was not prepared for.
-The Kingdom of God is like 200 Liberian teenagers showing up at the first ever Young Life camp in their country to hear, believe and respond to the message that that God had not forgotten them despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
-The Kingdom of God is like scores of other Liberian kids walking for 2 full days in order to get to this same camp because there had not been room enough for them on the bus.
And the birth of this same Kingdom here in America begins in the very same way as it begins in Liberia or Kenya or Mumbai or Manilla. Which is to say that somewhere between (and in the meeting of) the numbing abundance of America and the hopelessness of the destitute poor is a place where we all bow our heads, see the shoes on our feet and for very different reasons find a thankfulness in our hearts so complete that it redefines our entire being..
-The Kingdom of God is like an American man who, upon hearing this story for the first time fell to his knees in front of his closet whispering “Jesus, thank you for my shoes… ” who raised his eyes the roof of the home he lived in, thinking of the friends and family he had, kneeling in the pants he chose from among others to wear that day and wept “Jesus, thank you for everything.”