A dear Christian sister of mine went to India on a mission trip. I prayed for her and her companions with eager earnestness the whole time. I kept closely tuned to the group’s Facebook posts. Truly my heart felt as if it was with them in India. I cried out to God for the people they were serving in that amazing country. At last my friend came back. I couldn’t wait to see her, to hug this servant who was tanned from the Indian sun and had made tracks in the dirt of that foreign land. Little did I expect her to think of me while she was gone, let alone bring me back a gift. But she did! I held the rich jade green scarf to my face and said, “See! It’s my color.” She smiled and told me when she saw it she said, “That’s Janel.”

I gently unfolded the soft cloth and ran the braided fringe through my fingers. A part of India was literally in my hands and I felt my friend’s love for me. How I welcomed both.

The man with the big green apples

Hours earlier I had been a recipient of something as generous and also green. However I was not as welcoming of this gift, nor was my mindset one of missionary intent. The boys and I were enjoying a beautiful day at the park. Flowers were getting ready to bloom and the boys were giggling, joyful to be running in the fresh air along trails through green grass. Since we were the only ones there on this damp and cloudy, yet strangely lovely day, I let loose their boundaries from me just a little bit more than usual when out in public. What a delightful time. I thought I was being careful, but all of a sudden a man with a bicycle was standing very nearby.

I had not heard him come up and he was in my blind spot while I was watching the boys. Boy, was he! I tried to cluck my baby chicks back to me, but they were slow to mind. I stopped to gather them and let the man pass by. But he didn’t. He stopped to chat. I was annoyed my plan hadn’t worked and a little concerned for our safety. A burlap bag with Basmati written on it was hanging from his handle bars. It was a kindly looking older gentleman with dark, olive skin who straddled the big-tired bike. Before I could excuse ourselves he spoke in broken English and offered me an apple each for the boys. I declined at first and then agreed to just one, motioning it would be for all of us. He would have none of it. He unzipped his rice bag and pulled out three apples, explaining that it was OK because he had more. Oh, how I wished we had something to give back. He asked the boys names and I reluctantly told him, wondering just how much I should tell a stranger and what I was teaching the boys in this situation.

“That man was so generous,” Andrew said when we were home. Then I proceeded to warn them about people who could seem generous but might hurt them. How horrible to live in a world where one cannot fully appreciate the generosity of another human being. Or can I? Am I really of this world, or do I have a taller identity?

While I opened the mail, I was still wondering about the man with the big green apples. My first copy of the new Adventist Review had arrived. In it was an article about two young girls that helped a man get back to his truck who had a full gas can to carry. As the driver was debating on helping him, her friend asked “What if he were your father? What would you do?” That same day the driver’s father called and told her he had been stranded and helped by a stranger. Within a week, the friend’s father also called with a similar story. Thus, their decision was validated and their mindset changed regarding everyday opportunities for service.

Stranger or brother?

I thought back to our conversation with the man. It still tugs my heart in a strangely beautiful way. He had called my children his grandkids. I tried to ask whether his were here or whether he was just missing them. He ignored me except for a slight rebuke, telling me that he knew English. I vaguely answered his curiosity about where we live. He lived closeby and raved about the wonderful blooms that would soon grace the park. He looked down at my boys, one tucked under each of my arms and repeated. “You are my grandkids.” Then he looked at me and said “You are my sister.” I nodded and smiled warmly, “You’re right,” was all I could say.

The truth of his words resonated deep inside because I know we are both God’s children. Jesus Christ is our brother, making us brother and sister. The poignancy of the moment stilled my rush of words and my impatience at being detained by this dubious intruder. I was too preoccupied with doing the right thing for safety’s sake to make an appropriate reply for Jesus’ sake. We did thank him for his gift and dutifully agreed to wash the apples before eating them. Then he walked passed us, got on his bike and rode away.

The story in the Review helped me process our own experience. The author concluded that her stance to not pick up male strangers was an appropriate caution to take, but that she was free to follow God’s promptings and be available when He had a specific mission for her. In those cases, there is nothing to fear. We can know the voice of God through our regular interactions with Him and listening through the Bible. If we deny His requests to use us, we are not serving Him. Remember Jesus’ response when questioned about His family? He said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35, Matthew 12:50)

Receiving the gift of service

It bothered me that I would so freely embrace a gift from my friend when I was reluctant to receive this man’s generosity. When I prayed through those weeks of her mission trip, I imagined how it would be to meet the Indian people and work for God along with her. But I closed my heart to a person in my own city who possibly was from the same country.

O God, forgive us, for not recognizing You more in the people who cross our paths. Help us not to be fearful missionaries, but to trust You when we are called into someone’s life, even if startled out of our little worlds. Thank you for the hearts of my boys who still see good in others. Protect them and continue to give this Mama wisdom in how to keep them both safe and useful in this world until You come. In Jesus’ name and for His sake, Amen.