Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

You See Me?

                                                          Reflections on Ruth 2:3-10

How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly — me, a foreigner?
                                                                        Ruth 2:10 (MSG)

There was no plan.

Why didn’t anyone – neighbors, family – give Naomi counsel? “Don’t send Ruth to these fields. It may be dangerous for her there. But here would be better…” Why didn’t Naomi remember from her past? Why did she allow Ruth to go out into the morning with no sense of where is safe, who is safe, and who is not?

All she knows is to follow the workers into the fields.

And then, protocol. She must go to someone in charge and ask, in accordance with the Law of Moses, “please let me glean.” She has to tell them that she’s a foreigner and that she belongs to Naomi. That should be enough. And it was.

All because God’s heart favors the widows, aliens, and poor.

The morning passes without incident. She’s not like the others. Does anyone talk to her? Is she welcomed or is she pushed aside by the women gleaning with her? Is their talk? Banter? Unkind things said about Moabites? Or is it the opposite? Is it like she’s invisible, unseeable – so even the young men aren’t teasing her?

She stays to her work. Focused, driven.

Near midday, she hears whisperings around her. The owner of the fields has come. She hears where he’s standing. Who he’s talking to. How he’s dressed. No doubt, the reapers in front of her increase their pace. She does too. She stays to her work as if this news means nothing to her. But then, one last whisper before everyone goes silent. The man – he’s coming. He’s walking towards them.

She doesn’t look up. She doesn’t stop.

“My daughter,” she hears. The timbre of his voice, pleasant and lovely. Still she doesn’t stop. There’s no room in her mind for even the slightest possibility…

He’s talking to her.

He’s seeing her.

She hears it again and freezes, dropping everything in her hands. The other women do not stop. Nor do the reapers. They keep on working as she stands there, still bent over, her eyes fixed on the ground beneath her. “Listen carefully, my daughter,” she heard him say. And then come the unforgettable words.

            “Do not glean in another field, nor leave this one.
            Stay with my maids. Let your eyes be on these fields
            Where they reap – reap! and go after them.
            Have I not charged my young men not to touch you?
            And when you’re thirsty, go, drink to the full!”

She can no longer stand. The weight of his gentleness, his kindness, is too much for her heart to bear. She falls with her face to the ground, bowing as a servant before her master. No not that. She feels less, much less that that – maybe, as a dog quieted at his feet. Why does he care for her? Protect her? Provide for her?

From somewhere quite unexpected, courage rises to speak.

“You give me favor? But I’m a stranger. I’m a Moabite.

“Yet you see me?”

*       *       *

I asked Pastor Adams for three things: 1- to attend the monthly meeting; 2- to interview people from The Naomi Project; and 3- to meet with him again soon. He grunted, handed me a workbook and DVD and said he’d think about it.

I took that as a yes.

Two days later, I sat at my office desk, put the DVD in my laptop, and realized I had my first request. Last month’s meeting was filmed. Up on the screen came the same words on the front cover of the workbook:

The Naomi Project: A Laboratory
Changing Attitude, Building Character, Impacting our World for Christ

I quickly learned the format for the night: 1- Worship and Bible teaching; 2- Accountability and prayer in smaller groups; and 3- Reports from the past month, testimonies of answered prayer, a listing of the most pressing needs facing them, and then a strategy session on how to meet those needs.

There must have been a couple of hundred people there that night.

In my journal, I wrote an excerpt from the pastor’s Bible teaching. It was stunningly interactive between him and the people.

   Pastor:          From Psalm 136, we learn God is good. It’s who He is!
   People:         His lovingkindness is everlasting.
   Pastor:          And when He created the heavens and the earth, how did He do it?
   People:         His lovingkindness is everlasting.
   Pastor:          When He stretched out His strong arm to redeem the children of
                        Israel from the bondage of slavery, do you know why He did it?
   People:         His lovingkindness is everlasting.
   Pastor:          Verse 23 says He remembers us in our low estate. Psalm 107:1-2 says the
                        redeemed of the Lord knows why He rescues us in our times of troubles.
   People:         His lovingkindness is everlasting.
   Pastor:          So tell me why He came to Bethlehem. Tell me why He went to the Cross.
                        And tell me why He came to you when you cried out for Him to help you.
   People:         His lovingkindness is everlasting.
   Pastor:          So how can we hear the cry of others and do nothing? Are we not to treat
                        them with the same kindness as He has treated us? So I ask you -- Are we
                        doing what He did for us with our elderly? Our spouses? Our kids? Those
                        in our family? Our friends? Our brothers and sisters in Christ? And what
 about the people suffering in our community tonight? Right here on our streets? If we can but hear their cry, what will we do?
   People:         His lovingkindness is everlasting!

And with that, the congregation stood to their feet and applauded. From that moment on, the pastor dealt biblically, practically, with how anger derails the work God wants to do in building His character of kindness in our souls.

“Turn to one another now and hold each other accountable,” Pastor Adams instructed the people when he finished teaching. “It’s time to let Jesus deal with the anger that takes root in our hearts.”

The DVD was not edited.

For the better part of forty-five minutes, the place erupted in conversation and prayer. I fast forwarded the video until a man rose to the microphone and called the place to order.

“I’m brother Johnson,” he began, waiting for people to come to order.

“Last time we met, we told you a fourteen year old girl we call ‘Angel’ went missing down near the corner of Main and Maple. That’s all we had. We told you to fight for her in prayer. We figured she’d been trafficked. Three families from The Naomi Project made Angel their focus this past month.”

Two men and a woman came up alongside Johnson.

“We found her house but nobody there,” one of the men reported. “We did our research and learned her mother was staying upstate with her brother. We drove up and talked to her but she was too drugged out and had no idea what happened to Angel.”

“We then took to the streets,” the other man said. “Drug houses, pimps, people in the know. We also went to our inside police connections. Ten days ago, we found her being held in a Juvie Detention Center right here in the city.”

Just knowing Angel was found made people erupt in praise.

“We got permission from her mother to go and see her,” he went on, but the woman next to him moved toward the microphone.

“Angel was trafficked but it’s only God who rescued her,” she said. “The place she was staying was being staked out by the police already. They raided it, got her out, and put her in Juvie. Last weekend, sister Laqueta and I went to see her and I want you to hear what we found.”

Laqueta came up next to her.

“Oh, she was skin and bones something terrible,” Laqueta lamented. “She couldn’t even look us in the eyes at first. She must’ve thought we’d come to hurt her somehow. But all we did was love on her.”

“That’s right,” Pastor Adams affirmed.

“And we told her God loved her and, from now on, the sun is going to shine down on her. Everything’s going to change for the better. She’s gotta a new family now who love her, pray for her, and will stand with her through thick and thin. She’s a Naomi girl now. Yes she is!”

Again the place broke in applause.
“’Course she didn’t know what that meant!” Laqueta smiled. “But we promised her a safe home where nobody would ever hurt her again. And I’m telling you, it was the saddest thing we ever saw. Angel looked right at us with sad eyes and said with a small, broken down voice…”

“Why’d you come? Nobody cares about me. Nobody can even see me.”

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?