I was attending a local church in the town of Goma where a friend sitting next to me was translating the Swahili-language service into English. It was “Journée Nationale des Parents” akin to our Mother’s Day and the African pastor shared a story unlike any I had ever heard.
Branded by Fire
He told the story of a woman who ran into a burning house to rescue her only child, a son of 6 or 7 years of age. She had left her home in the early morning light and placed a kerosene lamp burning on the dirt floor as she headed out to get water. When she returned 20 minutes later the village was in an uproar and in the center of the mayhem was their wooden and straw abode, ablaze in tall flames. One wall had collapsed and the roof was caving in as the structure was consumed. The mother, realizing her son was still in the house, charged past restraining hands into the flaming structure where she found her only son gasping on the floor. She pulled the burning logs off of him and managed to escape the house but not without sustaining severe burns as her husband stood by dumbfounded. “Only a mother would thrust herself into a burning building and undergo unimaginable suffering for her child”, said the African pastor, paralleling her herculean efforts with that of the father who stood helplessly by, to a round of “Amens” in the church that Sunday morning.
The child miraculously escaped with only superficial injuries but his mother’s fate proved far worse. She was grotesquely disfigured by burns to the point where neighbors and friends shunned her. Her own husband left her, taking the boy and leaving the woman to live alone in squalor and loneliness. She was consoled only by the thought that she had sacrificed everything to save her son; a son who would grow up barely knowing his mother.
From Ashes to Fame
The boy excelled in school and was sent to the city to further his education. He prospered in all he did. He started his own company, acquired others, built office buildings and two mansions of his own. He was handsome, intelligent, and very successful. His father later died but his mother remained. She heard of her son’s success and took immense pride knowing that she had brought him into the world and saved him from a fate he would never know. “I am so proud of my son”, she would tell herself over and over.
A Face only a Son Could Love
One day in her old age she decided that
she had to see her son before she died; to behold the man he had become, the
recompense of her suffering.
She braved the scornful look of her neighbors and with humility took a
bus into the city to find her son.
Face covered by a worn scarf, she roamed the city until one day she
found the shining corporate headquarters where her son worked and presented
herself somewhat timidly to the receptionist. “I would like to see your boss”, she said, “for I am his
mother and so very proud of him”.
When the shock of the mother’s appearance dissipated from the receptionist’s face she called upstairs to relay the news of “an old woman who claimed to be the mother of the CEO, with a face that only a son could love”. The CEO called back down and said he had no mother and to send the woman away. The old woman went back out into the streets awed by how successful her son must be to have so many people working for him and for the respect he commanded. “I am so proud of him”, she thought, “I would do it all over again this very minute”…she said recounting that fateful day years earlier.
A Story That Resonated with the Poor
My translator friend was called away and I missed the end of the message but I heard the many ‘Amens’ from the crowd and the shaking of heads when the pastor carried on about the injustice of it all.
The story resonated loudly with the all-African, largely poor congregation that morning. It was a story not unlike the Son of God who underwent unfathomable suffering for these he loved…..who even today is forsaken by those with means, with power, with influence and prestige. The ones who have benefited the most from heavenly grace, sometimes acknowledge Him the least.
Jean-Pierre de Cussade, Jesuit Priest and renowned spiritual writer of the early 18th century wrote the following about the paradox of the poor and the wealthy and their relationship with God: “God reveals himself to the humble under the most lowly forms….. but the proud, attaching themselves entirely to that which is extrinsic, do not discover Him beneath, and are sent empty away.”
The Poor Praise God the Loudest
How sad to go through life with riches, fame, power, and prestige….but to live without meaning and risk at the end, being ‘sent away empty’. Our ministry in Congo is to serve the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the sick, and even the disfigured. How true it is that those who are poor and persecuted praise God the loudest, ‘from whom all blessings come’ ….while we with worldly blessings cling to the extrinsic things of life and risk forgetting the depth of His love and the many blessings of His presence.
Ann and Bill Clemmer
Democratic Republic of Congo