Dirty. Poor. Barren. We were there to welcome a new church into our fellowship as they chose to become our latest Light and Life Missions affiliate church.
We were with a missions team from DeLand, Florida, The Lighthouse Church. When we have a team with us and there are other capable preachers, I usually allow them to be the face of the outreach for that event. This was the case on this day.
As service continued I watched him. My heart grew more and more tender towards him and I began to pray for him. One of the many things that I have learned in my years of ministry is that there is a reason people do the things they do. There is always some measure of private pain that stands behind the addicts decision to self medicate. No matter what prescription they have chosen. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Over spending. Church. Whatever it is.
As the speaker concluded and we came to the altar call as I'm sure you can imagine, this man was the first one to make his way to the altar. As he stood, I did as well and as I approached him i saw the pastor out of the corner of my eye making his way toward us and we all three converged at the same time.
I asked him what i could pray with him about. He tried to answer me, but couldn't. Immediately I realized that my assumptions about him had been wrong. Just behind his left ear was a horrible scar. There didn't appear to be any bone there and the scar continued across the top of his head to the back of his right ear. He couldn't answer my question because he couldn't speak. I looked to the pastor and asked what was wrong.
I learned from the pastor that this man's name was Fabio and he was not the local drunk. 20 years or more earlier in his life someone had tried to kill him. His head had been chopped in half with a machete. He survived, but was left without the ability to speak and his motor skills were poor.
My heart broke and I began to pray for Fabio. I prayed for him and petitioned God for the things that I assumed Fabio needed and wanted. Things he could not ask for himself. I was ashamed of my assumptions and looked to the ground as I prayed. He didn't have shoes.
As we prayed and prayed, God began to restore Fabio's speech. I could hear him as words began to come form his mouth. Simple. Basic. Quite. But words none the less. By now my wife Arellys had joined us and we were all praying together for him. Arellys being the wise person she is asked him simply if he knew Jesus as his saviour. He did not. But he wanted to. She led him in a prayer of confession and repentance. He accepted Jesus as his saviour. Suddenly, without dramatic fanfare, I knew something had happened. I looked up and looked into his eyes. He looked back at me and with clarity and conviction said to me "would you buy me a bar of soap"? I was overwhelmed. God had healed him and restored his speech. All of the things that he could have asked for. He chose soap.
God spoke to me that day. As I had prayed for Fabio, so concerned for his needs and his healing, I had not taken time to consider that his greatest need was to be cleansed. Not from the dirt that was on the outside, but the stain of sin and separation. When he asked for soap, I knew that now that he was cleansed from the inside, he wanted people to see and to know that he was free from sin.
I will not forget Fabio, his picture is above. One of the greatest obstacles to the gospel of Jesus Christ being spread is the preoccupation we often have with the physical needs and problems that are all around us. I am not suggesting to you or saying that we should abandon meeting people's physical needs. I am just learning again in a deeper and more relevant want how to balance meeting those needs. In a way that makes the message of Christ and His redeeming grace the bottom line in everything we do or say.