“. . . My Father is always at his work . . .” (John 5:17)
Allan, the pastor leading our mission trip to Cuba, had just spoken to a large congregation in downtown Santiago that evening, his sermon translated line-by-line by his local friend, Rigo.
After the service, our team lined up on the steps outside the church to greet those who wanted to speak to us. Rigo stood near us, but was hard pressed to juggle all the comments to our eight-person group. One man in particular stood in front of my friend Anne and I and was trying desperately to make us understand what he was saying. But with his non-existent English and our pitiful Spanish, it was hopeless, and he eventually moved on.
Anne noticed that Rigo was momentarily free, and asked if he knew what the man had wanted. “Oh,” he said, matter-of-factly, “he has leprosy.”
“Leprosy?” Anne said, horrified. “LEPROSY? Does he want prayer? Can you go and get him?”
Rigo went down to the street, where a crowd was still congregated and movement was slow. He reached the man, spoke to him, and brought him back. We took him into the church and someone found Allan. The man asked us to pray about his leprosy. While Allan prayed and Rigo translated, Anne held one of the man’s hands and I took the other. After the prayer, Anne lifted the man’s hand to her lips and kissed it. His heart was so full and the moment so meaningful; we were all thankful just to be part of it.
Barring the unlikely prospect of somehow hearing more about the unknown man’s condition after our short trip to Cuba, that should have been the end of the story for us. But God would use this incident to teach me something that has stayed with me over the 24 years since it happened.
It was in the afternoon two days later, and we were walking from one place of ministry to another. Rigo walked up alongside Anne and I, and said, “You know that man you prayed for the other night – the one with leprosy? I know a man who goes to that church, and he came to talk to me. He said he has not treated the man as a brother since he got sick; he has stayed away from him, and not wanted to be anywhere near him.
“He told me he was at the back of the church when he was being prayed for. ‘I saw the two sisters from Canada. They were holding his hands. One of them even kissed his hand,’ he said. It cut him to the heart and God spoke to him about his attitude to this man. He has repented and will now treat this man as his brother again.”
Anne and I were in awe that God would use such simple gestures of caring to spark the healing of a relationship. And we were so grateful that God had allowed us to know about this outcome. Believing that God revealed it not for our gratification but as an important lesson, I’ve reflected on and remembered it many, many times.
No matter where we are or what we’re doing, we have an impact. God can and does use what we consider small things to accomplish His purposes, as we seek to live in relationship with Him. We may never know what that impact is, nor do we need to. What we need to remember is that God is always at his work, and He is working on more levels at the same time than we could possibly imagine.
We thought we were there that evening to pray for the man who was physically sick. We were; but what might be called “collateral blessing” came to the man who was spiritually sick because fear had infected his trust in God and broken his bond with a brother in Christ. Healing happened. A relationship was restored between the two men, but also between the fearful man and his compassionate God.
Whatever I may try to do, however I may try to serve, this lesson has been a powerful reminder that I don’t know the smallest fraction of what God is doing to fulfil His plans and purposes. Whatever I see happening or not happening, God is always – always – at His work. I just pray that when a hand needs holding, that by His grace, mine will be there reaching.