Mephibosheth and Me

Waking up under a light sheet with sun streaming through the window, I breathe in deeply and smell the familiar smell of dryness and dust. The sound of chickens squawking and motorcycles passing by eases a smile onto my sleepy face. A reminder that 7:30am is not the early morning for most Africans; they’ve already been up for hours as I’m just rolling my lazy, jet-lagged body out of bed. But it’s a happy body. “I’m back in Africa,” I say to myself as my feet hit the hot tile floor and pick up that light layer of fine dust. During harmattan season, no matter how many times you sweep or mop, you just can’t keep up with the dust, and the way it sticks to my feet makes it feel like home.

Hopping in the pickup truck, I ride over with some dear missionary friends to visit the center where they distribute milk for orphans and malnourished babies. Bumping down the dusty road with the windows down, my head hits the ceiling as we pop out of a deep pothole. Motorcycles weave in and out, in front and behind us, while we manage to swerve from hitting a donkey cart and avoid a woman who has stopped her moto in the exact middle of the road to talk to a friend. “I’m back in Africa,” I say as I watch several taxis go straight through the red light without even tapping the breaks, dodging and honking at semi trucks (who clearly have the right of way) overloaded with just about two hundred too many foam mattresses tied on top. 

After we unload at the center, we greet mothers and caregivers who have arrived with babies tied on their backs. A seven month old who appears to be the size of a two month old. A three month old who weighs the same as a newborn. Babies orphaned by HIV. Sad stories, yet brilliant hope in their tiny eyes. That same hope sparkles in the eyes of their caregivers when they receive eight cans of powdered milk – a supply that will last them a month until the next distribution. But that’s not all they receive. Perhaps even more valuable than the milk, they receive love and care, even when others might label them as outcasted, marginalized, or even cursed. They get treated accordingly in their communities, but not here. Two African women alongside the missionaries teach these caregivers how to prepare clean bottles and how to put their babies to sleep under a mosquito net. They pray over each child and caregiver individually, and then everyone utters a resounding Amen. I’m back in Africa.

I’m sweating through the armpits of my shirt by 8am. I have already drunk a liter of water, and my throat still feels dry from breathing dust. The sun is already harsh, but we work under the relieving shade of a hangar. The African women are completely comfortable and start to joke, so I join in the fun, especially since the subject is an ongoing one about who is fattest. And of course the joke is in favor of the heavier person because no one here wants to be the thinnest. I laugh with them until my face hurts, and I know I’m back in Africa. 

We get home after the distribution, thinking the work is over, but instead find a man and his wife and baby waiting for us at the house. They have traveled 100 kilometers for some milk for their baby, which explains why they arrived late and pretty much missed the whole distribution, so they came to the house to intercept us there. We invite them in and feed five extra people lunch. In Burkina Faso, it is perfectly normal to show up unannounced or at meal time. In fact, it’s an honor to the host. You don’t invite people to your house, you show up at theirs. That’s how you communicate love and friendship. That’s also why Burkinabé always prepare a little extra food at meal times, just in case a visitor shows up. As we dished out big portions of soup and bread, having more than enough to feed our unexpected visitors, my heart leaped at the thought…I’m so back in Africa right now. 

I watched the man and his wife eat delicately, probably like I would behave if I were dining in a fancy restaurant with expensive china and too many sets of utensils to know what to do with in what order. You look a little uncomfortable at first, as if you don’t belong, until the hostess does everything she can to make you feel welcome and at home. And then you realize that you do belong, not because of your etiquette, attire, or qualifications, but because you’ve been invited and you are loved. 
Sitting at the table, watching the hostess love her guests, made me think about David and Meohibosheth, which happened to be fresh in my mind from my reading that morning. Mephibosheth, a handicapped and outcasted man who didn’t belong at the king’s table, was welcomed there by a king who had every right and reason to be his enemy. But instead of vengeance, the gracious king David sought friendship and generously gave an unmerited gift to the undeserving, unknown man Mephibosheth – to feast at the king’s table for all of his days. 

Then I thought about Jesus, a most kind and generous king, who welcomes the unworthy, lamed-by-sin nobodies like me to his table, to feast and enjoy his presence. He has every right and reason to treat us as enemies, but instead he wants to welcome us as family around his table all of our days. 

Africans are the most hospitable people that I know. They must get that from Jesus. I think different cultures express God’s heart and his different qualities in different ways. Well Africans must have inherited the hospitality part of God’s heart. I have learned from them that God is a hospitable, welcoming God. 

Living in such a hospitable culture challenges me to be more like my hospitable God. 
To welcome anyone and everyone. To make them all feel like they belong. To always set extra places at the table and make extra portions of soup, just in case. To leave my door open, and what is more more, to leave my schedule open. To expect interruptions, even receive them gladly. Instead of dividing our time between on-duty and off-duty, or working hours and non-working hours, let us live with wide open hands and wide open hearts. Let us welcome everyone inside in the same way Jesus has done it for us. 

Sitting around that table with my grateful, hopeful African friends over homemade vegetable soup, the thought entered my mind: I’m back in Africa. But then I gently made a subtle correction. This kind of welcoming love and a shared table isn’t unique to Africa; this is the kingdom of God. 

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