The Tenth Leper
“I have nothing with which to repay you. God will reward you.”
I heard those words yesterday afternoon from the lips of a grizzled old man as we stood under the wing of the plane at an isolated mountain airstrip. Tearful words of thanks for adding on a flight to fly his grieving family home after burying their son in a distant village.
It had been a long, hard, hot day with multiple stops, long delays, plenty of sweat and not a few frustrations. At one point, I had felt something moving on my stomach and looked down to see a cockroach running uphill on a beeline for getting under my shirt sleeve. Another one zipped across the instrument panel. They must have jumped ship from the evil smelling sago I had hoisted aboard at the previous stop. I smushed the one on my shirt a few millimeters short of his destination. This didn’t help the appearance of the shirt any … but I felt better. The day’s difficulties, like the cockroaches, were multiple, ugly, and unwanted. They filled my senses, cried for the attention of my corruptible spirit, and clamored for me to conclude that life stinks.
And then the words of an old tribal man challenged me to see the unseen. To make real the unreal. To believe the unbelievable. That there is a God. That he is watching. That he delights when his children make feeble attempts at mimicking his love and mercy.
This place is overrun with what I like to call tenth lepers. Following in the footsteps of the original tenth leper who returned to Jesus to thank him for wiping the scourge from his skin, I find so many folks doubling back to say ‘thanks’ for the smallest of things. (The most creative thanks I ever received was written on a roll of toilet paper and left prominently on my desk … appreciation from missionaries whose massive shipment of that vital stuff I’d frantically stashed in a dry water tank by the side of the runway during a tropical downpour.)
What about me? What about you? Are we one of the nine? Or do we, like number ten, take the time to look around us and marvel at the healing that God has done on our leprous hearts? Do we shake our heads in wonder at the goodness God allows into our lives despite the fact that we live in a horribly broken place?
I’m jarred by a man who, having just buried his son, still doubled back to thank the pilot who has known no such suffering. I flew home counting the ways that God has already rewarded me. I was struck by the privilege our team has of being involved in so many different ministries; the privilege of touching so many lives; the privilege of getting a God’s-eye view of one of the most beautiful, pristine places left on the planet; the privilege of knowing that as a result of our collective efforts the Word of God will remain in this place long after we are gone. I found myself doubling back to my Master to ask for forgiveness for thinking that life isn’t fair because a cockroach makes for my armpit.
Then I thanked him that life is indeed not fair: he showers good things on the undeserving.