"Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." Romans 12:13 (New International Version)
The taxi drivers unloaded all of our trunks and suitcases and roared off down the street leaving the choking smell of diesel fuel behind them. It was December 8, 1978, and our family of five had just been dropped off at a guest house that no guest in his or her right mind would have wanted to stay at. We had just arrived in Congo two hours before after an exhausting journey that had taken us from all we had ever known in our homeland of America. In our arms were our heavy winter coats. Don't ask me why we brought them to a country where the equator ran through its middle.
(Nicol, Todd, and me in front of our lovely Congolese suite, December 10, 1978)
We opened the door to our suite to find that the dominant color displayed throughout the two rooms with its adjoining bathroom was black--as in the color of dirt. Thin, gray-colored sheets covered the discolored foam mattresses, stained by the sweat of who knows how many previous occupants. I will spare you the details about the state of the bathroom. Let's just say it made the dirtiest gas station toilet you have ever seen look gleaming white in comparison. The inch-long cockroaches were tame enough to not run away at the sign of our presence. African art is really in vogue right now, but none of my family was prepared to have the kind that scurried across the walls of our rooms in the form of lizards that were ALIVE! True, they never came off those walls or showed any aggressive behavior, but I didn't know that just fresh from the United States. Between the thought of the lizards possibly running across my face in the dark and the faint, but maddening, sound of the mosquitos in my ear, I never got into real REM sleep that first night.
The next day we went to the "cafeteria." I was the pickiest child I have ever known, except for my own son. However, I didn't even have the chance to turn my nose up at the items on the table which did not even remotely resemble anything that I had ever allowed to pass my lips on the way to my stomach. Surrounded by adults who had longer appendages than mine, I was shocked at the oblivious attitude they had when determining the correct portion size for their plates. It seemed as though the rule of the table was first come, first served, even if there were seven to nine others seated right next to the first taker. The rest of us were just left with our growling stomachs.
My mom was three months pregnant while experiencing all this "glory" of being a first-time missionary. Tears came morning, noon, and night--especially at 3:00 a.m. as she stared at the ceiling while in the throes of jet-leg. The guest house came with its very own community alarm clock in the form of a rooster who started crowing about two hours before dawn. So serious in his duty, he wouldn't think of giving his audience a moment's peace. Forget going to sleep then, we had to rush down to breakfast to grab a piece of burned-to-a-crisp toast before it was all gone!
I don't remember how many exciting days and nights we got to experience this African safari experience before a car with government license plates drove up next to our tropical "villa." An American woman we had not remembered meeting at the International Protestant Church the Sunday before told us she was there to take us away. Her name was Jody Voth, soon known as Aunt Jody to my siblings and me. She wanted no argument (as if we would give her one!), but informed my parents that the Lord had clearly told her to get in her car, pack us up, and bring us into her home--her wonderful, air-conditioned, lizard-and-mosquito-free home. Aunt Jody, along with her husband, Uncle Lee, and two children, became the hands and feet of Jesus to our weary, bewildered, and very discouraged family for the next seven weeks. I firmly believe that if the Voths had not been obedient to the voice of God and extended hospitality to us, our life in the Congo as missionaries would have come to a screeching halt before it even started. My parents would not be celebrating their thirtieth year of missionary service in that country this year.
(In front of the International Protestant Church in Kinshasa, our first week in Congo)
One of the benefits of being a Christ-follower is that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to ordinary people. Some of us may think the public gifts like preaching or teaching are the ones that are to be the most desired. If the gift we have been given has us serving the body of Christ in the background, we can even start feeling inferior because we serve with little or no recognition. I must say that the thousands of Congolese my parents have had the privilege of seeing transformed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ would never have heard that gospel if it had not been for Lee and Jody Voth. Let me say this loud and clear: There is no such thing as an inferior spiritual gift! Every gift has been ordained by God for His great glory, so not one is greater or lesser than any of the others. We just must be obedient to use the gift that we have been given so that we will one day hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" by our heavenly Father. Our faithfulness in this could literally change the entire course of an individual, a family and, perhaps, a nation.
Jesus, how generous that Your Holy Spirit empowers us to serve the Most High God. What a thought! Help us to leave the praise of our works to You. May You be the One who says: