The Patron Saint of Cross-Cultural Service {Book Club}

While Protestants don’t have patron saints, we do have people from the Bible (and history) that we relate to on a personal level.

As I read the section on John the Baptist in Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow, I thought, “John, you get us, you really get us.”

I had never thought of John as a child. Of course people would have heard about his unusual birth story, especially with his father, well-known as a priest, unable to speak until John was born. “It’s like this: if you are known as a child of promise, everyone wants to know you and, more than that, they want to touch you.” And ask you questions like who the messiah was.

Given what we know from the bible about John as an adult, I thought the way Tanya captured him as a child was both age and personality appropriate.

“After that, I kept my mouth shut. My silence was offensive, but less offensive than saying what I really thought.” (Day one)

I see one of my nieces reflected in him. This is a girl who is nobody’s monkey and will not “perform” when an adult asks her a question she does not want to answer. Case in point, at the beginning of the school year, I asked her, in front of one of my friends, about her class schedule for junior high. It was just one of those days and you might have thought I asked her to sing in public. I got that look and there was no way she would share about her schedule. We have all learned not to press; yet she is a dear person, faithful, hardworking, and kind.

I can see bit of John in her, and bit of her in John.

In John, I appreciated that having a bubbly and “warm” personality is not a prerequisite to ministry.

As I read through the five days, I saw how John experienced the highs and lows of ministry life . . . with lots of waiting in-between.

Baptizing Jesus, “I felt the Holy Spirit as never before; I heard God speak as powerfully as one could imagine. In that one moment, I knew who I was and why my life mattered. The great words my father had spoken over me in the womb all those years ago became words of life and freedom, rather than a heavy yoke. My soul was electrified.” (Day three)

Having such a powerful encounter, John thought the waiting would be over. He also took a ministry risk (attacking Herod) that landed him in prison. (Day three)

This is the line from this section that stays with me:

“And still there was no word from the Messiah. I replayed the memories in my head again and again, with the questions increasing each time. I had always been so sure of everything—but what if, for this crucial issue, I had made a mistake? That was the big question plaguing me: what if Jesus wasn’t the one? What if all my life, my preparation and prayer, had been a colossal mistake, and I had directed people’s attention to the wrong person? Doubt metastasized  throughout my being.” (Day three)

Day four is the agonizing scene where John is in prison and breaks down and asks Jesus if he is the messiah. John is having a crisis of faith. This is not completely unfamiliar to us; I love this interview with Caitlin where were discuss Experiencing a Faith Crisis On the Field {an interview}.

“He answered me: not in facts, but with Scripture and the images of my life.” (Day four)

“After all my determination to be different, I had been just the same as my hordes of disappointed disciples who had wanted me to be their savior. After all my years of preparing people for the Messiah, I had undermined my whole purpose.”

While not quite the same, I can vividly remember sharing about the birth of Jesus with local friends and hearing myself tell it. For the first time it sounded insane coming out of my mouth. Insane.

Virgin conception. Angels. Dreams. Just happened to have a census. Donkeys. Born without a home. Mangers. Shepherds. Magi. Herod. Fleeing to Egypt. What?! Do I really believe this? Am I here in a foreign country sharing this insanity?

I know some of you have had much deeper doubts, and I respect that. But if we are honest with ourselves, we all have had some form of doubt. If this is you, right now, I pray that like John, Jesus will come and affirm “the truth about his identity, and how he’d affirmed my own identity. My calling was not a mistake. My life was not a mistake. In God’s grace, even with my doubt and question, even when I had potentially insulted him, I was still called a great prophet by God’s Anointed One, and he’d promised that there would be liberation in the future.” (Day four)

And then John is sent for and he knows it is the end. “Suddenly I burst into laughter. I had never been popular or well-liked by society. But in heaven, with the God of truth and justice, I will not be unpopular, I will belong. It’s a good thought, and it feels like I’m sharing a joke with God.” (Day five)

See what I mean about John maybe being our patron saint? The high of ministry intimacy, practically floating. I’ve had those. The long periods of waiting, wondering if anything is happening. The moments of doubt, wondering if you have dedicated everything to something that can’t hold. And the reassurances.

We continue to have rich discussions in the comments—Read through and see what host cultures were like in 1977. Have you thought of John before in such a personal way? Have you seen yourself reflected in him before?

What else would you like to talk about?

Merry Christmas!


P.S. Next week we finish with discussing Mary. The week after that we will start Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It’s been a while since we did a Newberry Award winner.

P.P. S. The wait to see how the Not Alone campaign results is nearly over.
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1 Comment

  1. Kristi December 27, 2017

    Amy, thank you again for your reflection on this section about John the Baptist. I also thoroughly enjoyed the section about John as a child, and thought that Tonya’s description of his personality and interactions with family and friends were crated with with a lot of perception and insight. And I resonated with the statement that even someone who does not have a “bubbly or warm” persona can be used by God.

    The part that stood out to me the most, perhaps, was day 3 and 4, and John’s struggle in prison with doubt. It is very understandable that the emotional toll of being in prison and the unexpected way that Jesus was living as the Messiah would drive John to question. And I really appreciated that Tonya does not portray Jesus’ response to him as a rebuke or as refusal to respond. But John feels reassured and affirmed. Being in cross-cultural situations or challenging environments perhaps can induce our doubts or questions too…and this is good reassurance that God welcomes us sharing our doubts with him. What do you think?

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