Jerry Raber Columnist
Chapter I: David
David unconsciously played with the collar of his thin cotton shirt, as if hoping a cool breeze would find its way in to ease the relentless Nigerian heat. Even in the shade, there wasn’t much relief from the smothering humidity. Dust from the drive stuck in the creases in his neck, showing up dark against his white American skin. His naturally dark complexion had burned even darker after a year in this climate, but he was still a lot whiter than the coal-black, melanin-rich skin of the two men sitting with him under the tree.
They had just finished up their midweek Bible study and, as David drove home through the dusty villages toward his three children and his wife, Josey, in their rented cinder-block home, he felt enthused about the meeting, the feeling he had about the two men, the potential new members of the church he’d been sent to Nigeria to start.
He had already established a small 6-member congregation in Akpaa, and now was beginning again in Expere, a second location where he had been invited to teach the word of God.
Samuel, the person who had issued that invitation was a well spoken, polite man who seemed to know his Bible well and was really interested in being part of the church.
Over a supper of rice and Nigerian tomato-beef stew, the conversation lingered on the new possibilities for growing the church congregations. He went to bed with the feeling that good things were in the church’s future.
As the months passed, however, things had not gone as smoothly as he’d hoped. As David drove away from another Bible Study with Samuel and his friend, he shook his shoulders, trying to relieve the tension he was feeling. The meeting had been less than jovial. In the last month it had become increasingly tense, and Samuel had become more demanding. It had become apparent that he was more interested in becoming the leader of the new congregation than in learning how to apply The Bible to his life.
This visit had been particularly tense. Samuel had demanded to be made a leader immediately. When David explained that it was neither the appropriate timing or method, Samuel began to threaten him, and to question his presence in the country. Samuel had demanded a meeting with the national church leaders and David was wondering what to do.
Over the next few weeks the threatening grew worse: Samuel would have them thrown out of the country, he said. The fear was like a waterlogged soccer ball in David’s stomach. He prayed often, and many nights he tossed sleeplessly through the hot African night.
One night he dreamed a dream. He was walking along a path through the forest nearby, when he saw lions on both sides of the path ahead. He stopped, and started to back away, but a voice spoke telling him to keep going, that it was safe. He cautiously moved ahead and, when he did, he perceived that the lions were chained and although they roared loudly, he passed by unharmed. As he reached safety down the path he woke up, with a curious sense of peace. David took it as a sign from God, that although these threats were scary and made things uncertain, things were going to work out OK.
For David as well, there was still uncertainty, but in his context, he trusted in his God and was able to move forward with confidence.
Chapter II: Jed
Jed’s breath was short and shallow. As it strengthened its icy grip in the center of his chest, he shook his shoulders, threw them back, and tried to appear as though everything was OK. He finished washing the pots and pans, stacked them neatly in the dish drainer, and wiped up the kitchen counters with a dishcloth. He rinsed it out with cold water, to keep it from smelling, and draped it over the center divider of the kitchen sink.
It was a Friday in late March, a cool spring Ohio evening. Hearing the murmur of Sylvia’s voice, his 18-year-old, he surmised that she was on one of her Zoom calls, teaching a guided meditation, divine connection or one of her things that she did.
He intentionally noted where each one of his family was and what they were doing. Kaley, 16, was on her stomach in her bed, on her phone. Torie, 11 was watching a show in the basement, the volume turned way up. He heard water running in the master bath, which clued him in that his wife of 20 years, Zoe, was preparing for one of her long soaks. He went to the garage fridge, grabbed his favorite IPA, set himself down on the couch, and punched up Netflix. He felt he was settling into an odd numb zone, hoping to overcome or forget the fear that was gripping him.
Later, when he lay sleepless at 2 a.m., his thoughts swirling around and around, thinking of the quarantine, how it may affect his living. Business had completely dropped off, and the worry of how to pay his bills, and what the future held for his company made it hard to relax.
Arriving at work the next day, a little bleary eyed from lack of sleep, he still felt a hard knot in his stomach. He’d had no appetite for breakfast. As he greeted his coworkers, he found it difficult to smile, and as he turned on his computer, he wished himself back in bed.
He joined the weekly sales-training class – this time via Zoom – hoping some interaction would help him feel better, and create some new perspective. It was a great class! The trainer made a point to address COVID-19, how it was affecting everything, and there was opportunity in the breakout rooms to share how it was going for each person.
After the class Jed felt dramatically better… His heart felt lighter. He had renewed perspective, didn’t feel so alone. He had stopped wondering if something was wrong with him. One of the trainer’s perspectives on how to approach sales during the pandemic really made him feel better about his job, and how to approach selling in this new context. Although there was still uncertainty, he was able to deal with his fear through realizing he was not alone, and that he could trust in his resourcefulness to work things out.