My 3 year old grandson has a favorite toy with a memorable catchphrase. From Toy Story, a charming 1995 Pixar movie, Buzz Lightyear is always on a mission, encircled by friends, proclaiming “To infinity and beyond!”
Where is Beyond? It’s simply farther than Normal. Outside of Regular. A stretch away from Ordinary. Eight admirable ambassadors locked arms, sang “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, and set out for Beyond on January 31, 2016. The commitment to our Beyond was unquestionable despite the mystery for each of us. Over 8,000 miles away in Nairobi, Kenya we landed knowing we would soon join voices with yet another Disney tune, Aladdin’s “Whole New World.” None of us had ever been to Africa.
Honestly, a mix of excitement and anxiety ensued. I suppose anytime we pack for Beyond there are reasonable apprehensions of health and safety brushing up against the fear of the unknowns.
Some distance from Familiar I was relieved, however, to be reminded that God, My Commander in Chief, had already been to Africa. That sounds dumb for me to admit that even as I’m writing. What basic theology to know without doubt that God is a world traveler, He has been to every Beyond there is! He is Omnipresent. He is Sovereign, Ruler of ALL people and ALL nations. The One who calls us to Beyond is Immanuel, God with us - our Guide, Advocate, Helper, Teacher, Resident Expert.
Day One in our Beyond we walked through Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world; approximately 1 thousand acres and 1 million people. Rocky and deeply rutted paths with open, running sewage routes lead us to chai time with Pastor Levi, Jane and family. In the moment I’m not sure I can walk the slippery 45 degree slope which at places is really a 12 inch sludge path between worn, tin-roofed shacks. I feel terribly uncoordinated. I have an advanced degree in clumsiness on flat turf. I cannot afford to fall so I keep maneuvering, praying as I find the next stone or dry tuft for footing. It is surreal. I thank my Keeper (Psalm 121:5) as I reach the top.
My Guide (Psalm 31:3) already knew the climb would be worth it! There are 10 adults huddled closely in a hospitable home of 10 square feet. Crisp white cloths cover our seats as tea and jelly sandwiches are served. We hear the story of hope and healing after a street beating left this pastor-brother in Christ brain-damaged, deaf and blind. We rejoice in the multiple miracle details of being discovered in a local hospital having been left for dead. We offer thanksgiving to Our God of Beyond who has restored Pastor Levi completely over the last 3 years. I write later that night in my journal “Hard to believe but harder to forget”.
As we rise to prepare to leave these new friends we are coaxed back in our chairs for lunch. The meal of great sacrifice has been prepared by Rachel and Mary, two sisters in the Lord, who have taken a day off work to serve this delicious meal to their pastor’s guests. From the small adjacent hut/kitchen, consisting of two 10 inch high charcoal grills on the dirt floor, we are served like honored dignitaries.
We savor the tasty beef stew, matoke (plantains) and peas, squash, and chapatti (flatbread), talk about recipes and relax enough for most to enjoy second helpings. The God of Beyond serves heaping helpings of humility as we also taste heaven…people from different nations, united around the throne of Jesus Christ, worshiping (Revelation 7:9) . Pastor Levi preaches a good word, “Let us never grumble. Work with God in your wilderness. Don’t look at your Moses. Look to God.”
In the days to come we pray for divine appointments. Beyond is still not Familiar but we find the familiar in the divine appointments – a shared Christ. In our lodging places: Mayfield Guest House (Nairobi), Moffat House (Kijabe), and Brackenhurst Conference Center (Limuru), we meet faces full of real-life stories. We are dedicated to eyes wide open knowing the Spirit among us will point out the engagements marked for us. (Isaiah 42:16)
(1) Janette, persevering, resting from difficult service in an isolated, undisclosed area. She shares our breakfast table and her story. Her joy and pain are real. Her determination to her God of Beyond is unswerving as she moves in the gear of struggle. We share encouragement, an invitation to our team devotions and prayer. She later replies “I thank Father for our recent connection. I am sensing the oppression has lifted.”
(2) Pastor Martin, man of courage, has brought his wife nearly 700 miles by bus to Kijabe Hospital from South Sudan. Detrimental care in another facility has caused further infection and skin damage. No hint of complaint as the God of Beyond, has arranged a connection around our team’s morning worship time. Pastor Marvin exhorts us to pray for our upcoming US elections. “Your President affects the world, like us.” Many of our team have never considered such a global perspective. The blessing of going Beyond comes in being able to give to his welfare and to receive his encouraging words.
(3) We are delighted to hear of this couple’s faith story. We are thrilled later to find dear, frail Jane in the Salome Unit on our tour of Kijabe Hospital. We pray over her bed hoping these strangers’ visit will give her renewed hope and trusting for God’s quick healing. We laugh together at the chocolate therapy we share with her!
(4) I see Rosina, Sandra, Lucy, and Katherine – dedicated, unpretentious staff at St. Anthony’s Children’s Home, Limuru. My God of Beyond nudges me to introduce myself and uncover their story. With a bare bones staff they tell me of serving the needs of 65 girls - orphans, poor, abused, alone. Mothers to the motherless they have a tailoring school to help young women have a respectable means of self-support. Given a few hours one afternoon a week to refuel, The Spirit prompts me that I must validate their faithful souls, I get them drinks, candy and lotion we’ve brought along. Their delight is priceless. Mine too. I’m on assignment for the God of Beyond, an ambassador to Beyond among women who simply needed a thank-you for their service and a listener for their story.
(5) Dr. Mark and Sue have been at Kijabe Hospital for 17 years. They are committed to “touching the least of these”. (Matthew 25:40) They are people with strong purpose and vision, embracing Beyond. Sue has often gone to the hospital in the middle of the night to give blood that someone might live. Dr. Mark came as an anesthesiologist and has developed a school for nurse anesthetists. Every day up to 500 patients wait 4-6 hours to be seen in the outpatient clinic. There are as many as 13,000 surgeries performed annually. We see parents obligated to room in with their sick child in the new Pediatric Unit. Units are clean, furnishings are sparse, policies and procedures more different than Familiar, yet staff and patients are interacting with unique compassion. Dr. Mark shares frankly of the secrets to their longevity in Beyond. “You must have Christ, period. You must have long term perspective and you can’t worry about the ‘piddly’. I reflect deeply on ‘piddly’... the non-essentials, misguided priorities, distracting ‘stuff’ that may keep us from the call to Beyond.
About 70 missionary women trek to Brackenhurst Conference Center to rest, relax, refuel, and reconnect. Women who have traveled to Beyond, whose hearts have already trudged over ‘piddly’. What a privilege to serve those who tirelessly serve others! Women like Krista, Tiffany, Emily, Minalyn, Lorna, Eunice, Kim and Nillah who are joyfully building caring bridges to students at Rift Valley Academy as teachers and houseparents, to street boys and girls in hopeless conditions, to widows in Kibera slums, those infected with HIV, Somali Muslims and tribes entrenched in folk beliefs and witch doctors. Young women like Esther and Becky living far from Familiar, raising small ones, who mustered the courage to simply knock, ask for friendship and prayer, deeply troubled by family crisis back ‘home’.
Beyond is beyond words. I’m not sure that Buzz Lightyear’s “To Infinity and Beyond” is quite the same as mine. But I do know I have a stellar set of friends that have shared the calling as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) of the God of limitless compassion and priceless good news. I love how the Message version of the Bible puts Ephesians 2:10. “He created each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”
Won’t you consider Beyond with God? Prepare to be changed to ‘infinity and beyond’!