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"Blessed are they upon God's holy mountain": reflections on Luke 6:17-26.

The early '60s model bus moans across the scorched and desolate African landscape. No life here. The tall grass is withered and brown. Dust hangs in the air making each breath an exercise in endurance. The road, hardly a road, suddenly descends into a dried-out riverbed where women toting children on their backs and buckets on their heads scratch and claw at the surface in search of water.

Ahh, but this is a sign of life...they weren't there before...we must be nearing the village!

Traveling for about six hours, crammed into this small, hot, broken-down vehicle, is almost more than I can stand. My mouth is parched, and I am wearing most of the red clay dirt from the surrounding landscape. These God-forsaken roads are treacherous. We fear each bump as it seems to spell certain doom to our sad little bus. Looking around at my fellow weary travelers, our diverse group makes my mind wander. We are a gospel choir with adults and children. We are American Americans, Euro Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, yet we are all rich Americans by African standards.

Somehow one of the two children on our trip is asleep to my right, head bobbing and drooling all over her open journal. My fellow tenor section partner has his headphones blaring Dexy and the Midnight Runner's 1980s classic "Come on Eileen," totally oblivious to the fact that we hear it and are now openly questioning his musical taste. The two in front of me are yammering away in an inane conversation about card playing, and my friend in back of me has been praying nonstop since our departure that this "bus" doesn't tip over and blow up in a manner reminiscent of a 1979 episode of ChiPS--and that we won't need to jump the next riverbed like the Dukes of Hazard in the General Lee.

We are climbing higher and higher into the mountains, further away from the city. Nobody goes here by accident...yet the beauty is breathtaking.

The way the mountains emerge from the landscape and are framed by the hazy African July sky as if they are the handiwork of a master painter means only one thing.

God lives here.

This is God's holy mountain, as Psalm 48 proclaims: "God's holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth."

More people are walking down the road now. Dried red mud houses with thatched roofs polka-dot the surrounding field. More signs of life. My boredom and frustration turn to intrigue, as all on the bus straighten up and anxiously look about. Headphones are turned off, and we are uncharacteristically quiet as an electric excitement charges the stale air of our bus. Suddenly, we enter a small village.

We are met by shrieks of joy that no imitator could do justice to. African women run toward us with arms flailing above their heads, singing songs in Swahili and launching into an embrace with each one of us as we get off the bus. We are there no more than five seconds, and we are no longer strangers.

They know who created us. We are children of that same Creator, and we are here to commune with one another on that Creator's front stoop--on God's Holy Mountain.

Sensory overload.

The colors are hypnotizing: the women are adorned with clothes of the deepest blues and purples and scorching reds and yellows. Arm in arm they lead us to the church, a humble, small, four-walled concrete structure with small openings to let light and air in. Upon entering, we encounter a spread of food that is a sight to behold--mounds of spinach, chicken, bananas, potatoes, stew, rice, and several crates of Coca-Cola to quench our parched mouths. We are starved! After a word of thanks is offered, we descend upon the food like a pack of crazed dogs. In this culture, the guests eat first, and then the hosts eat what is left.

We load our plates to the breaking point.

I begin to fill the void of my 220-pound frame with this veritable feast. Very few people ever eat meat in Tanzania, as it is too expensive, but there is plenty of meat to be had today for us, the honored American guests. Just as Jesus told the parable of a father who slaughtered the fatted calf upon the return of his long-lost prodigal son, the goat and the chicken were offered for the long-lost brothers and sisters in Christ.

As I plunk down yet another chicken bone and prepare to throw back my head and unleash a "barbaric yawp" of romp'n stomp'n food eat'n satisfaction, I notice a child standing just outside the door, covered with dirt, wearing a simple smock, and possessing a bloated belly, a telling sign of malnutrition. To give her a plate of food would be a sign of disrespect and dishonor in this society.

I feel nauseous and ashamed.

Suddenly a band begins warming up--Really! An electric base and electric guitar start jamming what I recognize as an island beat, while a hand drum keeps the time. Suddenly it dawns on us: there is no electricity in this village. The guitars and the drum are handmade by the youth of the congregation. The amplifier, also handmade, is powered by twenty D batteries.

More shrieks of joy echo through the small stone church. A crowd of women burst through the doorway with ear-to-ear grins, clapping and singing: "Asante Sana Jesu--Asante Sana Jesu--Asante Sana Jesu Mo Yo Nee"--which means, "Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus from my heart."

The band picks up and a concert ensues upon God's holy mountain. The buffet has disappeared--but the little girl with the bloated belly has not.

She is dancing!

She dances with a desire and resolve the likes of which few of us have ever seen. We all raise a joyful noise combining African music and Gospel music, and her feet skip across the notes landing only on the occasional down beat.

The pace of the clapping quickens. A conga line begins, and Africans along with us Americans move, weaving like a snake around the seats, singing, dancing, and laughing--all to the glory of God--upon God's holy mountain.

As the shadows grow outside, the music gives way to stories. One church leader explains that they have raised the equivalent of about $50 to buy two bikes. The teenagers use them to pedal into the surrounding countryside and share the gospel and evangelize. As a result, this small Lutheran church, only about three years old, has grown to over six hundred people worshiping on any given Sunday. As I look around, I notice that the windows have community members standing three deep, peering in and listening to the stories. The little girl I have been noticing is sitting with the other children. They are all shoeless, with tattered clothes and some apparently suffering of malnutrition. Once again, I feel my stomach turn. The members of the church are making an appeal for money to fund their ministry, so our group passes around a hat.

For about two years we have been raising funds to go to Africa. We've raised money to pay for our airfare, lodging, and a few meals. In addition, each member has brought about $400 extra for souvenirs and other expenses on our three week journey. The average Tanzanian earns around $250 to $300 a year. When the hat reaches the last person in our group, we count the money and present them the equivalent of about $25. I shrink in embarrassment at the meager gift. The Africans jump up, dance, and sing songs of joy to us upon God's holy mountain.

It is now a few days later, and our three-week tour of Tanzania, Africa, is coming to a close. We are even more tired, weary, cold, dirty, and hungry. We have the good fortune of being able to go on safari. Our lodging to this point has been meager at best. The previous night I had used a bath towel as my only blanket to guard against the chilly 45-degree temperature. When we arrive at the safari hotel, the opulence is astounding. Bellhops offer us freshly squeezed orange juice to quench our thirst from the dusty road. We are then ushered into a fabulous dining room and served a fine, seven-course meal. Once we are fed, brand new Land Rovers whisk us off to the National Park, where we witness the unbridled beauty of God's diverse creation.

We admire giraffes, elephants, and zebras that are so close to our vehicle we can almost touch them. All of us on the Land Rover are abuzz with excitement and awe. In this one moment we feel connected, realizing that we are indeed a small part of this wonderful creation in which all God's creatures live--in this one moment in time--in harmony. God has created each of us, and has created each of us, in the words of Genesis 1, "good."

Psalm 139 says of God, was you who formed
 my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully
 and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
 that I know very well. (vv. 13-14)

Suddenly I recall the little girl from mere days before, literally starving, with almost no clothes, living in a landscape bearing little water, and in almost total isolation.

I lived with her in her need. I lived with the richness and splendor of the safari.

It is the same God.

The same God created this malnourished, starving child as created this plush, fertile land of staggering life and diversity.

It is the same God.

The same God who created and blessed me with riches, education, and opportunity also created the starving people who made sure I was fed first.

It is indeed the same God.

Hear Luke 6:17-26:

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 'Woe to you who are full now, for you will be h ungry. 'Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 'Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

We are no longer strangers with anyone. We are all children of the same Creator God.

As the haunting, unpleasant, and ugly images of our lives dwell simultaneously with those of unparalleled beauty and breathtaking greatness, may we follow the example of our Creator God who was made known to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ ... and may we feed those who hunger, and help turn weeping into laughter, and walk in solidarity with those who are oppressed and persecuted--and may the reality of the kingdom of God be known in our world today.
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Author:Berg, David
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Geographic Code:6TANZ
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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