Sunday, June 14, 2009
The Hot Water Heater Experience
Agim Iseni and I together at the Kindergarten
As I understand it, “being the presence of Christ” means living in such a way that God’s grace and love is reflected in us as we connect with people in their day-to-day circumstances. Through encountering and relating to people in the normal context of life, I have the profound sense of being “invited in” as both participant and witness to God’s unfolding process of drawing people into dialogue. I often characterize our ministry (mine and Shelia’s) in Eugene Peterson’s terminology of “helping to bring people into conversation with God.”
It often happens as I am on my way to somewhere to do something, that there is an interception of some kind: a street is blocked, the shop is closed, or something does not work and that means making a return trip. Recently on such an occasion, I was accompanied by my long-time Albanian friend, Agim. The quest was to find a small electric water heater to replace the one in the kitchen that had seen better days and no longer functioned. This was my third trip back to the same shop to exchange a second new water heater, this one had a faulty thermostat.
As we returned home, I could tell that Agim was in deep thought about something. Over these past years, I have learned to read his facial expressions. When I asked what he was thinking, he astounded me with this question, “Does God make some people with a better character than others?” Having no immediate or definitive response, I said, “Tell me what you think.”
He replied, “I believe that people are people, regardless of nationality, religion, or political affiliation. God makes people pretty much the same in the beginning, but character is something that people develop for themselves.” Just before we arrived at the apartment he said, “If I had a shop like the one we were just in, I would sell only the water heaters that I knew were good quality so that you would not have to come back three times to find one that really works! I think that is part of what it means to have respect for other people. I think, too, that God wants us to have respect for others.”
Perhaps during this decade of relationship, in difficult times, as well as, in times of celebration, I have been instrumental in opening the door to Agim’s developing relationship with God. If he were asked specifically, he might say something to the effect that I have had a significant influence on his life. But the fact is that now his conversational relationship with God has taken on its own viability. Whatever has been set in motion by my being the presence of Christ is not mine to possess or control. The experience is dynamic, not static. It is much more of a process than an event.
Is it possible for us to so incorporate being the presence of Christ into our normal lifestyle that, over time, people like Agim and others cannot observe one without also becoming aware of the other?