It was breathtakingly beautiful! Palm trees, crystal blue water, perpetual sunshine - just a gorgeous place! I had read of how Douglas MacArthur had been enchanted by the striking view of Manila Bay, but didn't fully understand until I saw it for myself - I was definitely spell-bound. Then I met the people. Friendly, hospitable, courteous, I knew this wasn't Heaven - there was enough poverty and pain present to keep reality within my grasp, but still I found the place truly enchanting! I wasn't the only one who noticed. In fact, several of my colleagues had also managed to notice that there was an abundance of smiling, friendly and beautiful Christian women serving with us as we began carrying out our duties as Missionary Stewards during Lausanne II (Manila 1989), the Second Global Congress of World Missions - sponsored by groups like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Our co-laborers had not escaped my notice either, but I had steeled my mind to be focused. "We don't have enough time for socializing." I explained. "We can be friendly, but our duty comes first and there's way too much of that to have time for coffee and chit-chats." Yes, I had it all figured out. But that was before the Xerox machine broke down, and before I met her.
We were a few days into the conference and I had come to know the Philippine International Conference Center (PICC) like the back of my hand, and a good deal of the surrounding part of Manila too. I had run all kinds of errands. I served as a Body Guard for people who made runs to Embassy Row on Rojas Boulevard and served as a "gofer" - going for this and going for that - on all kinds of problem-solving adventures that blessed me with a good deal of exposure to the area and to a number of fascinating missionaries from all around the world and some pretty high profile folks too! Everything was humming along perfectly until my supervisor, Bill Thatcher, asked me to go back to the Central Office to make copies for a Plenary Session speech that needed to be translated. I just didn't want to do it. I don't know why, or what got into me, but I spent 10 minutes trying to convince him that he could find somebody else to do it. "No." Bill insisted. "I want YOU to go!" I grudgingly gave in, and took the materials I was given to the central office to be copied. I opened the door and then I saw her. She was on the phone and efficiently and effectively moving people, projects and paper - getting things done. I walked over to the copier to get started on the copies, but couldn't get it to work. "Well", I thought, "that might give me an excuse to chat with her." She noticed I was waiting and looked up smiled and asked if she could be of help. BEAUTIFUL smile. BEAUTIFUL PERIOD! I felt like someone had hit me with a gazillion megawatts of high voltage electricity. I had NEVER felt this and hoped it wasn't what I thought it was. It felt like I had a stupid look on my face and I prayed she hadn't noticed. I tried to play off what I was feeling and asked for her assistance in making the copies. She assisted right away, directing me towards another copier, removing a project she was working on as she helped me. The project contained information about the agency she served with, Youth With A Mission, and the work she did with children in a severely impoverished area of the city situated on a garbage dump and known as "Smokey Mountain". I was fascinated by the work and fascinated by her. I found out her name was Luz Bautista and knew right away that I would find as many excuses as I could to run more errands to the office. When I returned to Bill and asked if he needed any more copies, he didn't ask me why, but smirked in a way that made me suspect that he had a hunch. I guess those Gazillion Megawatts left a something on my face that was hard to hide!
In the days immediately after that encounter, I did manage to find all sorts of reasons to run errands to the central office. In the midst of an insane schedule, I always managed to swing by the central office to say "Hi" to Luz. I even began to leave her written messages when she wasn't in (a strategy that almost backfired as my first mote was misdirected to another woman named Luz - "Luz" is a very common name in the Philippines!) Nevertheless, it all eventually got straightened out. After sharing our hopes, dreams, and vision for serving the Lord over more than a few cups of coffee and late night phone conversations, it was clear that God had brought us together.
I won't go into the details in this entry, but suffice it to say I had no idea of how much of a quest was in store for me in the pursuit of making Luz Bautista my wife. The excitement involved Labor Strikes, Air Strikes, Negotiating with Governments and even powerful church officials. The adventure exposed the redemptive power of chastity and restorative power of selflessness. My oddessy also fulfilled years and years of prayer that started when I was a very little boy, who at my mother's gentle urging began asking for a wife that God faithfully and powerfully provided in a totally unexpected way at a totally unexpected time.
Yes, twenty years ago this week I was struck by a lightning bolt named Luz. I can't stop the tingling, and 20 years later though there have been some frowns and some tears too, I'm still stuck with a silly grin that I can't quite explain. For those of you who are looking for love and fulfillment in your life, I don't really have any instant formula to give you. I can share this timeless principle from a well-known but frequently ignored directive from Jesus:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you(Matthew 6:33).
A friend of mine put it this way: "You take care of God's business, and He'll take care of yours." J. Hudson Taylor, the faithful missionary to China had his own take on the principle. He said, "God's work, done in God's way will never lack God's supply."
If you're struggling to see God at work in your life, is God's Way and His Work your first priority? Are you pursuing Him knowing that He will lead to you to everything and everyone you need, or are you pursuing everything and everyone, hoping that God will jump in and go along for a ride according to your plans later? God has been very merciful and mighty in my life, not because I was good, but because when He chose to work powerfully for me, I wasn't so far away from His hand that I couldn't recognize His move when He made it. I challenge you today to stop making Jesus your motto or logo. He needs to be your Lord, which means HE'S in charge of your life! When He is in charge, as His hand moves, you won't have to scurry or worry trying to figure out if He's working. Instead, you'll be ready to conform to His will following the leading of His hand. It all came together for me by following His Word and His Way. As I have followed, He has been more than willing to lead and guide me in a ways I can't miss. God hasn't changed. He can do the same for you in your life situation as well if you just follow His lead and let Him have His way. To think He showed me all that through a love story. Until next time...