by Timothy Keller
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
My one-year-old son dreams of playing professional sports. I know this because I was tackled and fouled throughout the whole night. He also scored a couple of goals with my nose.
Morning breaks me and I get up. I'm suppose to share devotions at the police station, but I'm not sure if I can make it. Between my overactive MVP son and the continuously barking dog, I don't think I'd slept at all.
I try taking multiple doses of caffeinated starting fluid, but my brain still maintains its hazy fog.
Timothy's family, including his one-year-old sport-star hopeful.
A Change of Plans
When I arrived at the police station, I was told by one of the chaplains that the morning devotions has been cancelled. Apparently there was a scheduled meeting in the hall to discuss some kind of new water system.
I know that water systems in Zambia are important, and a lot of people get sick if you don't have clean water. However, I couldn't help but wonder if the day could become anymore disappointing.
I Was Exhausted, but I Decided to...
The chaplains wanted to go do visitations with some of the officers and asked if I'd go along. As exhausted as I was, I really didn't want to, but I agreed to do it anyway.
When we arrived at the home of one officer, it was obvious from his appearance that he'd suffered from a stroke. He could barely use half his body. His condition saddened me, and suddenly my own problems seemed very small in comparison. If there was some way that I could serve him, I was happy to help.
We sat in his living room, and began with the customary introductions. Once the chaplain finished, he turned to me and asked "Do you have something to share?"
"Ummm...." Something to share. Something to share.
There was a long pause.
I kept trying to think of something, but I couldn't. What was probably only a few moments, seemed like enough time to grow a full head of grey hair.
I was stumped. This never happens. So I just prayed in my mind, "God I've got nothing left to give. If there is something you want this man to know, please help."
As soon as I finished the prayer, I began sharing some of the lessons I'd learned from the trials in my own life. Intermingled in my testimony were various scriptures that I'd treasured from those experiences.
The officer's faces lit up.
The two chaplains and the medical officer with me began to listen intently, soaking in every word. After I finished speaking, we prayed for the man with the stroke. As we departed, I could see a change in his posture and in his eyes.
He had gained something that was absent when we arrived. He had hope.
Encouragement is a beautiful thing to behold, and I was grateful to be a part of it.
The next officer that we visited was a woman who had been suffering from a lung infection. She had missed a lot of work. Although she had been to the hospital and received her medication, she still remained at home, prostrate on the couch as she recovered.
By now I was feeling a lot more energized. We shared many words of encouragement, much like we had with the other officer. When we were done, we prayed for her, and said our farewells.
As we were driving away, I wondered what fruit might come from our visits. Even if we never saw any fruit ourselves, I knew that God's Word never returns void, and that He always lives to make intercession for us.
Encouraging others is important. At that time, I was unaware of the fact that my need for encouragement was just on the horizon.
Would My Health Challenges Cancel a Ministry Trip?
Shortly after this, I had plans for a ministry trip to Lake Tanganyika. As the time for my departure drew near, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to make the trip. My health wasn't doing well, and I lacked the strength even to make the necessary preparation.
From where we live in Kabwe, the journey to the lake is over 600 miles north, which is about a 14 hour drive. As daunting as this trip seemed, I remembered from past experiences that God often gives me the strength I need, when I need it the most. After praying about it with some dear brothers, I decided to proceed as planned.
The journey itself went remarkably well. My Zambian ministry partner, Ruben, travelled with me, and I was very pleased with how our new vehicle handled the long, bumpy roads. It had been about 8 years since I was last at the lake, but it was as beautiful as I'd remembered it.
At dusk, God would illustrate His glory in the most spectacular sunsets, which became mirrored in the water of the lake.
Over the next week, I taught for about 6 hours a day in a semi-enclosed room. The afternoons were difficult because the heat, combined with oppressive humidity, would sap us of our energy.
For the first couple of days I taught leadership principles and Biblical economics to a group of pastors. The remainder of the week I taught a group of teachers from the mission school how to implement Biblical teaching into their classrooms.
One of the teachers, eager to implement what he learned from ITMI's Timothy Keller.
When my time with them was finished, I was finished too! Looking back, I couldn't help but praise the Lord for His continued sustaining grace in giving me the strength to complete the task.
Then it was My Turn
When I returned to Kabwe, the chaplains informed me that the officer that we'd prayed for before had recovered. Apparently, as soon as we left her home, she immediately got up, made herself some food, and started cleaning.
About a week later, I came down with malaria, again. I think this is now the 16th time I've had it.
When the chaplains heard that I was sick, they came to my home to pray for me. I was really humbled by their concern for me. Just as I was to serve and encourage others, it was now my turn to be prayed for and encouraged.
Encouragement is a beautiful thing to behold, whether you're giving it or receiving it.
ITMI partner Timothy Keller lives and ministers with his wife, Ashley and four children in Kabwe, Zambia. The Kellers make disciples for Christ in our community and around Africa through the training of teachers, pastors, and fellow believers. Several times a year, Timothy travels to rural villages for discipleship.