Below are excerpts from a sermon preached at our chapel service at the Lutheran Center in Chicago today by the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, ELCA Executive for Administration. We express our deepest thanks to Rev. Bullock for allowing us to share parts of that sermon and her photo of Joyce with you!
As we remember St. Luke today, we turn our attention to God’s healing power and God’s call to us to proclaim God’s love, mercy, and healing to those who are hurting.
Last July, I traveled to Tanzania. While there I had the opportunity to attend Sunday worship at a local parish just outside Arusha. The building was brimming with people. More than half were school age children. […] When their pastor, Pastor Anna Makayo, finished her sermon the whole assembly joined in singing a cappella. The children’s voices added a sweet sound of innocence and joy.
Pastor Jack Horner, Director for Evangelical Mission in the Metro New York Synod, and I were worshipping at Ngaruma Parish in the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. This parish is a partner with us and Lutheran World Relief to fight malaria. Pastor Anna is a known, strong supporter of the anti- malaria campaign.
The Sunday we worshipped, the children performed a drama that provided education about using bed nets and seeking diagnosis and treatment for malaria. The whole morning was filled with sights and sounds of children laughing, singing, and moving about the worship space.
Joyce of Ngaruma Parish, Northern Diocese, Tanzania
One young girl especially caught my eye. Her name is Joyce. Joyce’s smile left me with a feeling of hope and expectancy. Pastor Horner and I were worshipping at Joyce’s parish because we wanted to connect with our partners in the ELCT about preventing, treating, and stopping malaria.
We, along with two other people, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds and awareness. We spoke with our guides, who also were Lutheran, about their personal experience with malaria. They told us that all of their families had been touched by malaria and they, too, had been treated for malaria. Some of them multiple times.
Every 60 seconds a child dies from malaria. One might be tempted to ask, where is God when so many children are suffering and dying from a preventable, curable disease?
When we want to know if God cares, we cannot only fix our eyes on the problems or cast our gaze at the people in pain. We must lift our sight to the cross. When we want to know where God is active in the world, we cannot only hear the cry of those suffering; we must tune our ears to listen to the voice of Jesus.
As I climbed Kilimanjaro, I was inspired and encouraged to keep climbing to the summit and peak by remembering the face of Wil Herzfeld. Wil was a dear colleague and friend who died several years ago from malaria that he contracted while traveling in Africa. I remembered Wil’s face and the face of children like Joyce who represent the millions of children alive and those yet to be born in Africa.
Wil was pushing me and Joyce and the children were pulling me up the mountain 19,340 feet to the top. They were witnesses to me that we need to be active and engaged in the fight against malaria. They were witnesses to me that we need to stand on God’s promises to heal and deliver–for ourselves and the world God so loves.
Because God cares, we can care. Because God has chosen us to be witnesses, we can stand with our sisters and brothers in Africa and around the world and we say “no” to diseases of poverty like malaria.
The night before we started for the summit and peak of Kilimanjaro, I stepped out of my tent. The only light in the camp at that time was from my head lamp; but the sky, the sky was filled with stars in the amount I had never seen before. As I looked at the stars, I realized that I did not need to look up to see them; I only needed to look out.
The phrase that came to mind was, “joy unspeakable.” And I thought, the universe is an awesome place. As I watched the children at Ngaruma Parish as they learned about preventing and treating malaria, and I saw the smile on Joyce’s face and heard the laughter and joy of the children as they heard about people like us who are partners to help them, I thought—God, the healer, is up to something in this place; and how blessed we are to be part of it.
What a privilege it is to be chosen to be a witness to God’s awesome love and grace! Thanks be to God.