Rejoice in the Lord always. Philippians 4:4
Paul tells the church at Philippi that they should rejoice in Christ. No excuse. No exceptions. He repeats himself and says that they should always rejoice in the Lord. Paul was in prison when he wrote this to the Philippians, and he said that he’d learned the secret of contentment in every circumstance: he could do all things through [Jesus] who gave him strength. Everything that he couldn’t do, God could do through him.
I was working in Uganda and heading north from Kampala for a huge celebration and time of thanksgiving. I invited Jennifer, a missionary friend, and Bea, a clergy wife. And Bea invited a friend. Four of us prepared to leave early in the morning in order to complete the eight-hour trip before dark.
I arrived at the meeting place to load up and leave. No one was ready. The van arrived, and we discovered that the back door for loading stacks of equipment wouldn’t open – it has just broken, according to the driver. So we lifted everything over three rows of seats and got off an hour or so after our scheduled departure.
Finally, we were moving. I led the group in a series of praise songs. I remember that we were singing This is the Day That the Lord Hath Made when the inside of the van began to fill with smoke. Eventually, our driver decided we should stop and see what might be wrong. Bea said to me, pointedly, Why did you stop singing? Woops. We tried another half-hearted song as our driver checked the engine with a puzzled expression. And then we sat.
There in the middle of a banana plantation, villagers gathered to sympathize and to teach us how to play one of their games. After all, it looked like we might be there for a while, and they wanted us to be entertained. Jennifer pulled out her cell phone and called everyone she knew to see if they could send another van. After numerous calls, she was successful and joined me in playing corro. Then Bea’s friend asked Jennifer why she hadn’t called so and so because she knew they were nearby and would help. You can understand why Jennifer didn’t respond at that moment. Should we have begun singing again?
An hour and a half later, the second van arrived; we carried all the equipment back over the three seats and loaded up for our drive north. By then we were friends with the neighbors and thanked them for their hospitality. On the road again, we began singing. This is the day… Perhaps we had gone ten miles. Perhaps. The second van began sputtering and came to an abrupt stop. Whatever could be wrong this time?
Our driver politely told us that when we called, we said we were in a hurry, so he hadn’t bothered to stop for fuel. I forked over the 100,000 shillings necessary to fill the gerry can with fuel once he found someone willing to part with the precious liquid. Our driver headed down the red dirt road, hoping to find someone who could help. Jennifer quoted her oft-stated phrase: TIA, This is Africa. And we laughed. And then we prayed, thanking God for safety and for his provisions of friendship, fuel, and funds.
Rejoicing is so much easier among friends. And the trip north? A smashing success and another opportunity to experience God’s faithfulness.
Lord, we can always rejoice when we remember who you are and whose we are. We embrace your call to find our joy in you as we ask that you be glorified in us. AMEN.