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May 17, 2014

one

Every Sunday morning, a few of us used to sit on a unpainted, slatted bench in a four-foot-wide dirt alley. Behind us was a bare brick wall, with cement dripping from its seams. Before us was a fence or a wall (I can't remember which) that divided the chruch property from the neighbour's open yard. Ants crawled by and the temperatures were warm. It was a bit of an unlikely classroom, where I told stories to only a small audience.

I'd talk about the narrow way and the broad way, using an old curriculum with outdated inked graphicsgluttony was illustrated with a pig, and lying with a snake. I tried to liven things up, teaching parables with cotton balls for sheep, cheap beads in place of the pearl of great price, and plastic vegetable sacks for nets.

Three or four girls attended semi-regularly. A tall, mild-mannered one of African heritage, whose parents showed no interest in sending her to learn. A lighter-skinned one, with a shy manner, fuzzy hair, little education and a passel of younger siblings in tow. And then there was the one I remember best: she was thin, with wide cheek bones and hair as straight as palm leaves. She was bright. And she was faithful. Her father would drink himself stupid on the weekends; sensual music would play loud and late in her neighbourhood. But nearly every Sunday I would mark her "present" on the attendance chart. Hair freshly washed; smile in place. Ready to learn.

I moved away, for college, and my parents would tell me stories sometimes about my young student-turned-friend. She was still coming, and growing. She was excelling in school, too (which is quite something, in a impoverished area where some were illiterate). She was taking responsibility in the congregation. Five years later, I returned, and she stood at the front of some rows of benches, holding up the story book, smiling and teaching. 

I think about those years. I think about her. And I remember that the Father gave me one. One known fruit that remains, to this day. Isn't He good, to encourage me like that?



Life has taken me through various stages, and most of them have been fairly clearly deliniated by a geographical move or a change of employment. There was the year at a college with deep rock gorges, autumn glory, and good teaching. There was the internship where I learned deep truth that I still apply daily and made the best of friends. There was more college, more and more work, moving to Asia, and here I am. As I look back, I realize that in nearly every season, He has encouraged my feeble heart by giving me one. Though sometimes I don't know it until I move on. And in some cases, I still don't know if the seed found any good soil.

Once my one was from a confused family, you know the kind, where she hardly knew her surname. She was hungry for affection and needing a friend. Another time, my one was really two: in my part-time coffee shop job years, He gave me a mother-daughter duo. They'd camp out in the coffee shop in the evenings. Mom and I would talk about life, death, value and meaning, while I wiped counters and chapped my hands from so much washing. The daughter ate sweets they bought from behind the glass, while mom was caught up in conversation.

In one season, my coworker and his wife became my friends. They were immigrants, and my sister and I fed them what I now realize was probably a less-than-impressive chicken holiday dinner in my poorly furnished house. Somehow they appreciated it anyway. Later my brother became their friend too, and we ate dumplings and shared life. They showed a lot of interest in us, though not much in our message. Then they moved away....  A few years later, he messaged me to say he had found what we had. "Now I understand...." God didn't have to let me know, how his heart had changed. But He was gracious to do so.

There are one or two others that come to mind. But not many hungry ones, really.

And perhaps that is because "narrow is the way...and few are those who find it".

Maybe it is because God Himself insinuated that seed falls on good soil only about one-fourth of the time (though when it does, it bears one hundred fold—well worth the investment).

Perhaps because I don't press and inquire and seed and water and pray as much as I should.

In any case, my ones are few but just encouraging enough for me to press on.

These days, I'm visiting with another one. The seed hit good soil, and it's obvious. She's ravenous for truth and bravely understanding the implications. She's watching truth on YouTube, snatching moments in the car to ask me important questions, and changing her habits. But some ten years ago, she was someone else's one. Her friend taught her, prayed for her, nurtured her, rebuked her. Finally my friend left her first friend, disappointing her and going on the broad path.  

Today, I get the joy of seeing a seed growing and flourishing because someone else did some toilsome seed-planting and seed-watering back when I was on another continent, against the bare brick wall, next to the noisy neighbours, a world away from Asia. And today, I can only be in Asia because local friends provided the infrastructure for me to be here. I think her growth is the result of many people's petitions. Yet more than most anyone else, I get to reap the joy of seeing the results in this one. Which reminds me that one is often the project of many.

When people who work abroad write home, they say they feel the need to impress. To give stats, to tell powerful stories. But one of the most "impressive" couples I've met sowed in parched soil for fifteen years and could not even tell of one.  (The husband's marriage proposal, if I remember correctly, was inelegantly made, on a coach bus. He said something like this: "Hey, wanna come with me to Central Asia?" She said a courageous "Yes.") They changed their lifestyles drastically. They left everything. They faced buzzing war zones with three young children....and couldn't even tell of one? How fair is that? But their story impressed me more than an expected tale of ten or one hundred, or ten thousand. Because it was real. It was raw. And they were faithful without the knowledge of one sprouted seed. I know there are many like them, on the narrow path.

You've planted one hundred seeds? 
Plant one more. 

You've told them one thousand times? 
Tell them one more time.

I hope, for the sake of your encouragement, you get to know of one lost coin rescued. Or two sheep brought back. But friends, "let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." From His eternal perspective, He already sees the harvest. Someday we will, too.  

Put in one more day, every day, even if it's just for one
(And may it not just be for one, may it be for many!)


He shall see of the travail of his soul, 
and shall be satisfied: 
by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many
for he shall bear their iniquities.
— Isaiah

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