The stench was almost nauseating.
Sitting on the floor of a four-ton flatbed truck, uncomfortably squeezed between sweaty, dark-skinned strangers, I unconsciously judged the Africans. “Backward…dirty…poor…”; rouge assumptions began to wander recklessly, unfiltered, through my white American mind. So, when we finally arrived at the church in Kamena, Zambia, after a seemingly endless and bumpy ride, I was anxious to exit the vehicle.
Climbing clumsily out of the back of the truck, my ankle length skirt making the descent difficult, I spied a little girl in yellow. And just as my foot reached the ground, I felt a hand on my arm. Again, I saw the tiny tattered child, her eyes unblinking in unearned adoration. Her miniature fingernails were caked with grime, her clothing torn and dirty. Putting my ear close, I asked her name and she quietly offered “Palace”. Then she took my hand in hers and led me into the little brick church to a wooden bench on the side of the pulpit. And there we sat, as the service began and as the Zambians sang and prayed and worshipped the God who sustains them…and us.
Throughout the service, Palace stared at me—not smiling, but contented—and I rubbed her back and kept her close. Her innocent eyes continued to adore, and I realized that she accepted me and loved me—not because I was like her, but because I was different; and not because I could speak her language; she didn’t seem to need words. She wasn’t loving to receive anything at all. She loved me because her uncalloused child’s heart didn’t know pride or arrogance or judgment…like mine did. She loved because she was a child who had no assumptions about who I was; she just expected me to love her back. And I did. It came so naturally.
Palace’s presence in that little church in Kamena on my first Sunday in Zambia, allowed me to capture those unconscious accusations that had also come so naturally. Her complete acceptance changed my mind and showed me that I was thinking wrongly. Her childishness softened my heart and allowed me to love like Jesus loves—unguarded, with lavish affection; so undeserved, so thrilling.
Such big lessons from a such a tiny teacher.
And from an such an awesome God.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.