This is a guest post from my brother-in-law and close friend, David Wigington, who pastors Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Bloomington, Indiana. I struggled to process the possibilities of this story when he first shared it with me, but I think you will find both amazement and encouragement in the words that follow. We may never know how our smallest of gestures have rippled out to touch the world. Take 3 minutes and give this a read.
It’s difficult to describe just how far Mbeya, Tanzania actually is from Indianapolis, Indiana. There really is no good way to get there
- 8 hours to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
- 10 more hours south to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
- 14 more hours on the very underdeveloped highway system in Tanzania.
In June, I traveled to Mbeya at the invitation of my friend Rev. Dr. Barnabas Mtokambali, to speak at a very special dedication of a church planting school that is situated a couple hours away in an even more remote, out-of-the-way town (if that’s even possible) called Makambako. Tanzania has a culture that values honor, so while I was there I was assigned a “driver” to get me to the various meetings, meals, and church services.
His name was Pastor George James.
Pastor George is a quiet man with a very sweet spirit. He first gave his heart to Christ in 1988. Eight years later he felt called by God to become a pastor, so he went to Bible College and completed his education. After leading a local church for a few years, he became the principal of the Bible College in Mbeya. You don’t have to spend a long time with Pastor George to see that he has the heart of a teacher and a mentor. He lives on campus with his wife and two children, and has coached, educated, and trained hundreds of men and women for ministry over the last 10 years.
I spent three days climbing in and out of Pastor George’s late-1990’s Toyota Cressida, and he claims it was sitting there the whole time. Somehow I never saw it until our last ride together back to the airport. There, on the armrest between the driver and passenger seats, sat a burgundy leather Bible. But more than just the color or the binding, something very unique caught my attention.
There was a name clearly stamped in gold leaf on the lower right corner.
No, that can’t be right.
I was still a little jet-lagged. Worn down emotionally, physically and spiritually from three days of preaching. Were my eyes playing tricks on me?
YES! That’s what it says: KAREN COOPER
Karen is the mother of my life-long friend and brother-in-law, Erik Cooper. She’s been a spiritual mom to so many over the course of her life. Could it actually be possible that this Bible once belonged to her? I was already starting to get that sense something special was happening when I asked Pastor George how this had found its way into his possession.
“A few years ago, a friend of mine was travelling to Dar Es Salaam, so I gave him some money and asked him to try and find an NIV Bible. Many of the classes I teach are in English, and up to that point my only English Bible was a King James. He found this tabbed, thin-line NIV at a used bookstore in the city for 1,500 schillings (about one US dollar) and I’ve been using it ever since.”
For nearly a decade, Pastor George says that Bible has been his constant companion at every Bible college class he taught, every chapel service he has preached, and every Sunday morning service he has attended or led.
So how does a Bible with my life-long friend and brother-in-law’s mother’s name on it end up in Pastor George’s hands in Mbeya, Tanzania?
Needle in a haystack?
Karen remembers donating several Bibles to a “Bible Drive” at our local church in Indianapolis nearly 25 years ago. Initially, she wasn’t going to give away the ones that had her name on them or held any kind of “keepsake” value. But she distinctly remembers her father-in-law, Rev. Ed Cooper, saying, “Karen, Bibles weren’t meant to be kept on a shelf gathering dust. They were meant to be used.”
So right about the time Pastor George was leaving a life of East African tribal religion, animism, and witchcraft for new life in Jesus Christ, Karen Cooper gave away a few of her Bibles. And somehow, it seems, one of those Bibles ended up in a used bookstore in Dar Es Salaam, East Africa.
Until a few weeks ago, she had mostly forgotten and certainly didn’t know where any of those Bibles ended up. Perhaps now she does.
“So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.” –Isaiah 55:11 (The Message)
On a dusty road in Mbeya a few weeks ago, I got a little glimpse of heaven. Can you imagine what it will be like when the curtains that separate us from eternity’s perspective are rolled back and we will see all of the investments we have made in the Kingdom of God?
NOTE: Here are links to two Bible donation organizations for anyone interested in putting an old Bible to good use.