And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. Acts 9:18-20
I have been thinking this week about the conversion of Saul in Acts 9. I am thinking of his experience as a blueprint, the beginning of a grand building project, a template for us who would dream of attaining the knowledge of God that is beyond knowledge—a life like Paul—dramatic conversion, a life of service, adventure, and victory, full of joy and contentment. Is this really a blueprint that could be common to all of us?
I am still processing information in the context of Africa, and when I think about believers there and the conversion of Paul, the stories match up very strongly. A hopeless street kid who survives through gangs and drugs is confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He immediately abandons his former life, receives supernatural revelation from God, is beaten almost to death for his faith, but there is no turning back in laying down his life for the salvation of an entire continent. It is a Saul to Paul conversion. A royal descendant with land and resources hears the call of God. He demolishes his house to make land for a church. He converts all of his acreage to an orphanage. All of his money, all of his time, all of his heart, are focused on the mission. Hope in Christ will change the world because he is a chosen vessel, poured out for the people of Africa. A young man touches a Bible for the first time in his life, and declares through choked emotions that it will change everything for him. I am drawn to Uganda because it is full of Pauls, and they have so much for me to learn. I struggle to make sense of the incongruous way they live. A young brilliant man is teaching orphans English, ignoring the malarial fever that plagues his body. A woman works 16 hour days to feed homeless children, while her house has no roof for lack of funds. A man fasts and prays until he is too weak to get home, waiting on God to heal his daughter. An energetic preacher whose eyes dance with joy admits that his orphans do not have daily rations of food. Spreading the Good News of eternal life takes priority over eating and sleeping and any comforts for tomorrow, or even the necessities of today. God seems so much bigger and better in Uganda.
The true incongruity is here in America, where the abundance of food is killing us with chronic disease. The wealth of us all has created miles of stores selling items we do not need or want. We live to take care of our stuff. Our “gospel” promises to alleviate the stress, restore the health, get more comfort, easy retirement, escape from depression, social gatherings, sports events, children’s entertainment. We are so broken that our struggle is more desperate to fix ourselves, than the struggle of Ugandans to live to save a continent.
I want to be a Paul in my world. And spending three weeks in Africa has renewed and deepened that desire. I want to live in a nation where Jesus Christ is proclaimed in every business, every government office, every school, and every family. I want to live in a place where the great joy of knowing Christ truly surpasses the adversities of everyday life. I want the hope of eternal life to drive my logic back to reason. Let the scales fall from my eyes as they did for Saul, and may the transformation become apparent in all of us!