Through times of hardship, days of joy, trials of life, and every experience in between, there has been one fact I have come to accept as truth: our God has a matchlessly glorious sense of humor.
This, of course, is not Biblical—at least I don’t think it is. The scripture does not say that God’s plan will always prevail by way of irony seasoned with hints of satire, but in my understanding, it sure seems to happen that way more often than not. The wonderful thing about this though, is it makes our God more relatable; everyone loves a good humored leader. Through the way his plans unfold, we are able to gain familiarity of his character, which is laced with light heartedness, mercy, love, and justice.
Often times the great comedians of society—the night show hosts, SNL members, social media stars, and stand-up comedy regulars—are recognized by a signature, whether it be a funny wink, voice, skit, or routine. The Lord has a signature too, and the more time we spend with him, getting to know his voice, his face, his routines, the more we will be able to identify his work.
Last October, I found myself surrounded by unfamiliar faces, foreign landscapes, and exotic ways of life as I journeyed through an entirely new place—Uganda. A small country in Eastern Africa, Uganda is bursting with culture and littered with hope. Most people have this picture in their heads of third-world countries being nothing but poor, sorrowful, and itching with pain and hurt. I would be lying to say I had not had the same vision in my mind a time or two. The truth is, there is poverty and so much pain and hurt, but there is also a massive army of people filled with joy, humility, gentleness, faithfulness, and a bone-trembling fear of God.
This was a special kind of trip. Many assume a trip to such a place, led and organized by a nonprofit, is in fact a mission trip—that is what I assumed myself when I signed up to go. Love Does, the organization which sponsored the trip, however, does things a bit differently. Our days there were not spent building churches or installing wells, or repainting classrooms. Instead, we saw Uganda: I and the other (amazing) attendees were consumed in the people, conversing with them, loving them, knowing them, and gaining awareness of their culture and livelihood. It was all about the people, many I am now thankful to consider my friends.
The education I was getting from these new-fangled relationships silently began changing my perspective and even more, my heart. The organization itself has aptly named these adventures, Vision Trips. I am not sure I would have entirely understood that, had I not gone to try it out for myself. Yet, as I sit and reflect on my time there, it makes all the sense in the world. It changed the vision I had in my head of what underdeveloped parts of the world are really like. I think as Americans, many of us find ourselves afraid of the unknown that awaits us there; the reality in my case, was that I felt more peaceful, safe, secure, and loved in Gulu than I ever had in an American city, because it was so obviously and tightly wrapped in the arms of the Lord.
One day during our visit, we experienced a very unique project launched by Love Does with the mission of installing literacy and Jesus into the lives of some of the neediest in the country: the witch doctor school. Now, I was told by some of the students attending the Restore secondary school, that the correct and more common name for these people was “traditional healers”. My mind liked the idea of spending the day with traditional healers much more than it did witch doctors—the term gave them less menacing qualities and calmed the anxiety swelling in my chest as I recalled stories I had heard and read about witch doctors in this exact part of the world.
The students of the witch doctor school dancing for us, with us, around us.
Once again, the vision I had in my mind was shattered. We arrived at the witch doctor school and much to my astonishment found… dancing. And singing. And smiling faces. They welcomed us so warmly and genuinely and as their lesson for the day began, they sat with us. The woman next to me clenched my right hand in both of hers as if we were already lifelong friends. The men and women began saying their ABC’s aloud, followed by reciting the sounds of some letters and pronouncing the words written on various pieces of paper taped to the wall. At the end, their teacher asked if the visitors had any English words they would like to teach the students. One of the girls in our group suggested the word “beautiful”.
I turned to the woman still grasping my hand and introduced myself as Alyssa.
“I am Grace,” she said softly. Her eyes were deep and yellow and her skin showed the wear of hard labor.
In my mind, I was trying—and failing miserably—to come up with the words to accurately explain to Grace what the word “beautiful” was. I realized quickly it would be difficult considering she knew very little English and beautiful was such an extensive word: it can have many meanings, some poetic and difficult for even the scholarly to understand.
I said a few things in attempt and she looked at me, very confused, watching my lips move as I talked. Then I noticed she was wearing a bracelet around her wrist; it was hard plastic painted silver with fake colored gems placed in a flower shape inside—the kind one would buy for a child to play dress-up with at the dollar store. I took my other hand, pointed to it, and very slowly, with emphasis exclaimed, “Your bracelet is beautiful!”
Her face erupted in a warm smile and she began to blush and giggle like a little girl—almost like she didn’t believe me, almost like she already knew. Then she looked down at me in the same way one would look at their own child and slipped the bracelet off her wrist. She took my hand and clasped it around my arm and said, “Now you be beautiful too.”
I didn’t know what to think as she sat embracing me. I was trying to hold back tears, but it was proving quite difficult. This woman, who most likely had nothing, was willing to give one of her only possessions to a complete stranger, who had everything, at the drop of a hat. I knew that was not the kind of generous love I would get to experience often in my life.
It became clear to me that Grace was a healer. She may not have always been. Perhaps she was a true witch doctor at one time, who sinned and practiced evil witchcraft as according to the name. Whatever her background, she had somehow ended up at this place in this time next to me. She was being transformed, just like many of the students there. God had placed new desires in her heart, and she was learning how to accept perfect love for the first time in her life. With a new and holy fountain of audacious love flowing deep within her, she was finally able to give some away.
2 Corinthians 12:9 reads: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Grace came from a place of weakness, but she let the Lord use her frailty and mistakes to transform her into the beautiful healer I saw her become that day.
As we prepared to leave the school, I tried to return her bracelet, but she shook her head. Then she leaned into me very closely, placing her hands on my shoulders, pressing her cheek against my cheek, and softly whispered, “You keep. Take with you and make you beautiful, make world beautiful.”
I sat, amazed. I still am really—by her generosity, her gentleness, her tenacity, her humbleness, her… grace.
But isn’t that what grace does? God gave us the gift of his son, to keep with us in our hearts, to carry with us everywhere, to make us beautiful and to make the world beautiful.
When I think of her, I am reminded of the verse Ephesians 2:8—
“For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
This is the part where the humor of God I discussed comes into play.
I was literally saved by the faith of Grace. She gifted me with a bracelet most would pass off as worthless, but it is so very precious to me. I did nothing to deserve or earn her gift, but she gave it anyways, out of love for her new sister in Christ.
Like all things, I believe God planned this run with irony. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were sitting on his throne up in heaven, giggling like Grace at his cleverness– that is certainly what I would be doing if I were him.
I still have the bracelet, by the way. I don’t wear it out for risk of losing it, but it sits on my bedside table as a reminder of Grace and the things she taught me.
When I returned to America, I showed the bracelet to a few of my friends and told them the story of where I had gotten it:
“Wait,” one of them said in disbelief. “You got this from a witch doctor?”
“What if it’s, like… cursed?” she asked, wide eyed and completely horrified.
I laughed and thought to myself, “Ah, the sweet curse of Grace—a signature of our comedic God.”