Sometimes it takes an experience in life to teach you clearly some biblical truth. The last half of the week at the medical clinic in Bombo, Uganda, I had delegated most of my tasks to others. That left me with not a whole lot of pressing matters to consume my time. That’s just fine. I mean there is always something to do, but I had more free time than normal, so I went outside to interact with the patients and staff as they scurried from place to place in the busy times of the clinic.
There are a couple of places I can stand where I will be able to greet the most people. I can smile. Nod. Wave. Tell them thanks for coming. The response I always get — and I mean always — is a smile in return. Or a warm greeting. Or a word of appreciation. I’m sure not all of them speak English, but in that moment the smile from a mzungu (white guy) means something I guess. They respond with big grins and waves. Every once in a while, someone will stop to express their sincere appreciation for us coming to Uganda. It’s always, “please come back.”
What’s interesting is that most of the faces as they approach me are somewhat stern, more purposeful than gruff. But all that melts with the smile I provide. Even the unbelievers (and I assume many, many are not in the church family) are warm and gracious and appreciative. That’s significant to me. They love the clinic and its ministry in the community. I mean we even got a letter from the Town Council expressing their appreciation.
But as I stood there this week I thought of the Old Testament society. In about a week I’ll be at a place called Tel Dan, way up in northern Israel (Lord willing). There, we always talk about the importance of the city gate. It was a place for commerce and judgement and interaction. It was the place where the city leaders could and would gather. It was just like one of those “intersections” in Bombo where I could stand and get a sense of the pulse of the mission. I could interact with patients and with those working so hard to make the clinic a success.
I was standing in what seemed to be an Old Testament city gate. It was not just a place for extra protection — it was the place where life happened. For us, it is the church patio. That place were we can stand and interact with folks and begin friendships — and deepen friendships. But I’ve never really understood how important that space is until I spent many hours over a couple of days just standing and wandering through Bombo’s “city gate.”
It’s a place of influence and encouragement and honest interaction. I think that should be my job every year — to stand at the “city gate” and interact. I think it is important for the clinic. I think it is even more important for the church. So hang out on the patio. Wander. Don’t be late for worship (of course) but use that space for its intended purpose. And that’s not to eat.
Have a great morning of worship — and I’ll see you at the city gate in a couple of weeks.