What happens when you mix seventy exuberant, Spirit-filled Ethiopian pastors with twenty hours of Christ-centered biblical instruction? The trees of the field begin to clap their hands. Let me explain.
Our team of five was teaching our hearts out in Awassa, Ethiopia, for several days. We rotated our “classrooms” so that each teacher had an opportunity to teach under the mango tree (everyone’s favorite), the banana tree, the chapel and the sun-baked classroom.
We were teaching biblical theology, focusing on the “big story” of the Bible and how the various parts relate to the overall message. We had covered God’s glorious creation, our inglorious fall, God’s promise to bring a deliverer, the dramatic escape from Egypt, the star-filled blessing of Abraham, the scepter-filled blessing of Judah, the sigh-filled lament of the prophets asking, “How long until the Anointed One comes to deliver his people?”
It was now time to speak about the promised deliverer. We decided to bring all the classes together for the dramatic teaching about the coming of Christ.
The teacher masterfully brought the strands of Scripture together to show how all that we had been studying for several days found its fulfillment in Jesus. The prophet, priest and king became our crucified, yet risen, Savior. The roomful of pastors fell strangely quiet. Not the impact we had hoped for.
Then, one pastor slowly raised his hand and asked, “Can we give thanks to God for the sending of his Son?” The teacher nodded. Given the quietness, even solemnity, of the moment, I was expecting a brief and perhaps polite prayer.
Instead, the class rose as one and burst into Scriptural songs of praise—arms raised high and heads tilted back and feet dancing for a solid hour. It struck me that this is what the psalmist prayed for: “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy” (Psalm 5:11).
Some of those pastors also went to the beloved mango tree and picked off leaves and began waving them to God in an offering of worship. Why?
One of the visuals we hung from a clothesline each day in our class was the image of a tree, a reminder of our rebellion against God by eating of the forbidden tree and our folly of trying to manufacture a fig-leafed salvation.
But the tree also spoke of future hope. One day the kingdom of God will grow from a tiny seed into a large tree (Matthew 13:32) and the leaves of that tree will be for the healing of the nations. (Revelations 22:2)
These dear Ethiopian pastors were celebrating that healing had come to their nation, and one day, it will fully come. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, but these pastors were celebrating that the full-course banquet is coming.
While our Ethiopian brothers were singing and dancing, my heart turned to the rest of the psalmist’s prayer: “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:11-12)
May God protect and cover his Christ-exalting, refuge-taking, mango leaf-waving believers in every corner of the world today. And then, let's get ready for the coming celebration!