Someone to Lean On
It happens to all guest speakers: the introduction. For many, being introduced as a speaker is not the torture it is for me. The moderator speaks about your education, accomplishments, publications, service. It’s mortifying!
However, today I am introducing a dear friend with whom I have worked abroad for years. We have gone through perilous journeys, all in the name of education and nongovernmental organization work. I met Mike while writing a grant for an orphanage in Italy, where I spent weeks researching, teaching, and watching the orphanage grow.
I remember working with his team and agreeing to help transport children across the border of a war-torn country to their new homes. Social unrest surfaced, and for nine long hours, in a stone-covered manhole, I sat with nine other volunteers, tending to children feet away from the border. It rained, and we heard gunshots and yelling. I remember holding an 8-month-old baby, praying that the child would not cry and disclose our hiding place.
Today Mike is receiving a humanitarian award from his hometown in Texas. I will introduce him. Backstage we speak of projects with his two sons who are now in college and his lovely wife, Emma. Mike: the person who collaborated in grants for clinics and clean water projects abroad. A man of faith, who still knows God travels with us to the farthest regions of the world and says: I need someone here.
I have seen and served much in places I never imagined my passport would gain a visa. I smile, remembering Mike and his family in the pouring rain in Chile, singing Michael English’s “In Christ Alone” at the top of our lungs as clean water poured out of the pipes, finding its way into a village that never had clean water.
I head to the lectern, look at Mike, and say, “God has been good to us, my friend. Don’t ever forget,” and render my introduction.
Something is not right.
As I speak, I notice Mike’s demeanor change. His humble shoulders perk up. He sits taller. His smile is different. He leans back, proud. Has he forgotten the grace by which we stand here tonight? No “victories” were accomplished on our own. We had someone to lean on. God had all the grace and mercy we needed.
As the standing ovation begins, Mike walks to the front. I don’t know you.
But the applause stops as Mike trips on the edge of a chair and falls facefirst on the carpet. I watch as friends help him up. In moments Mike reaches the lectern to applause. He shakes my hand, shakes his head, and says: “I think for a minute the sound of success made me forget.” You, my friend, I recognize.
. . .
Two weeks later I receive a package from Mike and Emma: a CD with the song “In Christ Alone” circled. Mike has scribbled a note: “ ‘In Christ alone I place my trust and find my glory in the power of the cross. In every victory let it be said of me my source of strength, my source of hope, is Christ alone.’* I won’t forget again.”
That’s an introduction worth repeating.
* Michael English, “In Christ Alone” (1992).
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.