A few weeks ago we began our twice-weekly Bible study in a rather unusual way. Glancing at the dozen or so words wildly scribbled on the index card in my lap to guide us, I began throwing out the names of well-known international and local celebrities or heroes one by one to see how much we truly knew about each person.
There we sat next to and across from one another on an assortment of wooden benches in our dining room that is quickly becoming too small. Sitting around the rectangular-shaped bench-formation were our high school and elementary students, teachers, our own 8 kids, Darwin and I with a couple other laborers (Miss Martha and Alma, a local woman who helps clean a couple days a week) and a neighbor or two. There were about 40 or so people present.
I started off with the most famous man in all of Honduran history. There are schools, companies, streets, and even one of the 18 Honduran departments (the equivalent of a state or geographical region) named after this man, and — without fail — every September during the patriotic celebrations there are students all over the country participating in very important parades with banners and musical bands to honor this man and what he did for Honduras.
Anyone and everyone who was at least 8 years old displayed some kind of really strong reaction upon hearing such a familiar name. Some, sighs with a big smile. Others a loud, “Hey!” Still others nodding their heads up and down enthusiastically, like Yeah, I know all about him. It’s Francisco Morazan, for goodness’ sake! I graduated from Francisco Morazan elementary school last year, and I’ve been attending parades in his honor from the time I was in my mother’s womb. Please!
I let the reactions die down and asked the group, “Who is he?”
As if they had known ahead of time what I would ask and had rehearsed their answer, nearly everyone shouted out with utter confidence in their supreme patriotic knowledge (while simultaneously passing judgment on me for presumably not knowing): “He’s a national hero!”
My response: “Yes…But, I mean, who is he? Why was he a national hero?”
For a moment or two I had them all, as the majority looked like I had just knocked the wind out of them. ‘National hero’ didn’t say it all?
Then my husband and Derbin, a neighbor of ours who is a 9th grade student at the local public high school, began spouting off quite a few textbook-style details about Francisco Morazan, much to everyone else’s amazement.
I pressed deeper: “Do we know how many kids he had? Was he faithful to his wife? What did he like to do in his free time? Did he lose his patience easily?”
To those questions no one had answers. The point had been made.
I perked up in the now-very-sullen emotional atmosphere, gave a friendly slap on the back to whoever was sitting next to me, and said convincingly to the group, “Gosh, we sure do know a whole lot about him! We know Francisco Morazan just like he were our own brother, right?”
Everyone’s eyes began to light up in agreement with my statement due to my positive tone of voice, but then several students registered the absurdity of what I was saying. Their response: “Uh, no, we don’t know him as if he were our own brother.” Staring at the floor, probably disappointed in themselves for not having absorbed the least bit of information about their favorite national hero after having studied him in school year after year, several students added, “We hardly know anything about him at all.”
Me, sympathetically, “Ohh, darn. I guess we don’t know much about him at all. Well, why not? How could we actually find out if he lived with true joy, if he genuinely wanted to serve his country or only his self-interest, what his weaknesses were?”
After a bit more probing and explaining, the group arrived at the conclusion that we would have had to intentionally study in-depth about this man from reliable resources to be able to answer the real question of who this man was (and not just his basic, ‘national hero’ profile of wars won and laws passed) or, better yet, as someone from across our rectangle wisely said, “We’d have to have known him. Personally.”
“That’s right. But we haven’t done all the investigations, and we definitely don’t know him personally. So we should just go ahead and jump to conclusions, assuming we know all about him, judging on the incredibly small amount of information we have available to us, right?”
They all got it: “No,” they answered in almost a whisper.
“Well, what if we hit the books, go do in-depth research on his life, habits, read his old diary entries, etc — what if we really do our best to figure out what kind of man Francisco Morazan was beyond his impressive public profile? How much would this information really be able to impact our daily lives, decisions and future?”
Some looked uneasy but gave their answer: “Uh, not much at all. He’s dead.”
“Yeah, right? Okay, well let’s give it a go with some more names.”
I was shocked that the names ‘Nelson Mandela’ and ‘Mother Teresa’ earned only blank stares from the youth sitting around me on all sides. My thought: We’ve got a lot to teach these kids!
We named Barak Obama, the current Honduran president (Juan Orlando Hernandez), several other national heroes from Honduran history (with results strikingly similar to those of Francisco Morazan), certain famous actors, well-known Biblical characters (John the Baptist, Adam from the Garden of Eden), etc. Each time, without fail, the group thought they knew the person very well (as in, had heard their name before and had at least a vague idea of their profession), but, in the end, knew almost nothing at all, at least not the most important details of their character, convictions and deepest motivations. And I, without fail, would conclude each round with, “Hey! Isn’t that great? We know so-and-so so well that it almost seems like they’re our blood relative, right?” By now they had caught on and realized that, no, we didn’t know any of these people even a little bit because we haven’t studied their lives in-depth or known them personally. We just hear a name and jump to a conclusion, assuming we already know everything when, in fact, we know nothing. And, each time I posed the question about how much it would truly affect our life trajectory, our decisions and future if we were to do that in-depth search on such-and-such person to find out who they really were, the year they got married, what their vices and personal victories were, each time the answer came back: “Not much at all.”
Then, a new name: “Michael Jackson.”
Upon hearing his name, a loud roar went up among the students, threatening to blow the tin roof right off our dining room. Brayan, the young man who used to live with us who is now back in the picture as our 5th-grade student, had the strongest reaction of all. Sitting a couple yards to my left, his eyes grew abnormally large, he pointed an extended finger to me as if I had just told a hilarious joke, and echoed, “Michael Jackson!”
Once the hoots and hollers died down, I singled him out: “Brayan, you had a pretty strong reaction. What do you know about Michael Jackson?”
Brayan, suddenly nervous for being put under the spotlight: “Uh…he’s a singer.”
Me: “…And? What else?”
That was it. He knew nothing else.
Certain other students knew a few hearsay details about Michael Jackson, but even their knowledge was incredibly limited and based on gossip and/or what they’d heard or seen on television. I asked: “Do we know where he was born? If he professed some kind of belief in God? If he really did abuse children as some have said of him? How did he treat the people closest to him?”
Many, by now accustomed to the knowledge that they knew almost nothing at all about all the people they thought they ‘knew,’ just looked at me with blank stares, admitting defeat. Others, those with a bit more confidence and information, began: “Well, I saw in the newspaper or read online…”
After a couple minutes of discussion, I reminded everyone that even what we read in the media can be biased, written to cover so-and-so’s backside or to accuse unjustly, invented, or well-meaning but based on misinformation. Imperfect, sin-stained humans — all stained by a terrible egotism, fueled by the desire to be our own gods, to command our destiny — oftentimes without firsthand information writing about others from their same fallen species and many of which do so against strict deadlines and with certain reader expectations. Oftentimes the naked truth simply doesn’t come out in the media, however much we’d like to think that it does.
By now, we were all admitting that we know almost nothing about anybody — whether that be because we haven’t really studied the person’s life or the source of information (internet, newspaper, hearsay, etc) isn’t completely reliable. One of the teenagers in our rectangular-shaped think-tank laughed and said for me, “We know Michael Jackson as if he were our own brother, right?”
At that, we all laughed.
After continuing on with a few more names, we finally arrived at the last name scribbled on the index card in my lap. I think by now many of the youth had forgotten we were in Bible study because we had spent the good part of an hour playing our not-too-impressive trivia game. We had all laughed quite a bit — mostly at our own ignorance — and, hopefully, the message had been clearly given that we shouldn’t jump to such quick conclusions about others because, really, we know very little (if nothing at all) and most likely will continue knowing very little because it is extremely difficult if not impossible to jump into the inner circle, the thought world — beyond what the media does or doesn’t tell us, beyond what their polished biographies proclaim — of Barak Obama or such-and-such Famous Person to truly search out their intentions, private goals and raw character to know who they truly are, where they stand. And even if we did somehow attain such intimate knowledge, how much would it even affect us?
The last name: “Jesus Christ.”
Upon hearing His name, almost everyone in the circle let out a long sigh of understanding or expectation, the emotional environment now appropriately heavy as the youth then saw where we were going with all this trivia nonsense. No one was quick to say anything.
A good portion of our students are skeptics while a handful have come to place their faith in Christ in recent weeks and months under our guidance. Very few have any solid foundation of faith established beyond these Bible studies and prayer groups that we have only just recently begun.
Dayana, our eldest and in whom we — along with many others — have invested more time, one-on-one Biblical study, teaching, prayer, counsel and fasting than in any other child of ours, began saying what many others could not. I had to stop her, because I know that she knows Jesus, but our goal was to reach the group at-large.
I asked the group: “Who is He?”
One 11-year-old boy in second grade who is tremendously shy, has had rather extreme behavioral struggles and who just weeks ago became a Christian (the first to do so in his family), said barely above a whisper, “Powerful.”
Another from across the room: “Savior.”
Derbin, our teenage neighbor who has grown up in a loving, Christian family and who has dedicated much effort to his walk with Christ now in his adolescence, began picking up where Dayana had left off, explaining with authority Jesus’ miracles, some of His teachings, the way He treated the poor, etc, while the rest of the group stayed quiet. I imagined — or at least hoped — they were asking themselves what they really knew about Jesus, if they really knew Him at all or had just heard His name tossed about and proclaimed here and there, written on church signs and bumper stickers. Francisco Morazan, Michael Jackson, and Jesus Christ — we know them all as if they were our blood brothers, right?
I explained what I think they were already catching onto: “Many, many, many people here — and probably all around the world — say they know Jesus. They’ve heard that He’s the ‘Son of God’ or that He lived and died thousands of years ago, and they think that is enough to make a snap judgement about Him and consider that they have Him figured out. Just in the same way that we fool ourselves into believing we know all about Francisco Morazan because we know he’s a ‘national hero,’ we think we’ve got Jesus figured out because we attended church a few times way back when or have seen the outside cover of a Bible once or twice in our life, have heard rumors that He rose from the dead or was born to a virgin. But do we know how He treated women, prostitutes even? Why was He killed, and by whom exactly? What did He teach about money? What does He do even now in today’s world, and what on earth does it mean to be His follower?”
Many people around the circle began to nod and chuckle appropriately, because the connection was being made.
“If Jesus really is the savior of all mankind, really did walk on water, really does love us and died to grant us peace with God — or, on the contrary, if everything about Him is just a big lie, if He’s just some Santa Clause figure up in the sky to make us feel better about ourselves — how much does this affect us?”
Several people from across the circle, some new understanding dawning behind their eyes: “Infinitely so.”
Me: “Yeah, right? If He is God or isn’t God — that knowledge has the capacity to change the trajectory of our entire lives! If He is a humble servant or rather some celestial tyrant, God-Made-Man or just some ancient myth, these are things worth knowing, knowledge that can actually change how we live and die! So is it worth investigating, putting in the time and effort to know Him?”
People around the circle began nodding and affirming verbally that, yes, this search actually is worth it.
“Literally, several times per month, people here ask me who I am and what I do. When I mention the Lord’s work that I’m involved in, without fail, every person whom I talk to immediately says something along the lines of, ‘Oh, yup. The things of God are the best. That’s the most important thing.’ Whether it’s a taxi driver, someone I meet in a store, or whoever, no one has ever looked at me like I’m crazy or asked, ‘Well, now, what are you talking about? I don’t know this God you refer to.’ Everyone, everyone, acts as if we’re all on the same page, we all know Jesus well and understand that He’s ‘the most important thing’. But the question I’m gonna start asking these same people is, ‘What are the things of God? Who is God?‘ because, really, I think a lot of people don’t have the slightest clue — they know Him no better than they do Francisco Morazan or Michael Jackson, are satisfied with knowing woefully little — if nothing at all — and for that reason they do not seek Him. They have fooled themselves into believing they already know Him.”
“So here, in this little dining room out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere, we are commencing a search, a quest, admitting that many of us actually do not know Jesus beyond the one- or two-word titles assigned to Him. Savior, Prince of Peace, Son of God — yes. But there is so much more! We will never begin to seek Him fervently if we’re fooled into thinking we already know all there is to know about Him. Case closed, quick judgment made, and we carry on with our lives. No! Today let’s admit that many know Him no more than we know Mother Teresa or President Juan Orlando Hernandez, but we can, in fact, know Him — both through God’s Word (which is not written as newspapers and magazine articles are, based on human opinions and folly!) and through His Spirit. And this search is actually worth it and has the capacity to change everything.”
So please pray with and for us during this time of fervent searching, of teaching what many believe they already know, of receiving new revelations from God and asking that He may touch all of our lives in ways that go beyond knowledge and into experience. Amen!