Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, May 01, 2017


Two Tai Dam men, both of whom immigrated as refugees after the Vietnam War, are shopping in a grocery store. Seriously—this happened. Both have a cart out front, and they’re looking for whatever—think Wheaties of something.

They look up at each other. It’s not extraordinary to run other Tai Dam people in Sioux City, Iowa, because meat packers employ hundreds of southeast Asian refugees. But these guys can’t help but take a second look because they can’t help feeling they know each other somehow.

They do. And when they’re close, they admit as much, both of them. They're shocked.

The thing is, in Laos they weren’t friends. Both made a good living on the black market, dealing in the goods left behind or stolen from the American military. At that game, they were rivals, competition; and in war-torn southeast Asia, people who played on the black market for high stakes the way they did weren’t messing around. These guys were both warlords.

I knew that because I’d interviewed both of them, at length, with a translator because both had to come to accept the Christian faith others had been touting, and I was doing a book about local refugees who'd been somehow, often miraculously, steered into believing in Jesus.

And I’d asked tough questions, asked them to explain exactly what they done in Laos, in the same way any of us might ask someone else a similar question, “So, back home, what did you do?”

That question brought me into the neighborhood of violence in a land desolated by war. What they did wasn’t pretty—that much I knew. Don’t get me wrong—these guys weren’t bragging about their sin as some testimonies can. That guilt was a new thing may have been most harrowing. Whatever violence they’d done was simply what each of them did to survive.

Both had become believers, and then leaders in church. Once they were warlords, in bloody competition with each other, not friends at all. But there they stood one day, grocery carts out front of them, meeting each other in peace thousands of miles away in Sioux City, Iowa, U. S. of A.

The one who told me that story still shook his head to tell it. Once upon a time, they might have killed each other; now they were brothers in Christ.

I may well have been the only person in church that Sunday who knew all of that because I think I’m the only person who spent hours with both of them, who pushed and pushed until I found out what I thought I needed to tell their stories as best I could.

But that Sunday worship, there they were, in front, directed by the pastor to separate aisles of the church, where they handed out first, the bread, and then, the wine. Take, eat, remember.

I don’t know that in my life I ever experienced a more astounding sacrament because I knew I was being offered His body and blood by men who once upon a time committed, only the Lord knows how many, capital crimes.

I couldn’t help thinking right then, how five hundred others in church that Sunday might be just as blessed if they knew too what an incredible miracle of grace was happening because another even more incredible miracle of grace already had: God almighty laid claim on his own, a pair of Tai Dam black marketeers. 

Just yesterday I read a meditation by a young preacher who said he was saddened and shocked when he read the comments on an article written by a Calvin prof who talked about the college's Prison Initiative. Some weren't taken. Some thought it awful that Calvin threw away good money on rapists and murderers.

I didn’t see the trash, but social media trolls can turn landfills into mountains.

But I couldn’t help think of that Sunday afternoon worship years ago, a combined service, when two black marketeers who’d met in a grocery store and learned to love each other as brothers and gave me, just as much a sinner, the body and blood. That Sunday, I listened to the Lord’s command to take and eat and drink a supper served up by a couple of redeemed thugs.

Still ranks as one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can take a 3rd worlder out of the 3rd world. But you can not take the 3rd world out of the 3rd worlder. Adios America. Race and gendor are the glue that hold a nation together.