Our stories are the true catalysts for transformation

I went to a Lutheran seminary in Tanzania and in Jerusalem then I was ordained in the Lutheran Church. I worked in a parish then taught at the seminary. After that I did graduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While there, I also substituted as pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer as well as assistant to the Director of the Ecumenical African Institute at the Notre Dame Center.

I came to the US 24 years ago, for graduate studies at Yale University and later at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

That is one side of my story and it is quite bright. There is another side. During the years in New Haven, Connecticut and in Cincinnati, I went through divorce. First, there is no divorce in the church in Tanzania. Second, a man of the cloth does not fail, he is made of iron, or steel. That is the perception people impose on a man of the cloth.

The internal anguish I went through while trying to appear strong outside led me to drinking. And even this pain was not known to my friends. I remember, one day – well, it was on several occasions – after service in this one church in West Chester where I substituted, a friend invited me to his house for lunch. He said, “I heard you like whiskey!” Then he brought out a special bottle he had bought for me.

I don’t know where he got the idea that I liked whiskey because the truth was I hated it because it tasted bitter to me. But I had to pretend that I liked it for the sake of his hospitality. And after lunch, he fetched another bottle and packed them for me to take home with me.

Nobody knew the pain I was going through.

God rescued me from all that when I met a man from City Gospel Mission who has remained a dear friend to-date. And I continue to tell my story because: a). Everyone has a story. It is unique, it is given to you and you only. You own it, and only you can tell it. b). We are given the story for a purpose. We do not create the story; God gives it to us for a purpose. c). The story is transformative. It is intended to transform us and when we share it, it transforms another person and ultimately we transform the world.

The mistake we make is to not tell our story. There are two reasons why we don’t tell our story.

One, society has taught us to categorize everything into good and bad. So I can see my story as not good and his or hers as good. The truth is, all our stories, “good” or “bad”, as I have pointed out, have a purpose of transformation. Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of South Africa, once told this story: A drunk stopped a pedestrian and asked him, “Which is the other side of the street?” The pedestrian pointed, “That is the other side of the street”. The drunk shook his head in confusion, then said, “That is very strange. When I was there they told me this is the other side of the street”.

The second reason is simply thinking that we own the story to keep. A friend told a story of his 6 year old daughter. She has a talent for drawing and whenever she draws a picture that she considers to be particularly good she gives it away to somebody else. Naturally her mother says, “Oh! This is a beautiful picture; you should keep it”. But this little girl is telling her story through drawing, and rightly she shares it rather than keep it for herself.

We are here for a reason and whatever happens to us is part of that reason, part of the whole story. Whether we categorize it as “good” or “bad”, it has a purpose in the larger picture, and that purpose is transformation. It transforms us; it will transform another person when we tell the story; and ultimately it will transform the world.

Finally, remember what Paul says in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose”.

There are many ways of telling our story.  Here I am telling my story. Each one of us will have to find a way of telling that story. That little girl shares her story through drawing pictures.

Our story, more than anything else, is the transformational catalyst.

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