There are some moments in life you never forget. They become embedded pictures in your mind, even when the details grow fuzzy. My first visit to an African marketplace did it for me.
The year was 1986.
Only a few months in the capital city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a friend took me to the Trechville market. My senses were overwhelmed with the sights and smells of the multi-layered, open-aired shopping mall. Walking close behind my friend, I passed women wearing brightly colored pagnes, selling red tomatoes, yams, plantain, and other local crops. Smells of fresh meat and fish invaded my nostrils, while live snails fell off tables, causing me to jump to avoid crushing someone’s income.
We made our way through the maze of food vendors to climb a wide staircase to the second level, where we would find other wares. As I made my way up, I let my eyes wander over the place we had just left below. I gasped at the sheer number of people, and an image immediately came to mind — the scene in Gone with the Wind, when Scarlett O’Hara is making her way through the hundreds of injured at the Atlanta train yard. It’s a moment when the reality of war smacks Scarlett’s idealized world, and leaves an impression on all who witness the film.
My twenty-something young mind was shaken that day while at the market. I could no longer see individual Ivoirians, but the multitudes, and it shook my faith. Not that I couldn’t believe God was big enough to move among such a people, but that I could be of any good in making an impact as a single, American girl. What was he thinking? What difference could I make?
Thankfully, no one let me run home after that initial visit to the market, for I grew to love the place and shopped there many times in the two years I was privileged to live in the country. I’m also glad I have not forgotten that first impression, because it has remained a reminder of the enormous task we have in sharing the good news of Jesus with the world.
Did my time in the country impact even a portion of the population? What about just one? I don’t know, because God doesn’t hold us responsible for the results, only the obedience in answering his call. I did my best with the task I was given. I trust him for the rest.
While my first impression may have overwhelmed me, it also served to humble me and make me thankful that he’s the one who brings the increase.
So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.*
What has God impressed you with that has changed your perspective on life and ministry? Keep it in mind to help keep things in perspective, because Satan wants us to be so overwhelmed that we quit running the race. God wants us to be overwhelmed in order to be motivated to press on to his glory.
Let those first impressions lead you to make an impression for Jesus.
Grace and Peace
*1 Corinthians 3:7 (NIV).