The early part of my recent trip to northern Africa to report on the Sudanese refugee crisis was, to all appearances, a disaster. A planned two-hour layover turned into a two-day stopover when a connecting flight was inexplicably canceled. Then, when I arrived at my destination - Chad - the authorities refused to grant me entry, and they put me on a plane to Cameroon - not where I wanted to be.
As I began turning to God for direction, the first verse of a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, came into my head:
Shepherd, show me how to go
O'er the hillside steep,
How to gather, how to sow, -
How to feed Thy sheep;
I will listen for Thy voice,
Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
All the rugged way.
("Poems," page 14)
Thinking about each word, I realized the author was describing how we can pray to God - and how God, our Shepherd, responds.
"Shepherd." What a humble way to start a prayer. It says, "I know You're in charge. You know what's best for me."
"...show me..." It's different from just "tell me." It's like when you ask a grocery-store clerk where, say, the salsa is. Some clerks just say, "Try aisle nine. Maybe on the left." But others will take you to the correct aisle and show you where it is. That's what God does for us.
"...how to go..." It's more than just where to go. It's how to get there - which steps to take and where to turn. In my case, I already knew where I needed to go - Chad. I just didn't know how to get there. God began to show me.
The next flight to Chad wasn't for four days. But I heard about an overnight train that would get me halfway there. I've always loved trains, so I jumped aboard.
The poem continues: "O'er the hillside steep," Not up the hillside steep, but over it. Our Shepherd doesn't take us halfway up the mountain and leave us to scramble the rest of the way alone. He takes us over it.
On the train I met a man who was taking the same bus I needed for the next leg of the trip. When we got off the train, he led us through a crowd to the right bus. Six hours later, when we got to my stop, he jumped off and found me a bus headed to Chad. The last one of the day was leaving in 10 minutes.
This was becoming a seamless journey.
"How to gather, how to sow, - How to feed Thy sheep...." As a reporter I'm often gathering information. But the poem reminded me I was also there to sow - and to "feed Thy sheep." Our purpose, on a business trip, or in the midst of a day at the office or home, is to feed His sheep - to help and bless our fellow man.
It was a small thing, but the passenger next to me didn't have food or water for the long ride. I shared some of mine with him.
Also, because our purpose is to help our fellow man, God guides and guards us in that task. That was a comforting thought as we pulled into a scrubby town to spend the night. It didn't seem like the safest spot. But, confident my Shepherd was watching over me, I curled up and got some sleep.
"I will listen for thy voice, lest my footsteps stray..." After asking God to show us the way, we've got to listen. At one point the next day, the minibus broke down. I was tempted to bolt and look for a better ride. But a calmer sense prevailed. If God had gotten me this far, He wasn't going to let my footsteps stray now. Soon we were motoring on.
"I will follow and rejoice, all the rugged way." I hadn't chosen this route. But by taking it, I arrived in a certain city several days earlier than I otherwise would have. It turned out a man I needed to talk to was leaving on vacation in two days. If I'd followed my original itinerary, I would have missed him.
So my Shepherd had shown me how to go - and had gotten me there just in time. I rejoiced - and got to work.