Having just arrived in West Africa, my friend and I approached the Togolese immigration entrance. The warm, humid air was a welcome shift from the winter weather at home. Shortly, however, the welcome was disrupted by uncertainty: My friend didn’t have the yellow card with vaccination information on it. Prior to our departure, the consulate had declared it wasn’t needed. My friend was ushered into another line by men in white lab coats, and since he didn’t speak the language, I went with him.
I felt a flash of fear as I realized he might have to get an inoculation right there in the unfamiliar airport. But just as quickly came the thought that no matter what situation we found ourselves in, we had not flown outside the “kingdom of heaven,” which Jesus talks about in his Sermon on the Mount. Nowhere in the world could there exist a place that was outside the control and blessing of God and the spirit of Christ. This kingdom that Christ Jesus talked about, that he said was within us, is what surrounds us. It’s the only true environment. It’s the only region, location, place that we can possibly be in.
As we continued to wait in line and pray, I began to wonder if the people in front of us who were entering and exiting had actually been inoculated. I didn’t see any evidence that they’d been given a shot, and they weren’t carrying yellow cards. It then occurred to me that what we were about to face in the small airport room was not an inoculation but an excuse to ask for a bribe.
A short time later, I began speaking with a European man ahead of us in line who was very out of sorts about this delay. He said he enters Togo regularly many times a year and had never before been stopped for not having a yellow card. He expressed what I had been thinking – that this could be a diversion to get a bribe. The conversation helped me see clearly what needed to be addressed in my prayers. Corruption tends to breed a feeling of victimization. Being held for a bribe was making this man in front of me feel at the mercy of the authorities. And those who ask for bribes often feel powerless to change a system of inequity and dominance that makes corruption seem commonplace.
With an awareness of God’s love as present with everyone, I thought of the many times I had talked with individuals in different parts of Africa about praying to heal corruption. Each time, resignation and hopelessness cracked slightly to admit the all-power of God’s goodness and ability to provide for His children.
I began to feel a strong conviction of the spiritual equality and love between peoples and nations. No language, economic status, or ethnicity can divide hearts that know they have one divine source. I mentally refused to agree with the victimization of corruption that is premised on unmet needs and vulnerability. No matter how entrenched in thought, corruption could not withstand the light of Christlike love and equality that breaks through darkness and powerlessness. I knew that these men in lab coats in the airport, and everyone in any country where corruption seems to be common, were not outside the divine security and stability that come from knowing God.
At this point, I still wasn’t sure what the other side of the door would bring, but I had a clear sense that all we could see when we went in would be evidence that good and love were present. Shortly, we were ushered into the room.
The men asked for our yellow cards and said that if we didn’t have them, we would need to pay something to them to let us pass through immigration. I told them we were part of a church and that we believed in prayer for healing, and that we couldn’t give them any money. I went on to explain that we were a Christian-based church, and they immediately began laughing heartily and interrupted with, “Is there any other kind of church?” The laughter broke right through any intensity in the room, and replaced it with a sense of oneness and unity.
As we were laughing together, the men then proceeded to ask for our prayers. They said, “Do you really believe that prayer works?” When I said yes, they asked if we would pray for them. My friend and I said we would be happy to, and they ushered us out, saying, “You need to go and get busy with your prayer work! Don’t forget to pray for us!” We took their request seriously, and prayed to see that God’s power over corruption would be felt.
We moved up to the front of the immigration line, and the rest of the journey to exit the airport passed without incident. I continued to think about that encounter, and how love and unity overrule corruption.
No matter how entrenched corruption may seem in parts of the world, it is fought through individual minds and hearts turning toward a deeper spirit of oneness that connects each of us. Every action, no matter how small, to face down corruption plants the seeds for future generations to be established on a foundation of honesty and equality.