Right after Sharon’s speech returned, one of Hama’s nephews was given an Operation Christmas Child box by an NGO that was passing them out. Along with school supplies the box also contained some scripture portions and a plastic Jesus who would quote verses when you squeezed his hand. “I am the bread of life” was one of the phrases he would cheerfully intone in a Christian-radio American accent.
Hama and his wife were thrilled and swiftly commandeered action figure Jesus from their nephew and put it up on their wall. They were so excited to show it to me. For my part, I groaned inwardly as soon as I saw it. It’s remarkable how many of the regrettable parts of consumer Christianity still make it to frontier settings overseas. And yet, by the grace of God, I have learned they can sometimes be appreciated in a wholesome way by our Central Asian friends, free as they are from much of the attending baggage.
Plastic Jesus went up on Hama’s wall, surrounded on all sides by Islamic paraphernalia. I remember that on the opposite wall there was a rather frightening picture of Medina, with a dark, brooding, red sky. The two stood facing each other for the next couple months, the time when Hama wanted to follow Jesus, but was still held back by his fear. It was a showdown, a face-off oddly representative of the real spiritual forces at play. For me it also represented the way Hama and I had been talking. I had a sense the whole time that I should stay away from polemics and attacking his native religion, Islam. I felt that if Jesus was held up as beautiful and powerful that everything else would fade.
Indeed, that’s how it happened for Hama. Like the yeast that’s inserted into the lump of dough or the mustard seed into the garden, Jesus went into the midst of Hama’s life (and living room) and changed everything from the inside out. As Hama and his wife eventually walked away from Islam, the different Islamic pictures and amulets on their walls also came down. Only plastic Jesus remained. I thought we might need to have some kind of talk about not venerating images, but Hama beat me to it by giving away plastic Jesus to a mover who was fascinated by it. Hama’s wife was a bit upset that he had given it away, but for my part I was relieved.
Thus ended the saga of plastic Jesus, an unexpected parable of what the real Jesus was doing in the heart of my friend. How shall we apply this strange tale? First, be amazed at the creativity of the Holy Spirit. He can truly use anything to draw those he is saving. Second, if you are ever packing shoe boxes for distribution among children overseas, I would ask you kindly to not include Jesus action figures. God can use anything – but seriously, just don’t do it.
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