Back in May of this year (wow, we haven’t blogged in awhile!), as the third term of our school year was just getting under way, Kijabe Hospital was gearing up for its centennial celebration, 100 years of God’s faithfulness in East Africa through medical missions. In honor of the event, Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta scheduled a visit to shake hands and tip his hat to the quality care Kijabe Hospital has provided all these years.
In anticipation of his visit, the community of Kijabe was ready to roll out the red carpet (almost literally). If you’ve ever traveled the road down the escarpment from the main highway to our compound, you know it is certainly not fit for a presidential motorcade, so it received one of the best facelifts we’ve seen in three years. But there was a good chance he would arrive by helicopter, so RVA administration prepared for a possible landing on our school’s rugby pitch.
It wouldn’t be right for him to land on our field without a proper Kenyan greeting, so this particular Friday, the entire student body and staff were donned in their Sunday best, just in case we would be called upon to line the field and welcome him. Emails and student announcements prepped students and staff to keep any photos off of social media. There was talk of the “presidential toilet” (not even joking) and how it would be properly transported down the hill. It turns out that the tunnel underneath the railroad wasn’t quite wide enough for the trailer it usually travels on!
As it turned out, we never did catch a glimpse of him. The helicopter landed on the airstrip below the hospital instead. But oh, were we prepared! Here’s a picture of my third period Algebra class, all decked out and ready for the visit that never was.
A few years ago, I was teaching at Beaver Falls High School in Western Pennsylvania. Two weeks into the school year, in the height of high school football season, we were graced with a visit from Joe Namath, the school’s most famous alum. “Broadway Joe” was celebrating his 50th high school reunion, visiting his alma mater for the first time since he went off and got famous as a star quarterback in the NFL.
In anticipation of the big day, the first two weeks of school were a little crazy. It was kind of a big deal, really. The entire town (school, county, city of Pittsburgh, ESPN, HBO, NFL films, the Golf channel?) was watching as Joe was ushered back to the place where it all began; as he and several of his 1960 and 1961 high school teammates were honored; people lining up for autographed jerseys, t-shirts, football helmets, etc. That Friday our football team played their biggest rivals at home. Classes were canceled so a pep assembly could be held, a visiting college band played before the big game, and Joe was honored in front of a pregame crowd that blew every previous headcount at the local football stadium out of the water. Everybody who was anybody turned out for the game to see if they could snap a picture or shake his hand. Just like everybody else, I was caught up in the “how many degrees of separation are there between you and Joe” frenzy. All because the guy used to be able to throw a football (it’s possible he still can).
This past weekend the celebrity theme has pervaded most conversations yet again, this time on a slightly more global scale. U.S. President Barack Obama made his long-awaited visit to Kenya, flying into Nairobi on Friday night and staying through the weekend. The statistics associated with the size of his entourage, the vehicles, the cost of the trip, and the groundwork laid in preparation are staggering. Nobody knew quite what to expect in the city as far as traffic patterns and security measures, but be assured that the world was watching and Kenya was ready. Televisions were tuned to his live news conference, newspaper headlines for the past two weeks were dedicated to this epic event, and Obama was on everybody’s mind and lips. Even in our local church service Sunday morning, his name must have been mentioned 7 times; a few during the announcement and prayer request time, as an object lesson during the sermon, and again in the closing comments before the benediction!
In each case, I was impressed by the shear anticipation and reception of these honored guests. There was a just-hold-everything-and-wait-until-______’s-visit-is-over-so-we-can-get-on-with-life-as-usual mentality that gripped each respective community. Celebrities and politicians are big news. They become THE topic of conversation. I, like everyone else, was caught up in the hype, chatting about the itineraries, plotting the best spot to snap a photo, wondering how close I could get to the action while still looking casual. It’s not every day you get to rub shoulders with a guy like one of these: the myth, the man, the legend.
And oh, by the way, I set aside a few minutes this afternoon for some quiet time in the Word of God. This weekend I told more stories about a guy I’ll never meet than about how Jesus has reached down and redeemed me from the pit of hell, dying so I don’t have to, giving His life so that I might live eternally. I focused more on “Broadway Joe” than the Alpha and the Omega, more on the Commander in Chief than the Creator of the Universe.
Sure, it’s neat to meet someone famous, to be around when someone who’s really done something is visiting, to tell people that so-and-so was in the area. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that. But to watch my excitement over a fellow human being, a fellow sinner, a talented athlete rise to a level that beats out the zeal that I have for my Lord is shameful.
As I’ve observed these reactions to human stars, it struck me how sinful and idolatrous I really am. Thank the Lord that He forgives me, that He’s taken care of the depths of my sin, that He’s infinitely more faithful to me than I am to Him.
King David had the right idea of what true star power looks like. Although an imperfect man himself, he got it right when he reflected on the accomplishments of his hero, his God, his Savior.
“Many, O LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare.” Psalm 40:5
A Super Bowl MVP trophy? Not bad.
Elected to a position of national or global influence? Impressive.
Eternal victory over sin and the grave, God becoming man and dying so we can live?