It is 6:20 PM. Already the knot is rising in my stomach. I know I should’t worry, and that it does not matter how many people show up to the event tonight, but the truth is I have thrown my whole self into this, and at this point if I like it or not my heart is out there, beating on the table.
In the open.
It is 6:40 PM. I know now without a doubt that this whole trip was a mistake. Once again I have put my family in a situation that we are going to regret.
In the open.
This is not the first time either, and as I look around this almost empty room I can’t help but replay the other times I have put our family out and felt like it all was crashing down around us.
The airport in Ethiopia when we first arrived, our family of five moving to a place only I had been to, and even then only for a few short weeks, three kids falling apart emotionally around our feet as we waited for the luggage, my wife’s uneasy glances piercing my soul.
The window at the American Embassy in Ethiopia when I was told that our adoption of the girl who had been living with us would not be possible.
The book that I wrote exposing my soul, and then wanted with everything in me to take back because it made me feel so vulnerable to have myself out there.
I quickly shut off the memories before they take over, and try instead to focus on starting conversations with the few people who did come tonight.
“What is the story here with what you are doing in Ethiopia?” One woman asks as she stands near me with a red plastic cup of lemonade in her hand, a cup that she took from the table that was set up with enough food and drinks for eighty or more people.
She is one of only seven here! I think to myself as I clear my throat to explain the well rehearsed story of creating forever families.
It is 7:05 PM. Someone has to call it, we must move on with the few who are here, tell the story of what Bring Love In is all about.
Mitch calls the small group together and starts the video, I stand back aways, allowing them to watch and soak in the story of forever families-hear the heart of what our family has dedicated our lives to, but all I can think of is how none of what I prepared to say works any more with this small of a group. I must change everything and I only have a minute left before the video ends.
“Hi, we are the Benkert Family” I say, with my arms awkwardly tangled behind my back because I cannot figure out what else to do with them.
“We live in Ethiopia, and as you saw in the video, we are creating new families from widows and orphans….” I trail off for a moment, trying to rebuild a talk based around the smaller crowd, and Jessie jumps in. She knows me well, and my distress over what I perceived as a bad situation was betrayed by the stuttering words that spilled from my mouth.
“We are blessed to be here and talking with you tonight” She says. “and we are happy to share with you some of what our family is passionate about”
And there, just then, something clicks. Like the spirit of God came and started to flow in our little backyard event. Suddenly it did not matter that there were 30 chairs leaning against the fence, or that there was enough food for an army any only a mid-sized family in attendance. I knew in that moment that everyone here, was here for a reason.
I was flooded with peace.
It is 7:50 PM and Jessie did a wonderful job rescuing me and reframing the conversation in a way that got things flowing, but really something else happened then as well. As she spoke I looked around the room and asked myself a question that I should have asked a long time ago.
“Why does it matter to me how many people are here?”
The answer, of course is that it does not matter. God is here for our hearts, and the desire to be “known”, or to be “successful” on this earth often has very little to do with what He wants for us, or what He needs to get the results He wants.
What I mean is that if He wants to get something done, He does not need a crowd to make it happen. In fact Jesus was well known for disappearing as soon as a crown gathered.
And so as I looked around the room, I realized that all we were here for was to be obedient to Him, and that He would take care of the rest.
He was still in charge and always had been. It was me who was having trouble seeing my role in all this.
He knows the story of each orphan that we have placed in families, he knows about all the ones who we have not yet helped, he knows their hearts and desires, and he knows what He is doing through Bring Love In.
I let go in that moment and just began to focus instead on telling our story to the few people who were there, sharing our hearts with them and letting Him do the rest.
It is 8:20 PM. We are sitting enjoying some food with the few people who stayed behind, sharing stories about how our family came to live in Ethiopia and how thankful we are that God is using us. Despite us.
“Do you have a copy of that video about Bring Love In on DVD?” A man asked who was sitting across from me on one of the few rental chairs that were being used.
“Yes” I replied as stood from my chair and made my way over to table where we had a few copies burned.
“Here you go” I said as I handed it to him.
“I own a TV station that reaches 335,000 people and I am so compelled by the story of creating families for orphans and how God is using your family, that I am going to air the video several times over the coming weeks” He said, as though he had just told me he wanted to share it with a co-worker or something that was no big deal.
“Really?” I replied, almost unable to keep my balance.
“Yeah, God is really moving with this ministry, I can tell, and I want to help” He said.
I don’t know about you, but this is so how God works in my life, using a moment to teach me a lesson, humbling me and helping me to understand my own heart, then He moves in and shows me His.
The next few events were much more well attended, so much so that we have hardly had a chance to speak with everyone who came, but I don’t think I will ever forget the lesson I learned on that night last week when we had our first Bring Love In event and almost no one came, but God was still there.
And that is all that matters.