Tomorrow marks one year since Dallas Willard died, and even though I never met him in person, it was through his writings, especially Divine Conspiracy, that God re-introduced me to Jesus and his beautiful, expansive Kingdom message, and I am so deeply grateful for that gift.
Hajira Atamu never met Dallas Willard either.
Hajira lives in the village of Chipembe in the poorest, remotest province of the forgotten country of Mozambique. Her husband was a new follower of Christ when we moved into the area back in 2004, but Hajira was hesitant and not in a hurry to join him right away, though she always insisted on cooking for us whenever we came to study and worship with the small straggling group of believers in their village. Within a few years, though, she decided to follow Jesus and asked to be baptized.
It was from Dallas Willard that I first truly heard Jesus' definition of the Gospel (Good News): "Turn your hearts around because the Kingdom of God is right here available to you!" (Growing up, Gospel was defined as "Believe these correct things about Jesus so you can go to heaven when you die." Eventually I came to understand that there is a world of difference between those two definitions.) And it was from Dallas Willard that Jesus' brilliance came alive in the Sermon On The Mount as he painted pictures of what Life in the Kingdom is like.
When I emerged from the life stage of Foggy-From-Frequent-Night-Waking-With-Babies, I started studying regularly with my friends in Hajira's village, and we slowly went through the Sermon on the Mount in the Makua-Metto language over about a year's time. Only one of these women can read, so we do everything orally, and with a lot of repetition, sometimes reciting the passage up to ten times out loud together! After the repeated oral readings each woman would share one thing she had heard, followed by a discussion of how followers of Jesus can obey that scripture in our lives.
Twice though, I noticed Hajira got a little drowsy and didn't catch the specific verses for that day (for example, not doing good acts to be seen by others in Matthew 6), and when it came her turn to say what she heard, she would revert back to what we'd learned in the beginning: "I heard that Jesus said 'Turn your hearts around because the Kingdom of God is really close by!' "
Her response is so beautiful. Hajira can't read the Bible or Willard's Divine Conspiracy, but she's got the Jesus' announcement of good news written in her heart.
I'm grateful for the ways God used Dallas Willard to teach and inspire countless folks, including many he never met in person. Most people in the world will never write a book or blog that will be read by thousands, but many of us have had someone in our lives who spoke God's love to us or shined his light on us. We thank God for those friends, and, if we can, we thank them, too.
Peace to you,