Against All Odds

Mar. 30, 2024

“Unless I see the nail marks on his hands….I will not believe.”  John 20:25

He kept walking.

I tried keeping pace with my energetic guide, but a blazing afternoon sun and nibbling gnats kept sending an urgent message to my brain: Stop! Turn back!

But the walking continued. Hamilton insisted.

Every inch of his newly acquired property, every boundary marker of his organization’s 13 acre farm, needed to be shown. No room for debate. The entire perimeter would be circumvented before we returned to our parked car.

I understood why. This was no ordinary young man.

Once a “street boy,” a term used in Malawi, in one of the world’s poorest countries, Hamilton grew up owning nothing. That’s when we met. He was 10. Sleeping under a bus, bathing in a creek, finding food in trash cans. That wasn’t even the bad stuff. Life was brutal. Trauma, a euphemism for what he endured. No social services to access in Malawi, Africa. No shelters. Odds of making something out of his life were zero.  Dead or in prison by 14 certain—if he survived that long.

But a Christian missionary found him. Offered a spot in our small orphanage that was short on resources, but long on love.  Hamilton thrived.

Two meals a day, a structured environment, a little adult supervision—enough to change the trajectory of his life.  Even after a 6-year hiatus from grade school, Hamilton progressed academically, graduated from high school, went to college on a scholarship, and earned a Masters degree in the United States. He could have stayed in the U.S. and lived the good life. Instead, that same God who rescued him from the abyss, called Hamilton back home to start his own organization, reaching street kids.

Acquiring 13 acres of farmland is more than an accomplishment for a kid whose only possession were a plastic bag and a few tattered clothes. Land is an anchor. A place to stand and call home. It’s security. It’s food.

And the only way for me to experience the depth of this truth was to thrash through the corn stalks together. Walk it. Feel it. Sense its permanence. Street kids understand the significance of ownership.

For those who know me, you know I love the writing of better stories.  Stories of transformation. Stories of redemption. Stories of change. Whether in Camden or Malawi, Trenton or Uganda, Little Rock or Liberia, witnessing the rebirth of a diminished life is a sacred gift.

So with Easter in the air, I come back to the greatest of all redemption stories. But is it just a story, or does this historical event still possess a power to change a life today?

I’ll confess, I’m a skeptic at heart. Faith doesn’t always come easy. I like to listen to other view points. I appreciate the contrarian. I question the hypothesis. At the end of the day, I still want proof to convince me. Maybe that’s why Thomas—the disciple who doubts—is such an intriguing historical figure.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands,” says Thomas, to his believing friends, “I will not believe.” Sure enough, a week later, Thomas is given a chance to test the rumors. He encounters a risen Jesus who says,  “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas receives no condemnation for his doubt. Jesus respects his skepticism, his primal need to touch. Rumors and rumblings, not enough for Thomas.  Thomas, plagued with an insatiable curiosity, needs evidence.

I’m grateful Thomas didn’t get deleted from the gospel stories. He’s a character I need.

Over the years, I’ve heard sermons on every angle of the Easter story. I’ve witnessed the pageantry. Sung the songs. Read the liturgies. I’ve even seen the gimmicks. One pastor, recently posting on FaceBook, promises a “waffle bar” Easter Sunday morning for those who listen to his sermon.

Gimmicks aside, I still long for evidence. Does this resurrection event still alter hearts? Still compel people to care enough to search alleyways for abandoned kids like Hamilton? Still heal trauma and allow deadened kids a chance to live purposed, fruitful and abundant lives? If it does, a waffle bar should hardly be needed to get us out of bed Sunday.

Theologian Candide Moss writes, Christianity “…is an unlikely success story. A first century religious leader named Jesus was brutally executed as a criminal…His death should have ended the movement. He left behind him a ragtag group of poorly educated Aramaic-speaking fisherman and craftsmen; men with some street smarts who lacked resources, experience, or connections. And yet, tradition insists, this handful of men seeded the religion that would change the world.”

So I huff and puff, trying to keep pace with the miracle who walks before me. Hamilton’s head turns and sees me lagging. “Just another 3 acres,” he heralds with a radiant smile. Onward he presses with the joy of a redeemed man. That’s all the evidence I need today. I take another step forward.

A wonderful Easter.

Bruce Main
Founder & President

P.S. Thanks for being with me this Lenten season. Your comments are always appreciated and encourage me deeply.