Part III Stephen, Captured by the Love of Jesus
“The wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” *
Last time we read how Stephen and the seven other freedom fighters were on their way to bomb a bank, when they saw a very large newly erected tent. A Christian meeting was about to start. Inside were 4000 people. There was music, and singing began.
Stephen went into the tent. His plan was to listen; and then, at a suitable moment, to go out and give the signal to the others to throw hand grenades and petrol bombs into the four entrances to the tent. He tells us what happened next.
“I pushed in through the crowd of bodies to where I could see. At that moment the singing stopped and a speaker was announced. I was amazed to see a woman about to preach, a woman of great beauty. She said, ‘I am Rebecca Mpongose from Soweto.’ She went on to speak of some friend of hers called Jesus, and of how then her life had really begun. His love had transformed everything for her. I thought, ’Who has she found? Who is this Jesus?’ I had heard the name somewhere. Christianity for me meant God. I had to listen, I longed to hear more. The charm of the girl was such and the joy she showed attracted me so that I could not leave even when she stepped down and the main speaker was announced.
“He was a tall black man, Shadrach Maloka. He stepped up, took the microphone, stood, and just stared – stared at the crowd. There was total silence as we all stared back. Suddenly he shouted, ‘The wages of sin is death!’*
“Then he remained, just standing silently and staring. And his words rang like an echo in my head, ‘Sin is death! … sin is death! … sin is death! Through my mind flashed all the evil things I had done of late, all the hatred I had shown. Death! Death! I knew it; I did not need to be told that I was going to die as I had lived, die in evil and misery. My mind flashed back to my family: how I hated my father and mother and aunt.
“Still Shadrach stood. Then his great dark eyes filled with tears, and he bent over with loud sobbing. Then solemnly and slowly he began to speak, ‘I am crying because the Holy Spirit has told me that many people here tonight are about to die.’
“I nearly dropped the bag of bombs with the shock of it! How did he know? But his voice like thunder repeated, ‘Many of you are going to die tonight.’ And again, ‘You are going to die, you are going to die!’
“Somehow they knew! I must act fast and I got ready to leave. But the preacher was explaining, ‘If you work for the devil, you will get his wages: death.’ And he was pointing with his finger – straight at me. It seemed as if he knew! And he went on to speak warmly of Jesus, poor and powerless and from an oppressed race like me. But Jesus had God’s power, and healed people and helped them; but finally was murdered by those he had come to save. And because of his death he made peace with God for us, so that we might not die, but have unfading life.
“And tears began to run down my cheeks. Tears for all the years of pain, loneliness, self-hatred and fear I had known. If this great burden could not be lifted off me by this Jesus, I no longer wanted to live. Instead of going to the exit I pushed my way to the front to fall at Shadrach’s feet.
“A moment later explosion after explosion tore the tent. Amidst screams and sudden panic, flames leapt up. Someone had thrown petrol bombs. And outside, as people fled, there was gunfire.
[Later I learned that a much larger and better armed group than ours had made the attack. And police came to stop us going out, while outside a gunfight began. Forced to stay inside because of this, Shadrach had opportunity to talk with me.]
“I just wanted to talk with Shadrach and ask him how I could exchange my poisoned mind and poverty for Jesus’ riches. In this place there was love and peace, and I wanted it.
I asked him, ‘You spoke about Jesus. Can your Jesus save even someone like me?’
‘Yes,’ he said.’ Jesus died for you. God loves you. But tell me about yourself first – and why you want this Jesus’.
“I told my story of rejection and utter poverty. And as I went on, tears filled his eyes again. He explained, ‘You see. I too was not wanted. My mother was a fourteen-year girl who had been raped. When I was born, I was rescued from drowning in a toilet where I had been left wrapped in a towel.’ Then I realised that Shadrach understood me and loved me. He read to me God’s promise from the Bible.
“Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” (Psalm 27:10)
(གསུང་མགུར 27: 10) ངེད་ཀྱི་ཕ་མས་ང་ལ་སྤངས་སྲིད་ཀྱང་། འོན་ཀྱང་གཙོ་བོ་དཀོན་མཆོག་གིས་ང་ལ་ལྟ་རྟོགས་གནང་ཡོང་།
He explained how God and Jesus are the same, ‘Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus was simply God on earth. Jesus would take me up.’
“And I knelt and prayed for the first time in my life, ‘God, I have nothing; I am nothing. I can’t read. I can’t write. My parents don’t want me. Take me up, God, take me up. I am sorry for the bad I have done. Jesus, forgive me and take me now.’
“Immediately I was astonished by a great feeling of relief and peace and joy like a wind that had lifted me off my feet.
“That night I went back to sleep in my sandy bed under the bridge; but there was a peace now which never left me. I looked up at the thousands of stars glittering like diamonds in the blackness of the sky. ‘God’, I whispered,’ Why couldn’t I see Your beautiful stars before?’ I could talk to God now. So I did talk. I told Him, ‘I want to spend the rest of my life telling people about You.’
“And next day Stephen was telling people what had happened to him in the tent that night.”
*The sutra “The wages of sin is death”, that Shadrach quoted, is Romans 6:23. Yet God’s undeserved gift of love for the believer is eternal life in Jesus Christ.
(རོ་མཱ་པ། 6: 23) དེས་ན་སྡིག་པའི་གླ་ཆ་འཆི་བ་ཡིན༌ཡང༌། དཀོན་མཆོག་གི་ཐུགས་རྗེའི་གནང་སྦྱིན་ནི་བདག་ཅག་གི་གཙོ་བོ་མཱ་ཤི་ཀ་ཡེ་ཤུའི་ནང་དུ་ཡོད༌པའི་མཐའ་མེད་པའི་ཚེ་སྲོག་དེ་ཡིན་ནོ།།
“God shows His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
(རོ་མཱ་པ། 5:8) འོན་ཀྱང་སྐྱབས་མགོན་མཱ་ཤི་ཀ་ནི་བདག་ཅག་ད་དུང་སྡིག་ཅན་ཡིན་པའི་དུས༌སུ། བདག་ཅག་གི་དོན་དུ་སྐུ་གྲོངས༌པ་ཡིན། དེ་ལས་དཀོན་མཆོག་གིས་ཁོང་གི་བྱམས་པ་ནི་བདག་ཅག་ལ་མངོན་པར་མཛད༌དོ།།
As for ourselves, we must believe in God’s love; there is nothing else we can do, for we cannot earn the life He offers: “For by grace have you been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
(ཨེ་ཕེ་སི་པ། 2:8) མདོར་ན། དད་པའི་སྒོ་ནས་ཐུགས་རྗེས་ཁྱོད་རྣམས་ལ་ཐར་པ་ཐོབ་པར་མཛད་པ༌ལས། རང་ལ་བརྟེན་པ་མ་ཡིན་པར་དཀོན་མཆོག་གིས་གནང་བ་ཡིན་ནོ།།
Stephen was later on given education by the same Mission to which Shadrach Maloka belonged. He spent the rest of his life proclaiming the Gospel, the good news of salvation through Jesus, both in Africa and around the world.