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The Gospel of Peace

When Bible stories become real, anything is possible.

by Brad Miller

I love Star Wars.

The original trilogy was one of my favorite series as a kid, and I remember how each movie starts: with that iconic phrase…

“A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far, Away…”

I loved the feeling of distance and mystery and otherness that created. It made it more epic, greater-than-life.

But growing up, it seemed in Sunday school that Bible stories were the same way. They were so big, so epic, with larger-than-life characters. It almost felt like the story of Moses began with,

“A long time ago, in a desert far, far away…”

Or the stories of Jesus and his miracles were really

“A long time ago, in a Galilee far, far away…”

The Bible itself seemed like, “a Gospel far, far away.”

The stories always seemed distant, and I never expected that they might still be happening today. Nor did I expect to find a real-life Christian of biblical proportions in the mountain slums of Haiti.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Rumors

It’s a rough road to Onaville.

This tent city sprang up immediately after the earthquake, and at its peak had 600,000 residents, the largest in Haiti. Now it has shrunk to about 250,000, and those that remain are here to stay.

The town itself is splattered across a mountain northeast of Port-Au-Prince. With an eclectic, occasionally jarring mix of tents, tin shanties, wooden homes, government projects, cement brick buildings, barbed wire, plastic bag kites, and the gifts and scraps of charitable organizations, it’s a bit of a melting pot.

I drove with Gami and Cathi Ortiz, a long-term missionary couple at NVM. As we climbed the rocky mountainside, the shops thinned and soon there were only a few scattered shelters held up by wooden poles and covered in tin, tarps, and tattered synthetic burlap with the fading logo, “USAID – from the American People”.

I had come here to meet a man I had been hearing about for months.

Even before I left for Haiti, I was told I had to meet the guy in the mountains – Mark Arthur.

Some called him a prophet, others called him a preacher, but the best summary was simple. “You just have to meet this guy!”

As we hiked up the final hill to his home, nestled in the mountainside with his wife and children, I was ready. Ready to see what all the fuss was about. Ready to see who could inspire whispers and rumors from a whole country away.

After meeting him, my only surprise is that his story hasn’t traveled further.

Humble Home

Mark Arthur invited us into his home and someone fetched us plastic lawn chairs to sit on – an honored position for his guests. He took a seat next to us, and invited his children in.

That was my first hint I was in the presence of someone different. In Haiti, children are rarely allowed in the room when adults are speaking. Mark Arthur not only invited them, but picked one up and put her on his lap, all smiles.

I had a sudden, inescapable image of Jesus inviting the little children in a society where they are often overlooked.

With little fanfare, he launched into his story. Over the next hour I had to keep reminding myself that staring with your jaw open in astonishment is rude.

Trust, Walk, Tell

Mark Arthur was born into a non-Christian family, but as a teenager, he noticed how different some of his friends were in school.

They carried themselves differently, they had a deeper kindness and a peace about themelves, respect and love for others. When he asked, Mark Arthur found out they were Christians. He decided he wanted what they had, and he became a Christian as well.  Almost immediately, his family rejected him. And he lost everything.

Left with nothing, all he could do was listen to God. And what he heard was “I want you to walk, and to tell people about Jesus.”

So that’s what he did.

He began walking through Port-au-Prince, spending each day talking and connecting with people and telling them about Jesus.

He got married and had a son. While his wife worked to support the family, he trusted God, and he walked, and he told people about Jesus.

One night, after speaking with a large group, he felt distinctly uneasy. Mark Arthur felt that God was warning him not to stay in his house that night. His wife told him she felt the same way. So that night, they went and stayed with family instead.

That night was the night of the 2010 earthquake that toppled Port-au-Prince.

When Mark Arthur returned to his home, it was rubble. Everything crushed. He and his family had been miraculously saved by God.

But they had lost everything they owned. For the second time in his life, Mark Arthur had nothing. Without a home, they had nowhere to go except a tent camp outside the city.

Once there, Mark Arthur didn’t hesitate. He went right back to his work.

He trusted, and he walked, and he told people about Jesus.

For three years, he and his family lived in that tent city, scraping together a meager living beneath tin and tarp. But one day, he returned to his home to discover it had been sealed up. The government was closing the encampment and evicting anyone who couldn’t pay.

For the third time in his life, Mark Arthur had lost everything.

At this point, I would have been angry. I mean come on. In every circumstance Mark Arthur had been trusting. He’d never wavered in his faith, and time and time again he lost everything? I would have yelled at God, demanded to know what was going on, asked Him how much longer He was going to allow this.

But what did Mark Arthur do? He kept trusting, and kept walking, and kept following Jesus.

Onaville

Pretty soon he received a call from his church. He was told that a small home had been set aside in Onaville, and asked if he and his family would like to have it. Just like that, God provided a place to live.

And so Mark Arthur and his family moved to the mountain slum of Onaville, and into another tin and tarp dwelling. Once again, Mark Arthur returned to his task.

He trusted, and he walked, and he told people about Jesus.

And this time, amazing things started happening.

One day, people began showing up from around Onaville with supplies and labor to build a church. Mark Arthur tried to send them away, saying he wasn’t a pastor and he wanted to simply connect them to a different church, but they refused.

Many people, from different parts of town, started having the same dream about how the church would expand and grow. And people Mark Arthur had never met started coming over the mountain to church. When he tried to send them away, or tell them to go to a different church, they stubbornly refused.

“God came to us in a dream and said to go over the mountain and find you. He said that a church was waiting for us here.”

Children began having visions, and when a dark man came to harm Mark Arthur and his family, he was unable to enter their home or church. As the congregation gathered every week, God was powerfully present with them, and all were encouraged and strengthened.

Today’s Bible Stories

Sitting in that little white lawn chair in the sweltering heat, I felt both stunned into silence and practically bursting with questions (a paradoxical and rather unfortunate combination for an interview). All I could think was, This isn’t just one man’s story. This is a Bible story – happening today.

I realized he had finished talking and I wasn’t saying anything. I fumbled for a question and decided to ask him what he prays for. What is he asking God for in all of this?

“We are always praying that God makes us lower, that God keeps us where we need to be in humility toward Him.”

WHAT?!

This man is living in poverty. No power, no water, no medicine, no salary. He and his family eat whatever comes, and when nothing comes they don’t eat. His whole life he was been ceaselessly following God, and he has been ceaselessly hounded by disaster, and his one request is to be humbled?

But he wasn’t done yet.

“God has taught me that He is always with me. In moments I am discouraged, and don’t know… God sends me the hope and proof that He is there with me at all times.”

I was suddenly reminded of a concept from the Early Church. They believed there were three kinds of humans: Jews, Gentiles, and Christians. It was as if, in their view, the Christian human was almost a different species.

I had dismissed this before as mere poetry or abstract theology. But sitting in a plastic lawn chair beneath a wrinkled tarp roof, I was in awe of this man who seemed to be an altogether different creature than myself.

But then I realized,

“I’m Christian too. The Spirit that has brought him to this place is alive in me as well. Maybe, just maybe, I could find this same trust and peace and humility he shares.”

And so I asked him.

“How do you do it? How do you hold on? How are you able to keep going when time and time again everything seems to fall apart?”

He sprang up from his chair, and hurried into the other room. Emerging a moment later, Mark Arthur had a pair of shoes in his hand. They were weatherworn and quite used, a faded brown with heavy black rubber soles. One sole was detaching and the heel of the other was half-worn away. These were the shoes he had worn in the mountains for the past year, and it looked like another day could be their last.

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He handed them to me, and I held them reverently. These were the shoes he had worn as he trusted, and walked, and told people about Jesus.

All I could think to myself was, These are the shoes of the gospel of peace.

Mark Arthur smiled, embarrassed at the state of his footwear, but determined to make his point. Showing how they were about to fall apart, he said,

“I can quit today, but tomorrow may be the day that God brings me new shoes. Tomorrow may be the day that God gives me what I need to keep working.”

Not So Far Away

Leaving that tent, I was overcome with a new reality, the inescapable truth that the stories I had read as a child – stories of trust and power and God’s miraculous provision – these stories are still happening today.

Mark Arthur is living proof that Bible stories don’t stop with the Bible.

Mark Arthur is not leveraging his story into a lucrative book deal and tour. He’s not praying that God will see his righteousness and lift him out of poverty. He prays to live deeper into his situation, and to be made more humble before God.

Mark Arthur simply walks, and trusts that God will bring him new shoes. And the amazing, beautiful, glorious thing is that God does.

I know from the Bible that God has provided before. I know from Mark Arthur that God provides now. As I hold his shoes, I am filled with the wild, rushing possibility that God’s stories have never stopped, will never stop, and that there is nothing in the world to prevent my life from being one of them.

These are not the stories of a galaxy far, far away. These are the stories of God’s love. And neither height nor depth, death nor life, time nor space, can separate me from the love of God.

All I need to do is trust, and walk, and see where God takes me.