'Take courage. It is I."

Jesus calming the storm

"Take heart, it is I; have no fear." -- Matthew 14:27, RSV

An op-ed piece written for the ECHO, the Southern Nazarene University student newspaper

I'm going to spend much of July in Caracas, Venezuela doing some seminars for Haitian immigrant church leaders. Because of language barriers (they speak mostly Haitian Creole; the Venezuelans speak only Spanish), the Haitians who've sought a better economic life in Venezuela are somewhat isolated. I happen to speak Haitian Creole. So, they've invited me down to lead three weeks' worth of nightly seminars for them.

To brush up on my rusty language skills, I've got Haitian Creole New Testament recordings going in my car every time I turn on the key. While I'm brushing up on the language I've also been turning back through some memory pages of the four years we spent in Haiti.

One of my memories is about an encounter in an isolated Haiti valley. As I thought about something a pastor said to me there, I thought about the end of school and the uncertainties that brings to many in our campus community.

Are you worried about some things out there in the future? Are you graduating but are still very uncertain about what you"re going to do? Are you headed home for the summer into a disastrous family situation? Do you feel overwhelmed at times by friends or family who sneer at beliefs and convictions you hold very dear?

May I give you some good words from two events that happened 2,000 years apart? The first is a Biblical one. About two years into Jesus' public ministry, His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee one day without Him. Suddenly they were engulfed in a storm. Their little fishing boat bobbed up and down in the waves, and they became terrified when they saw something or someone moving towards them on the water.

Then the seeming apparition spoke: "Take courage. It is I. Don't be afraid." It was Jesus (Mark 6:50).

Jesus' presence chased away their anxiety and distress.

The second event came during our four years as missionaries in the Caribbean island nation of Haiti. One day driving along a dusty dirt road in central Haiti, I encountered my friend Pastor Odius Merzilus. This 35-year veteran of the pastoral ministry was walking up to a mountain village where he was trying to plant a new church.

I stopped and we talked about the lack of rain. We talked about the malnourished kids coming to his school. We talked about the opposition some of his people were encountering at the hands of voodoo followers. Then, our talk turned to the Lord and what He was doing in our lives. As we parted that day, Pastor Merzilus' leathery face crin goodbye to me.

They were typical Haitian parting words. On that day kled into a smile. "Pran kouraj (Take courage)," he shouted as he waved they reminded me in a particular way of that Sea of Galilee vignette.

In the desperate situations of life, we sometimes cannot trust our senses. But when we look up, our Lord is there. In the anxious moments of life, we need to listen for His voice: "It is I. Do not be afraid."

We need not fear even the worst storms of life. We are in the hands of Him who is Victor and Master over all.

So, are you heading into a summer with Youth in Mission and still lack a lot of support money? Listen to Pastor Merzilus echo the words of Jesus: "Pran kouraj (Take courage)."

This summer, will you encounter a friend or family member who will make fun of your beliefs and lifestyle choices? Listen to Pastor Merzilus echo the words of Jesus: "Pran Kouraj (Take courage)."

Are you facing difficult situations at home? Take courage. Listen to Pastor Merzilus echo the words of Jesus: "Pran kouraj (Take courage)."

Are future opportunities not opening up as you had hoped? Listen to Pastor Merzilus echo the words of Jesus: "Pran Kouraj (Take courage)."

Are you wondering whether to try to fix a broken relationship? Listen to Pastor Merzilus echo the words of Jesus: "Pran kouraj (Take courage)."

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Matthew 14:27 in various English translations

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Other articles I have written for the SNU student newspaper: Misgivings about Lent     Lessons from Italy     Life's legacy: Reflections after my father-in-law's death     Is cussing okay for Christians?

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