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From a Dusty Tent in Egypt

By Randy Kilgore
Who could imagine the mountains God was building in a dusty tent in that 1915 desert?

From a Dusty Tent in Egypt

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary (Psalm 107:1-2 NIV).

      Who could imagine the mountains God was building in a dusty tent in that 1915 desert?

      Zeitoun, Egypt, was a staging area for Allied soldiers heading to Gallipoli and other fronts of the War to End All Wars, as World War One was known at the time. In a world gone mad, fewer than half the soldiers who passed through the dusty tents of Zeitoun would live to see their homes again.

      At each staging area, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) organized services for the soldiers away from home. While other leaders of the YMCA entertained troops with concerts and the new invention, moving pictures, Oswald, the secretary in charge at Zeitoun, opted instead for Bible classes. His peers chuckled at his innocence. Some likely thought him daft.

      But Oswald knew something they didn't: People want to listen when they think they may hear God. So Oswald offered these world-weary, duty-driven, war-ravaged soldiers something called biblical psychology, and a strange thing happened: He packed the house!

      Imagine the picture. Hundreds of burly soldiers crowded into a tent studying something called biblical psychology. Not on Sundays only. Not occasionally. Not once a week. Every night!

      Early on in that First World War, earnest Christian leaders desperately sought to explain God to a world reeling beneath the weight of "man's inhumanity to man."?????? The world didn't seem to hear them. Frustrated by this rebuff and beleaguered by their own doubts, many followers of Jesus slipped into puzzled silence.

      Not Oswald. "I don't care what God does," he once told his wife, "I care who God is."

      How could this apparently callous comment bring comfort to anyone?

      But Oswald understood human nature better than his peers. He knew that men and women who could make sense of little else were hungry to know there was more to life than the hours that lay ahead of them. He knew they wanted more than mere distraction. They wanted answers that were bigger than the moment at hand, answers bigger than the circumstances. Answers he possessed because of his intimate relationship with the Almighty!

      How callous not to share them; how senseless to merely distract or entertain these soldiers when eternity was so close to reality for so many of them.

      So Oswald stopped trying to explain the unexplainable, stopped trying to answer the unanswerable, and focused instead on the story he knew: who God is.

      Did he have an impact? Thousands of soldiers passed through the tents of Zeitoun en route to final resting places on battlefields far from home. History tells us hundreds, probably even thousands, passed from those fields to the presence of God, saved by grace only days before in the dusty tents of Zeitoun.

      Did he have an impact? Two years later, when the young chaplain died suddenly of complications from appendicitis, the soldiers he served insisted, mind you, pleaded, for the right to bury him with full military honors. And so he was. Casket resting on gun carriage, officers in dress uniforms striding alongside. Rifles turned backwards in salute accompanied by the haunting lilt of a lonely bugle. Soldiers saying farewell in the only way they knew how to the man who spent his final hours teaching them "who God is."

      Did he have an impact? You be the judge. When Oswald died, it seemed likely his words and work would die with him---that is until Biddy (his wife) decided to collect them to distribute. A trained stenographer, for years she had been recording verbatim the words of her husband, Oswald, as he taught soldiers in Egypt and Bible students in other places.

      After he died it was Biddy who put together one of the best-selling devotional books in human history: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, the chaplain in those tents of Egypt.

      Who could have imagined the mountains God was building in a dusty tent in that 1915 desert?

      You and I are surrounded every day by people weary of their journey, desperate for a word of hope in the midst of trial. They sometimes hide their fears behind angry words or silent stares or self-indulgent distractions aimed at anesthetizing their uncertainty. They sometimes even assault the very notion of God while privately pleading with Him to deliver a sign that makes them believe. They push and shove and shout at His ambassadors in hurtful and hateful ways while secretly hoping they find just one person who shows them something they can grasp to make them believers, too.

      Not all, to be sure. God tells us with great sadness the road is full of people choosing to run away from Him. But shoulder to shoulder in our workplaces and churches and schools and homes is an army of people who are not running, people who are secretly longing to hear someone really teach them "who God is."

      Let that person be you. Let that person be me. Who can imagine the mountains of hope God might be building in the dusty tents of our daily lives?

      In the words of the psalmist, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so."??????


----Randy Kilgore


Reprinted with permission from Made to Matter: Devotions for Working Christians, Discovery House Publishers, Inc. 2008
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