March 19, 2008

From Boys to Men

2008 1508 page20 capONEY IS SO TIGHT AT OUR Adventist mission school in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan, that to make ends meet, we operate several industries to fund the elementary school. We often hire non-Adventists to work in these industries, and through our witness some are brought to Christ. As the business adviser for the school, I often wander through these shops.
One Tuesday morning Yora’s father came in unexpectedly. He didn’t approach me, nor did he say a word to me; he 
didn’t have to. He had a serious look on his face. Yora, a hard-working, quiet type, was called outside. There both father and son sat almost wordless for a few minutes. Then they left.
Sometimes nearly a dozen guys work in the woodworking shop. That day they were busy working and didn’t notice the father’s presence. But I noticed. From the minute he came through the shop door, I knew something was wrong. From 
a distance I watched to see what would happen. I couldn’t understand much Russian, yet I understood every word he said with his body, with his hands, with his face, with his eyes. His message showed particularly in his eyes.
Rising to the Occasion
The rush order came in early that afternoon. I could tell something unusual was happening when the delivery truck suddenly left. Minutes later it returned with 20 pieces of old, rough-sawn lumber. Instantly all the kids in the woodshop came forward to unload the lumber and run it through the planer and the joiner. Work on half a dozen other jobs came to a halt.
2008 1508 page20I have seen this group of kids make some of the nicest cabinetry, furniture, and doors in all of Kyrgyzstan. Yet this day they asked Viya, a retired man from across the street, to do the job. No one in the shop was old enough or experienced enough for this job; only Viya could be called upon in a time like this.
I had never seen Viya work, but you could tell by looking at his hands he had used these kinds of tools before. He didn’t waste a step. With simple directions he guided the kids.
Everyone knew Viya would create in a few hours what would take them days to do. I stood there amazed, because at twice their age I had never witnessed a project being done this way before. A transformation occurred in the shop that day.
Another client, the brick director, came in as they worked. He noted only casually what was being made. And while I couldn’t speak his language, I could tell he was looking for Yora. He was upset because his doors weren’t being made fast enough. So when he asked one of the guys in the shop for Yora, the answer surprised him.
Teenagers imagine themselves invincible. In the morning, Yora had worked on the brick director’s doors, and now in the afternoon we worked for Yora. Everyone knew we were working for the boy, but none knew quite how to do it, save one.
Viya, the expert, made short work of the job. An odd-looking, tapered, hexagon container soon began to take shape, with lots of odd bevels and joinery. He made it with simple tools—just a saw, a plane, some nails, a square, and a hammer. Hardly measuring anything, he pinched the heads off some of the nails with a pair of pliers.
Precious Cargo

Questions for Reflection

1. How old were you when you became aware of some life's greater realities? What event(s) highlighted them?

2. Why is it so hard to think of eternal realities when things are going well?

How do you fortify yourself against the artificial, transitory distractions of life? Be specific.

How does doing something for others help us reflect God's love? What would make our witness even more effective?

Yora, with his brothers, his sister, and his father, came back late in the afternoon when the project was nearly done. After making a single measurement, they returned to their battered old car. Hardly a word was spoken by anyone. None seemed needed, as the measurement had been correct. When I left about 5:00, the transition was evident, and nothing more could be done to speed up the process.

The next morning when I returned to the shop, that pile of old, rough lumber was ready to leave. The boards were covered by bright red velvet, nicely fitted to that oddly tapered box. You couldn’t tell by looking the depth of thought and experience that had gone into it, yet its mere existence had caused anguish among the guys. Anxiety was cut into each face, glued into their voices, chiseled into their spirits.
No one lingered in the shop; no one wanted to get close to the finished product. It had ceased being just a wooden box; it had become a jewel case with human proportions.
Later in the morning relief came when a squad of men loaded the coffin into a white van and drove away with it.
On Thursday afternoon, the men from the wood shop took an hour off work to be with Yora at his mother’s funeral. I say men, because although on Tuesday morning they were boys, by Thursday, they became men. They grew up almost overnight.
Living With Purpose
What happened in those few days to those boys happens to each of us. We realize that we have within us an emotion called love. Where did it come from? How did we get it?
It comes from a God who first had this trait, who made us after His image, who loved us so much He was willing to lay down His life for us, so that one day the effects of sin and death would be no more.
That’s how my boys became men; they recognized individually, through the unselfishness of others, that love exists. There is a God who loves them and puts love inside them long before they become men. It is God who makes men.
Jack McNeilus wrote this while serving the Tokmok Training School in Kyrgyzstan.