Found In Translation


Eric Greitens lived better than a half dozen good full lifetimes before he saw the tail lights of middle age. 


Think of how you and I filled our days as undergrads.  Greitens crammed his with volunteer human service in (eyes widen here) Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, China, Albania, Cambodia, Mexico.  He slipped for a short stay into India for an elbow-rub with Mother Teresa.  It’s a dizzying passport, yoked to an academic pedigree that might make Dr. Oz feel like Jimmy Buffett. 


Greitens is a Rhodes scholar, so distinguished at Oxford, the place offered him a lifetime supply of tweed-covered ego massage — thinking, teaching, writing — and the high-dollar consulting that swings from its shoelaces.  


He said no.


At Tufts this past spring, Eric Greitens offered a commencement address that translated all the punch-drunk clichés about big dreams into something of real use, actual meaning.  He challenged the class to live magnanimously.  To do something with themselves that serves humankind with sacrifice and courage.  To grow celebrated and rich had no place in his speech.  He wanted the kids to get after the needs of the world. 


Eric Greitens would run from defining himself a Christian missionary.  He even takes a gentle swipe at them in his book, The Heart and the Fist.  In it, he never equates serving refugees, dying children, the pogrom-threatened with Agape love.  He writes little about evangelism, nor does he wax about Jesus. 


But he lives a brand of love that Christ digs — the translation as reliable and sweet as Bible school Kool Aid.   


In the book, Greitens describes a pair of encounters in Rwanda with a Christian missionary from Texas — Karen.  She’s smart, confident, kind, with sky-scraping sun-blonde hair.  Her smile shines, wide as a Chiclet box, surely the envy of every pageant queen mother from Houston to the Rio Grande.


Eric met her the day she might have saved his life.  Some mighty testy Rwandan soldiers were grilling him hard when she drove up in a cloud of dust and mollified them with “Howdy, y’all… Y’all be good now.”  She freshened it all with apple juice and cookies, as if the whole thing were a skit at a Baptist summer camp.  It worked.  That brave woman had won the day with her reputation for serving, sacrificially, a threatened and heartbroken people with love.  Truly magnanimous. 


Days later, in Goma, Greitens saw Karen address an outdoor church service.  She held up a book and compared Christianity to the law of gravity:  Embrace it and be saved, reject it and fall hard into hell.  She demonstrated, dropping the book to a thud on the platform.


A refugee translated her sermonette to the congregation — all genocide survivors of a hell on earth, sitting on rocks in the sun.  He distilled it this way:


“We cannot always carry everything on our own.  If we try we will drop things.  We must ask God’s help to carry our burdens.”


Heresy?  Apostasy?  A ravaging of Christianity?  Naw.  Not according to Christ.


“Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”  Now there’s some missionary work straight off Matthew 11:28.


I believe an audience of the nearly killed, perhaps more than any of us, can comprehend a plan of salvation in such burden-carrying divine love.


Pure religion can profane the air with misunderstanding.  But acts of love — and even the small are great — evangelize, beyond words.  Love spreads a truth about who God is, how God is bound to surprise all of us to the upside, shouldering us through this wilderness life.  Such love is the living poetry of a humble, enlightening faith.  It is a truth.


One more truth about Greitens.  He turned from the ease of Oxford straight into the hardest training in the world, becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL.  Eric’s pedigree now wears the colors of Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and the blood stains of a warrior who is, foremost, a humanitarian. 


Missionary?  Bet your sweet Bible school doughnuts he is.  He’s a man of love — the ageless kind that matters.  It’s our calling, too, this magnanimous love.  It lives in us, eager to run itself into the world as we find it.


Such love doesn’t get itself — or us — lost in translation.  And in our doing of it, God has a way of getting found.








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