“What does it feel like?”, I asked as I took a seat next to the bed. “Eish man, it feels like I am being attacked by a knife”. Like a long, thin blade piercing through the skin and deep into muscle tissue, the sharp pain radiated from his lower back and spread down to his ankles – leaving him almost completely immobile. Describing the pain as a stabbing feeling wasn’t due to Obakeng’s flair for the dramatic. If you’ve had the privilege of meeting him you would know that such a flair doesn’t exist (he’s as calm, steady, and quiet spirited as they come). Wincing through the sudden spasm attacks, Pastor Obakeng slowly lifts up the back of his shirt to reveal that his pain comparison has merit. “Man, these are from my time of living on the streets. Living like a gangster.”, Obakeng said as he traced his finger along one of the ragged, raised lines of scar tissue.
Laying on his bed, in the one bedroom shack he calls home, the gangster turned preacher briefly shared his painful path to finding God (this is a marvelous story worth tuning in for on a later date). However, on the day of this visit, Obakeng wasn’t dealing with past hurts. Just as he was about to say something, his face contorted drastically, betraying his attempt to conceal how much pain he was presently in. While dealing with his suffering in silence, I spoke up on his behalf, “The team will manage well enough without you for a day, you need to stay here and rest”. After much convincing, Pastor Obakeng surrendered to the reality that he would not be saying goodbye to the U.S. group volunteering in his village church. As I drove away from his house to rejoin the mission team I couldn’t help but wonder what may have caused Obakeng’s back issues to flare up. The whole week he seemed fine. He was seen playing soccer with the kids, he worked with the visiting team to break ground on a church garden, at every home visit to the sick he took the time to kneel down and offer a comforting touch. As the week’s events unfolded in my mind the source of Obakeng’s back pain became clear – it was his relentless service to the community. The last seven days I had the privilege of watching a man that had grown from gangster, to preacher, to community leader. Now all the playing, all the serving, and all the caring had caught up to Obakeng. The old injuries nagged at him, putting the community care-taker in need of desperate care.
The beauty of a movement like the Orchard: Community is that it draws connections across international, cultural, and racial borders. It gives people a platform to meet and serve the vulnerable with not only their money, but also their talents, and time. Community member Naomi experienced these communal truth’s first hand as one of the U.S. team members volunteering at Obakeng’s church. When she heard about Pastor Obakeng’s back problems she was quick to put her talent as a professional massage therapist to good use. Naomi used her knowledge to teach Obakeng’s wife how to care for her husband’s pain. The rest of the visiting team took time out of their lunch break to do an unscheduled home visit. The whole group crowded into the small metal shack and laid hands on Obakeng as they prayed. After the last petition had gone up, Obakeng addressed the group through tears of joy, “This encourages me, because I am usually the one visiting the sick. I will take this healing and transform it to heal others worse than me.”
When you minister to a leader, every person that follows that leader, looks up to them, and is served by them benefits a little bit from the investment you make in their leader. This is what you do as an Orchard: Community. You restore hope, you care for the vulnerable, and you bring healing to community leaders in need of encouragement and healing too.