I’ve been playing a 30-year-old cassette as I drive around town. Yes, I have a car that still plays cassettes. (Not 8-tracks though.) It’s a tape of Tony Campolo when I heard him in Portland back in 1984. I’m playing it in anticipation of hearing him again at the Northwest Leadership Institute (NWLI) at Cathedral of the Rockies, March 12-13.
Tony Campolo is a Baptist evangelist. That’s what he says he tells people he sits next to on airplanes when he wants some peace and quiet. But whatever you think of when I say “Baptist evangelist”, he is not that. For years he has been a leading voice of the evangelical left. Many people would say “evangelical left” is an oxymoron. Tony Campolo does not fit in anyone’s box. He is always challenging cherished assumptions, on either side of any theological or political spectrum. He is anything but politically correct. And he is an incredible communicator. Hearing him talk is an experience you will never forget.
Here’s one of his many stories:
Some years ago I was doing missionary work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. One afternoon, near the border separating those two countries, I was waiting for a small Piper Cub to come pick me up and fly me back to the capital city. As I stood there, a woman came toward me. In her hands she was holding her baby. The child’s stomach was swelled to four or five times its normal size due to malnutrition. The arms and legs of the little boy were so spindly that they appeared to be nothing more than bones covered with skin, He was a black child but his hair had taken on the rust color that evidences a lack of protein. The child’s mouth was hanging open, and his eyes were rolled back so that they appeared to be white bulges in his skull. The baby was dirty and filthy and obviously close to death. The woman held the child up to me and then began pleading for me to take her child. “Please mister, please take my baby, take my baby with you. Take my baby to your country. Don’t let my baby die.”
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t take her baby. There were hundreds of babies like this in the surrounding countryside. What could I do in the face of such overpowering suffering? I pushed her away and I told her, “I can’t take your baby. I’m sorry. There is nothing I can do.”
I was relieved when the Piper Cub came into sight and touched down at the end of the grass landing strip. As it rolled toward me I ran out to meet it. I wanted to get away from that woman and her baby. But she came running after me. She was screaming at the top of her lungs, “Take my baby! Take my baby! Don’t let my baby die!” She was hysterical in her pleading as I climbed into the airplane and closed the plexiglass door.
The engine revved up. The plane began to move away from the woman and down the landing strip. She ran alongside the plane, still clutching her horribly emaciated baby and screaming at me to take her child. At last the plane lifted into the air, and as we soared into the sky, the pilot banked so that we turned and flew back over the landing field. As we did so, I got one last look at the woman who by then was standing motionless in the middle of the landing strip clutching her baby. We flew away and I tried to put that woman and her baby out of my mind. But I couldn’t. Halfway back to the capital it hit me. It dawned on me who that baby was. I realized who it was that I had left behind on that landing strip. The name of that child was Jesus. Regardless of the name his parents had given him at birth, I knew that his name was Jesus. It was Jesus who was in the feeble, sickly frame. It was Jesus who had been held out to me for love and care. It was Jesus whom I had shut out of my life.
That story has haunted me for 30 years. Tony Campolo entertains but he also challenges. He will challenge you to put your Christian faith into practice in ways that will make you uncomfortable but that will make you a better Christian.
I hope you can come and hear him with me. He is not the only speaker at NWLI. It is always an outstanding event and each year attend I wish I had others from Nampa First with me. I will this year. We are bringing a team. I will be registering our team Thursday afternoon (January 29) this week. It will cost you $65, which includes the discount we get for going as a team. And if you are under 30, it’s free. I was under 30 when I heard Tony Campolo and it changed my life.
I hope to hear from you.