My waiter was tall, with wide eyes and a big smile. And a non-South African accent. Turns out, he's from the DRC. As I asked questions, his story unfolded.
What's your name again?
Eli (pronounced ellie). E-L-I. I know our French names are different and hard to say.
In English, we'd pronounce your name as Eli (ee-lie). There's an Eli in the Bible, you know.
Really? Are you Christians?
I love church-people. So you are missionaries?
Mmmm... I'll be right back; I want to talk with you...
When he asked "Church-people?", Eli's eyes got brighter. When I told him we were indeed missionaries, you could see on his face the comfort it brought to his heart to be flooded with the familiar.
Eli attended a missionary school very far from his home. Because of the distance, and possibly the expense, he never got to visit his family during his school-going years. When he graduated high school, the country was up to its eyeballs in civil war and it was too unsafe for him to go home. The missionaries helped him escape to South Africa; he's been here for 7 years. He hasn't seen his family for 15.
"If it weren't for those missionaries, I probably would have become a child soldier," Eli said.
He told us we were doing a good job. "I'm proud of you. Keep up the good work." We hadn't told him anything at all about our ministry or what we do. I'm convinced, though, that he could say that -- confidently and genuinely -- because he knows the impact missionaries have made in his life and he's convinced we're having the same impact on others.
My heart will hold onto this for a long time...