The Apache. That’s what I’ll call him for the purpose of this post. I met the Apache when I went to New Mexico in the summer of 1997. The Apache was staying on a missionary’s base, which was not a base at all but acres of wild property at the foot of the Red Rock Mountains. It was really scenic from afar but when you got up close you saw how totally unlivable it was–just acres of wilderness. It was our job as volunteers to help fix up the base.
The missionary and the Apache were a pair to behold. Think Kung Fu master from the far east a hundred years ago and a rough Geronimo-look-alike with a penchant for strong liquor. The Kung Fu missionary met the gruff Apache when he first arrived in the desert and took him in because he had nowhere to go. The Apache said inappropriate things to the missionary’s wife like, “Tonight, come to my tent, but come alone.” The wife told the missionary but he didn’t kick the Apache out. Rather, he loved him and built a friendship with him. The Apache was caught by this kind of love and worked for the missionary like they were childhood friends.
The Apache could outwork anyone, that is unless he went into one of his drinking funks. Then you wouldn’t see him for days until his money ran out. When that happened, he would crawl back to the base and without saying a word, start working again. The Apache wasn’t so much gym and weights strong; he was farm labor strong. He was more gray mule than black stallion.
When we went out to New Mexico that summer to help build the mission base, the Apache was in a groove-a good one. He wasn’t ditching the missionary for days like he used to. He was working hard, every single day, sunrise to sunset. No hidden beer in his satchel, no late night bar runs, he was diligently building a fence for the entire base, which was like a million acres. He would chop down trees, form them to the right shape by hand, cut the barbed wires to tie in between each post, not to mention digging the hundreds of holes to place the posts in. Sheer manhood. Never speaking, always grunting, he put up a fence covering a million acres by himself in the summer of 1997.
I found out later why he worked so hard when we were there. Harder than his usual self. Madman labor level.
Why did he work so hard? He was severely tempted. He was tempted to drink himself to blissful drunkenness. He was tempted to sleep with his lady friends, those friends with benefits. Every night, a different one. That’s what he wanted.
He worked hard to drain himself of all energy–the energy that was craving liquor, craving easy women. He pounded each post into the ground with the ferocity of a man trying to suppress the “evil” within him. He didn’t want to let the missionary down again. He didn’t want to let down a group of wide-eyed and bushy-tailed mission team. Motivated by these things, he pushed it all down, agonizing the whole way. The fence was a testimony of his frantic fight against his wild desires.
The last I heard, after we left, he also left the base.
Back to his liquor. Back to his women.
I imagine this is how a lot of us deal with sin. We try to push with all our might against our sinful desires. It’s a good try but it will never work. We need God’s strength infusing His desire into our wills. We need new hearts transformed by the Gospel.
What I need is in my darkest times is Jesus Christ. Period. When that monster inside of me, you know the one – the greed monster, the pride monster, the lust monster, whatever – when that monster starts rearing his ugly head, I have only one place to go-the foot of the cross. Grace always flows to the lowest place. There is no lower place than the “dust at the foot of the cross” (Amy Carmichael). There, as I humbly repent and put my faith in what Jesus has done for me, his grace flows to me with such undeserved fury, that I am changed. My heart starts to treasure eternal, heavenly things and despise the very things I craved. I am transformed more into his image. It’s His grace. Always.
I still pray for the Apache. I pray for all my beautiful Navajo, Apache, and Hopi friends I met that summer. I pray that he will truly know and believe the Gospel. When he does, he’s going to build many more fences for the Kung Fu missionary. But it will not be as a tormented soul trying to do something “good” to make up for the “bad” inside of him. It will be as a forgiven sinner worshiping the Savior, as a child of God expressing his love by the work of his hands.