From The Attentive Life
The Masai Chief, the Missionary, and the Lion God
Vincent Donovan went as a missionary to the Masai people of East Africa. He went to teach them the story of God, but instead he found them teaching him.
Once he told them how God had led the nomadic Abraham to see that he was the God of all peoples and not just of one tribe. Could it be, he asked, that they had worshiped this High God without knowing him – the truly unknown God?
There was silence. Then someone asked a question. “This story of Abraham – does it speak only to the Masai? Or does it speak also to you? Has your tribe found the High God? Have you known him?”
Donovan was stumped. He thought of how in France since the time of Joan of Arc, the French people had associated God with a quest for glory. He thought of fellow Americans who had always asked God to bless “our side” in wars. After a long time he replied, “No, we have not found the High God. My tribe has not known him. For us, too, he is the unknown God. But we are searching for him. I have come a long, long distance to invite you to search for him. Let us search for him together.”
Months later, as he spoke with a Masai elder about his own struggle with belief and unbelief, the elder explained that his language had two words for faith. One simply meant to agree with something. That, said the elder, was like a white hunter shooting down an animal from a distance.
To speak of real belief, he said, took another word, a word that referred to a lion going after its prey, speeding to catch it, leaping at it with a blow that kills, then enfolding it into its great arms to make it part of himself. That, said the elder, is faith.
Donovan listened in amazement. The elder continued.
We did not search you out, Padri. We did not even want you to come to us. You searched us out. You followed us away from your house into the bush, into our villages, our homes. You told us of the High God, how we must search for him, even leave our land and our people, to find him. But we have not done this. We have not searched for him. He has searched for us. He has searched US out and found us. All the time we think we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God.
In the end, the lion is God, the God who began to seek us even before we knew it, in the time before our time.