It was the talent show that nearly killed the Indian pastor.
I should have known when Pastor Daniel fell onto the baggage belt at JFK that his trip was destined for trouble. When he finally rolled off the carousel, he stood up, rubbing his head, “Oh I am very much dancing the Waltz on this roundabout. I will have to tell my children, even the luggages are having a ride in America,” he said, head bobbing side to side and a big smile on his face.
If I could have seen a hint of what was to follow, I might have been wiser, keener, and much more alert on the night of our church’s New Year’s Eve talent show.
For instance, when his first taste of a meatball got stuck in his throat at lunch—on the day of his arrival—I should have considered it more than just a queer coincidence. After performing my first Heimlich, Pastor Daniel said with his very next breath, “Do not worry, brod-der John, I am still eating it, and I am being alive to tell my wife the meat-boll is choking me no longer.”
Certainly, by the time the paint spilled into his eyes at the precise moment he looked up at the scaffolding on Broadway, I should have known there was probably more to come in this run of accidents and hired him a body guard.
His head was moving again in that impossibly good-natured manner. “My people will not be believing that in New York, hospitals are staying five minutes from where anybody is being hurt.”
On that New Year’s Eve, like all the previous years, our church—a motley bunch of surfers, ex-drug addicts, and lifetime church-goers, all in love with Jesus—held its annual talent show. Each year, we planned and prepared every kind of song and satire imaginable. This was the night of good, clean fun on a stage, American-Christian style.
The first song and dance featured the three pastors in our church. I led the charge strutting out onto stage lip-synching to Club Nouveau's hip-hop rendition of “Lean On Me”. I danced the funky chicken, motioning now and again to indicate that young people could come to this pastor.
Following behind, the senior pastor waved his Bible, moving his lips, “…when you’re not stro-ong, and I’ll be your friend…”.
Then the third—the oldest of the pastors on staff—dropped to the floor at the snappiest part of the song, and spun on his back, “So just call on me brother, when you need a hand, We all need somebody to le-ean on…”
The roof practically came down with the roar of laughter.
In fact, the microphones at the front corner of the stage did come down—I saw it all in slow motion: Pastor Daniel smiling in the front row, pendulously swaying to our display of American freedom in Christ; microphones headed right for his head; previous accidents flashing before my eyes. And before I knew it, I launched my body between the falling microphones and Daniel. I was now the target of the microphones, and Daniel was the target of one pastor-missile. The microphones came crashing down on me; I crashed right on top of Pastor Daniel.
When I came to, I was floating in mid-air with Pastor Daniel—still unconscious—floating right next to me, the two of us crowd-surfing.
It turned out, Pastor Daniel’s concussion was not life-threatening but I think he was happy to return home to his land of clearer boundaries, of simpler celebrations.
“I apologize again for all that happened to you.” I said as he was getting ready to board the plane.
His eyes carried a profound depth, even as he laughed. Then, a bit quieter, but still smiling, he said, “Oh, brod-der John, I am seeing God deliver me from many physical damages. In India I am walking into villages to preach and many times returning home with a beating. Sometimes a team member is going to hospital. So, when God delivers me, I am gladly living to preach another day.”
At that moment, I knew that the ocean between us was more than a geographic distance and I felt myself wanting to span the miles, to be more like him.
He waved before going through customs and shouted, “I am loving this bump on my head. Otherwise, they will not be believing the story of what I am telling them.”
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