The Good News Reaches Ethiopia
By Debbonnaire Kovacs, submitted April 29, 2015 Based on Acts 8:26-40
I think of myself as an educated man. Not only can I read and write, I am skilled in all mathematical skills, to the extent that my queen, Candace of Ethiopia, has put me in charge of her entire treasury. So I didn’t like it that I could not understand what I was reading. I felt foolish.
As has been traditional since the age of the great King Solomon, many of us northern Africans are Jewish in belief, and I am one of them. I had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and while there I had obtained a copy of Isaiah’s scroll. While my driver drove my chariot toward Africa and home, I was puzzling over its contents. One passage in particular struck me:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
Now, I had heard some stories about the controversial Teacher who had recently been crucified outside Jerusalem, and had even heard hints that some claimed he was raised from the dead and now alive. But I didn’t give any credence to such rumors. I am, after all, an educated man. Still, I am also a man of faith, and this passage was stirring my soul in some indescribable way. I didn’t know what to do.
Suddenly a man ran up beside my chariot. I lifted my head, startled. Probably a beggar; they always flocked to a rider of such clearly high caste as myself. I was going to give him something, but he looked directly at me and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
My mouth dropped open. I stared at him for a second, trotting along beside me, and then called, “Stop the chariot.”
The driver obediently pulled the horses to a standstill. The man’s gaze and mine were still locked. I decided this was not a time for feeling foolish. I simply told the truth. “How can I, unless someone guides me? Where are you headed? Would you like to join me?”
It was very strange. I never depart from my ordinary routines in quite such a startling way. How did he know what I was reading, or that I was confused? And why did I feel such a certainty that he would be able to help me?
The man seemed to feel no such qualms. He climbed in and introduced himself as Philip. What he told me then both shocked me and set my anxiety at rest. He said the Holy Spirit had told him to come over to my chariot! Had, in fact, told him to come to this particular stretch of road.
I hadn’t been paying much attention, and at his words I looked around. We were still on the wilderness way from Jerusalem to Gaza; I hadn’t been on the road that long.
I looked back at Philip. The Holy Spirit? Really?? He just smiled, as if he was used to this sort of thing.
“Drive on,” I said automatically, and the horse began trotting again with a lurch.
I held out my parchment roll and showed Philip where I had been reading. Feeling curiously humble, I asked, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
Then Philip began to explain. It was about that Teacher, after all. He told me all about the trial and the crucifixion and how Jesus had been as humble as a lamb. But then he showed me other places in Isaiah, too, where the Messiah is portrayed as a humble servant, or as a mighty counselor. Philip told me stories of Jesus’ ministry that made me wish I could turn back time and join his following.
“You can, that’s the best news of all!” Philip explained. “He is now alive forever, and thousands of followers are being baptized and joining Jesus’ followers all the time!”
A thrill I can’t describe came over me. This was what I had longed for all my life—the fulfillment we had all been waiting for from the days of our father Abraham!
A glint and sparkle caught my eye, and I turned my head. “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” I demanded. “Stop the chariot!”
Forgetting my dignity, I pulled off my outer robe and Philip and I went down into the water, where he baptized me. When I came up, wiping water from my eyes and feeling newborn, I wanted to fling my arms around my new brother…
…but he was gone! Blinking, I looked around. The driver looked at me, shocked too. “What—Did he—Did you see—“ I babbled. But there was no explanation to the mystery. If anything, it confirmed what he had told me about the Holy Spirit. So I just gave a shout of joyful laughter, wrung out my tunic as well as I could, and climbed aboard.
I sang all the way back to Ethiopia. And then, I spread the news!