Becoming Moonlight Graham

In one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, Archie “Moonlight” Graham is the doctor turned ballplayer who turns back into doctor. He’s a rookie at Ray Kinsella’s baseball/cornfield and in his one movie at-bat he lofts a lazy flyball to right. It’s good enough for a sacrifice fly and an RBI. But then little Karin chokes on her frankfurter and Moonlight has to get to work. As he crosses over the chalk line, he transforms into the elderly Doc Graham and does a quick Heimlich on Karin. But his baseball days are done. He can’t go back.

In Mozambique, I had my own Doc Graham moment.

I was so thrilled to have been selected for the trip to Moz. But still a little part of me wondered if God really wanted me to be going. Ok, maybe a medium size part of me. A neck-sized part of me. As if being blessed with way more than the required $2,500 wasn’t enough to convince me. Still I doubted. I thought maybe somehow I’d get redlighted along the way. I’d be discovered as the spiritual lightweight I see in the mirror. But somehow I made it onto the airplane in New York and my team was stuck with me.

When we started planning this trip back in February I decided to say, “Yes” to anything that was asked of me. Early morning garage sale? No problem. Handle the T-shirts for the 5K? My pleasure. Raise $2,500? You betcha. Co-lead the team working with the Mozambique children? Sure!

At one meeting we were selecting who was going to preach. Pastor Tim said, “Tones, you have some teaching experience.” Of course I do. If you’re referring the Revolutionary War or about dividing fractions. Now mind you, I hate public speaking like I hate the Yankees and the Redsox combined. I’d rather go through ACL surgery than get up in front of a group and talk. I get nervous and tongue-tied on back-to-school night. And this wasn’t going to be just talking; this was going to be teaching God’s word, to strangers, in a foreign language.

So, I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.”

Pastor Tim, who’s maybe the best preacher this side of the Prime Meridian sent out an email on how to prepare. Pick a scripture, have some application points, boil it down to one key nugget. Piece of cake, I thought. Yeah right. I picked two or three passages but nothing was grabbing me. I emailed some ideas to Tim and he said, “excellent!” But nothing was really lighting a fire under my pulpit.

Finally I decided on the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Then I choose a contrasting passage from Ephesians 2:45 … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. I read commentaries. I studied. I typed up five pages of notes. I practiced. I read my transcript in the bathtub. I preached to my dog Peetey. But I wasn’t close to being ready.


We opened our time in Moz with a two-day conference for pastors. There was a big tent and people traveled days to get there. Pastor Tim and a colleague named Will taught the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. My team co-leader Melanie taught a group of women. I was slated to teach to a break-out group of men. But scheduling issues cancelled my time. Sweet! I secretly rejoiced! Melanie’s husband Alex still wanted me to teach at some point during the week. He told me to let him know when I wanted to take the stage. Uh, how’ bout neverAlex.  Wrong idea leaving it up to me, Sucka.

The next day, a Tuesday, we visited one of our churches in the area. When we arrived, we learned that a member in the community had died during the night. Yikes, I thought. Maybe a message about Death and Life in Christ was appropriate. I waited for Alex to summon me from the bullpen. I was feeling that tug in my heart. God’s was moving. “I’m really not ready,” I told him. I didn’t want to just get up and read my five-page essay. And yet, there was no way I was going to memorize the whole darn thing. “Just make an outline,” God said back. Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? God always has the best ideas. So, I made an outline and for the rest of the week I practiced the points and illustrations that went along with my outline. Then it was decided. At a church on Sunday, I was going to give the keynote address. Gulp.


That Sunday, we drove out another of our churches. It was déjà vu all over again. We arrived to learn that this community had lost someone overnight. It’s customary for people to visit with the family of the deceased so church was late in beginning. Slowly the church began to fill up. My sweat glands started working in overdrive. We sang. We listened a couple of pre-sermon sermons. Pastor Tim gave a word about faith. And then I was up. I stood from my chair. I crossed over the chalk line.

I bypassed Moonlight Graham all the way to Billy Graham.

I was in the zone. With my outline at my side, I brought it like a Clayton Kershaw curveball. I nailed it like a Kevin Durant jumper. It hit on all my points. My teammates said the crowd was eating it up. They said the people were really being blessed. I talked about my own experience with death, that of my mom. I told about what it means to be alive in Christ. I gave my application points. I closed with the fact that someone in a country without  a lot of elderly people, where the life expectancy is just north of 52-years-old, doesn’t have to fear death. I remember jumping up and down when describing how Christ has stomped out death. I remember actually going up to the guy with the bongo drum and rapping out a little applause of my own. I remember falling to my knees when I described the memory of God flooding me with grace and peace when I said goodbye to my mom. I don’t remember much else. But do remember one thing: IT WAS FUN! It was as enjoyable as racing from first to third on a single. I loved it as much as making a sliding catch in leftfield. Only it wasn’t me. No way even close. It was all God.

It was total confirmation that I was supposed to be on this trip. How crazy is God to give me a message about Life and Death, cancel my teaching at the Pastor’s Conference, talk to me about an outline, and then pick a perfect moment for his message to be delivered? And I liked doing it. Me loving public speaking is about as likely and Martha Stewart rebuilding a ’57 Chevy.

Needless to say it was my pinnacle Philippians 4:13 moment (I can do all things through him who gives me strength).


But now what? I really needed the reminder that God comes through in mighty ways in times of weakness. It’s so easy to ask him for help when we’re faced with major or frightening challenges. We should do this. Dependency upon his strength is key in these times. The same God who parted the Red Sea and raised Lazarus from the dead still moves mountains. But what I realized is that I most often fail to depend on this strength during the daily the events of life. I so often try to survive on my own might. Face it; most of life isn’t as daunting as preaching in Moz. But life is still challenging. Maybe asking for help in doing the things I think I do well enough on my own is more crucial than just waiting for the scary times? Like when I’m teaching?

Or when I need to love somebody who’s hurt me or ticked me off?

Or when I’m feeling lonely?

Or simply trying to be a joyful light-bearing encouragement to others?

Moonlight Graham put his baseball career behind him and helped a lot of people as the small-town doctor in Chisholm, Minnesota. He only had to go to Iowa to find a better way to live.

I had to go all the way to Mozambique.