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Four Stories: the Third – Mistaken Identity

November 14, 2012

This story is from 19th century missionaries. I read it long ago.

Several missionaries, back from the interior of China, were invited to a dinner at the British consulate, either in Shanghai or Hong Kong ( I don’t recall) and during the course of their stay they were asked about the place where they set up station.

They told how that when they came to this village of about eight hundred, they requested that the village elders might gather the people so that they might tell them something. This was agreeable to them, and so, when the people had gathered, the missionaries told them the story of Jesus, but at various times the people would slow down the story by sudden outbreaks of discussion among themselves, which became even more loud when they told of Jesus’ torture. The noise got completely out of control when they heard that He had been crucified. Nothing more could be said for the moment.

After things quieted down, the elders came to them and said that they were sorry to here that their Jesus had been so badly treated, for he had done so many good things when He lived in their village.

They tried to explain that Jesus had been crucified long ago, but they would have nothing of it. Jesus had prayed for their sick and they became well, he had lived a good life in the village, and hadn’t you said he was a carpenter? They showed them His work all over the village and then brought them to the river. They explained that in the past they had to walk three miles down the river to come to a ford, cross, and then walk back three miles, just to get to their fields each day . But, now, as they could see, there was a bridge across the river that went directly to their fields and they no longer needed to walk twelve miles each day. And it was Jesus, himself, who had built it!

Of course, everyone at the table was astounded and wondered what this story meant, but no suggestions could me made or even imagined. But after the dinner, one of the guests, the American counsel came over to them and said that he thought he might have the explanation.

It  seems that many years before, an American, desiring to be missionary had gone into the interior. After years in there, he came out, totally discourage, because he had never been able to master the language enough to communicate the gospel and he returned to the United States. But he was a civil engineer and it was likely he was their carpenter,their bridge-builder, their Jesus.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this. He seems to have been the only man in the history of the church who was mistaken for Jesus. From this we might learn that the only way we might be mistaken for Him is if we kept our mouths shut. Even then, it might be impossible.

More seriously, we should learn not to be discouraged by our failures. They may not be failures at all: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” – I Cor 3:6. Even when it seems that we have failed to reach someone, the case is not yet finished.

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