We all love a good come back story, right? It's why we are drawn to sports movies or rooting for the underdog. We get inspired by a hard earned, success narrative after an unlikely journey. We like to see people come out on top, we like to see the ending worth the fight to get there. We relish seeing light triumph darkness and enjoy boasting in God's faithfulness.
The beauty of redemption is that it is the giver of new life. Yet at the same time, the scary thing about redemption is that there is nothing one can do to earn it on their own.
Redemption is the heart of the gospel; of grace itself. Redemption is a form of love, a love written by God the Father and displayed in the life of Christ the Son. This form of love is something our good friend Stanley experienced a few years ago.
Stanley was born and raised in the village where the Sozo Village Project is being built. He knew everyone that lived there, and was familiar with every square inch of the land as if it was his own backyard. Stanley knew his village well. His village knew him as the town drunk.
Having a knack for handy-work, Stanley made a living fixing odds and ends for folks around the village. He could neither read nor write, but through performing various odd jobs, he was able to get by financially. However, whatever money he did earn, he would take and spend on alcohol, despite the fact that he had a family to provide for.
This was his reputation: stumbling down the streets, always drunk. It was a reputation he could not escape even if he wanted. And because of this reputation, people in the village began to take advantage of him, until he would barely receive payment for the jobs he would do. But whatever he received, however little it would be, he would take to the bars.
Then, in August of 2011, Daudi, Sozo’s administrative director in Uganda, joined our team as a full-time staff member. That fall, in November, Daudi and his team began the search for a long-term solution for a Sozo Children base, land where the children could live and grow.
This was when Sozo and Stanley’s stories intersected.
One day as Daudi and a team were working throughout the village, they were meeting with various people and families around the area where Stanley lived. Eventually, they ended up at Stanley’s doorstep, and although they had never met him before, knocked on his door. After a time of conversation, the team began telling Stanley of the truths of the Gospel, outlining the good news of Jesus Christ.
Through their message, the Holy Spirit began to work in Stanley’s heart. The Spirit brought conviction, and where there is conviction, there is redemption, and where there is redemption, there is freedom. The team asked Stanley his thoughts on the Gospel—what it meant for Christ to come, to die, and to rise again for him, what it meant for Christ to come and redeem him of his sins and bring him close to the Father.
That day, Stanley accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
“We laid hands on Stanley and prayed for him and promised to bring him a Bible,” Daudi recalls, remembering the day when Stanley became his brother in Christ. “This day changed his life.”
Like a slate wiped clean, Stanley’s life has been completely transformed since that day. He experienced the depths of redemption that only comes through the blood of Jesus.
As Stanley’s actions, decisions, and words began to reflect this new life to which he had been called, the people in the village were astonished. He had been dirty, dressed in rags, living as the town drunk. They thought this transformation was a joke.
But after a while, everyone around Stanley began to see that this was not an ingenuine change of heart; Stanley had been changed from the inside out through the redemption of Jesus. He was no longer bound by the chains of addiction or the way people would take advantage of his labor. He was free, indeed.
Those at Sozo, like Daudi, continued to check in with Stanley. Toward the end of 2012, when teams and interns came to the village to help rebuild homes in the community, Stanley began appearing at the sites offering his help where he could. Soon, Sozo staff saw the color of Stanley’s character—his determination and his hard work ethic. They began paying him for his help on Sozo’s property, slashing and clearing the land for the infrastructure to be laid. As progress on the land was being made, the Sozo family was able to hire him full-time to be the groundskeeper and guard. Because of his familiarity with the village land, especially the area where our future children’s homes are, Stanley has become an incredible asset.
The village community continues to marvel at Stanley’s transformation and sanctification. Because of his association with Sozo and the trust he has earned from those in his town, the village began to embrace Sozo, in part because of Stanley’s story.
“Stanley does not only touch the people that come [to Sozo], but he has touched us, because we have been living [his story] with him. We praise God for this,” Daudi marveled.
At Sozo, Stanley was accepted, welcomed in, and respected. Now he is an integral part of the community, both at Sozo and in his village. He is an extremely valuable resource to those around him. He now supports his family. He is a doer; he is dependable. Whenever something needs to be done, he does it joyfully, always willing when people come to him for help. Never uttering a complaint, Stanley has a servant’s heart.
We are expectant that the Lord will continue to use Stanley and his gifts to bring The Village Project to life. This is the power of redemption. This is the power of Christ’s saving grace, of the grace written of in Ephesians 2: “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.”