I was preaching one evening in a house church in Cuba when a crash sounded on the tin roof of the pavilion. A young boy jumped up, ran to the other side of the pavilion and returned with a huge mango. He brought it to the front of the congregation and gave it to the pastor, who in turn presented it to me. "Whoever claims the mango goes out and starts a new congregation. This is yours," she told me. Then, knowing I was moving towards retirement, she said, "You are Caleb, and there is another mountain for you to conquer." She was referring to Joshua 14, where Caleb, one of the two spies who forty years earlier had urged in vain the people of Israel to cross over and conquer the Promised Land. Now forty years later, he tells Joshua that he is as strong as ever, and eager to claim his inheritance. He chose Hebron, which at the time was occupied by a fierce race of enormous people. His enthusiasm for God's cause had not diminished.
In the 15th chapter, he challenges his followers to capture a place called Kirjathsepher, saying that whoever takes it gets to marry his daughter Achsah. Back then as now, one's fortunes often hung on whoever you were connected to. Politics hasn't changed much. Marrying the daughter of the head of a clan, and one as prominent as Caleb to boot, would have secured a young man's future, and as it turned out, that's exactly what happened. Othniel was the young man who succeeded in capturing the city, marrying Caleb's daughter, and eventually became one of the Judges of Israel, a tribal leader in his own right.
To me, the interesting part of the 15th chapter is the 18th verse that reads, "when she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field," a curious insight into their wedding night. He was probably thinking what any young man would be thinking on his wedding night, but her thoughts were on securing their future by getting a good dowry. Apparently Othniel wasn't eager to press his luck with his father in law, because the next sentence tells us that "[Achsah] got off her donkey,and Caleb said to her, "what do you want?" She boldly asked for some land that had springs on it, a valuable possession in what was a desert land. It seems that the fruit didn't fall far from the tree in her case. She had her father's audacity, and as a result received what she asked for.
I've been invited to teach young pastors in Cuba this spring. That word spoken over me a couple years ago has haunted me. I've often prayed and wondered what mountain yet lies before me. It's been off in the distance, but as I keep walking, it's getting closer, and as it looms before me, it gets clearer. There is much to be done in the meantime, buckling down on my Spanish, for one thing. But the part that excites me the most is seeing my kids and others in their generation grasping life with that same boldness as Achsah. You see, it's not merely my mountain; it's theirs, too, and it will take their faith and fortitude as well as mine to claim the promises of God. I am thankful tonight for the word spoken over me when that mango hit the roof, and for God's relentless pursuit of me in the intervening years.
Over 200 years ago, John Wesley was once asked why so many people flocked to hear him preach. "I simply set myself on fire, and people come to watch me burn," he replied. God has ignited a fire in my bones; may it in turn burn hot and bright for Jesus Christ in Cuba. And may a few sparks fall on the tinder in the hearts of the generation of my kids and grandkids.