It was mid-afternoon on the second day of slogging through sand, splashing across creeks and plodding up and down rocky slopes on my seventy kilometres hike from the Canela village to the nearest town to buy medicines. Only three more hours to go, I thought, but they’ll be the hardest.
Just then, I came to a path leading towards some palm-thatched building. I followed the trail and saw a couple of teenage boys drinking coffee. They immediately called me to join them and have a mug. I happily sat down and chatted with them.
“We’re also going into town,” one of them said, “and we are catching a ride with my uncle who is loading up sand on his truck about an hour’s walk down the road. Wait until we finish eating and get our stuff, and we’ll walk together. You can ride with us into town on the truck.
“Thanks, that’s great news,” I said, “but I’ll start walking now. You’re half my age, and I’m already tired; I might slow you down if we walk together. I’ll see you down the road.”
As I tramped along, I thanked God for shortening my walk by at least two hours. After half an hour, I came to a ten-metre stretch of road with a long mud puddle along one side and damp ground along the other side. Hmm, I thought, here’s a chance to impress those boys with my walking ability.
With that, I switched into a leaping mode, lengthening my stride from 70 cm to well over a metre long. Reaching the dry area, I turned around to look at my footprints. Oh yeah! Impressive! I said to myself and walked on at a more sedate pace.
When I reached the truck, I rested in the shade as a half dozen boys shovelled sand onto the dump truck. About the time it was full, my two friends from up the road arrived, and we all climbed onto the back of the dump truck. As it ground it’s way slowly along the sandy path, they introduced me to the others.
“I thought we’d catch up to him,” one of them said, “but even though we walked our fastest, we couldn’t catch up. Then we came to a damp part in the road and saw why. You wouldn’t believe the huge strides he takes – nearly twice as long as ours. No wonder he got here before us!”
Yes! I was looking good! As I faked a modest smile at the admiring group, a still, small voice in my head said, Now would be a good time to tell them about your trick. I ignored it. I was enjoying their praise. Hey, I kept telling myself it’s not often that I get recognition for my physical prowess. I’ll take it, even when I don’t deserve it. Besides, who cares? It’s just a little thing.
In bed that night, however, I felt rotten as my conscience replayed the incident, this time accompanied by Jesus’ words from Luke 16:10 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (TLB).
I had made my reputation—what people think of me— more important than character—who I really am. I need to focus on building my character and let God deal with my reputation.
This lesson has stayed with me for the rest of my life. Decades later, when I was a sought-after missionary speaker in the Caribbean, I was often addressed or introduced as “Dr. Popjes.” Oh, that sounded good in the ears of a high-school dropout! But Luke 16:10 kept me from letting that slide!