Deo Volente is a theological phrase used predominantly by Christians of the Reformed-Evangelical persuasion to simply say in two words what James 4:13-17 says, that “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills (Deo Volente), we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” This text simply breaks down into three parts, in my mind. Firstly, a hypothesis/proposition stated in the form of an interrogative caution. Secondly, wisdom taught on not knowing the will of the Lord and His providence concerning ones future, and applying that by depending on Him who knows the future and permits or prevents things from happening. Thirdly, rebuke to the arrogant who think they are in control of the future. I will not offer an exposition of this text because of the limitation and scope of this article. But I wish to state that concerning Deo Volente (Lord Willing) we can be technical (which is appropriate) or we can be simple. I am here going to approach it simplistically.
This article is a sort of a eulogy/tribute to our friend, Evans Monyatsi, whom we came to know sometime early this year (I think around Mid-January). We met Evans while we were dealing with a homeless con-artist who conned us and then confessed by spinning another believable lie to us. It was after about the second time that he lied to us that we confronted him about it. It was while we were talking to him and showing him the warnings from the Bible about his conduct that we met Evans. Both of these men’s lives were battered by sin. The sin of drug abuse and alcoholism. Evans overheard and saw us reading the Bible with this other man, and approached us to speak into his life.
I remember the very first thing (not verbatim) that he said when he came up to us was: “I want you guys to tell me how God can help me. My life is not in order and I need God in my life to make things right”. At this time he was asking for shallow help because he really needed a job, and just wanted to get help to get off the streets. He was not a man who was used to living on the streets as he was only there for a few weeks. What had happened was in December he lost his job, his ex-girlfriend chased him out of her flat, and ended up on the streets, and because of shame he hid this from his family and friends. They all thought he was still living a decent life, but little did they know that he was a collector of bottles and cans for recycling. On the streets, he lost his ID, Matric Certificate, and other essential documents needed to look for a job.
He acknowledged that ending up on the streets was as a result of his promiscuous life. Evans worked at a restaurant of a very generous boss. He told us of how he used to get drunk and went to work like that. Because he was causing chaos, they expelled him but a few days later his former boss offered him his job back. He persisted in his ways and showed his boss how ungrateful he was, and he ended up leaving despite them trying to persuade him to stay. He left his restaurant job to work for his friend who opened a bar/tavern at a student concentrated area. But he did not last there.
When we met him, my dear brother and friend Vernon Avis was pretty direct with him. He told him straight: “My friend. We are going to be very honest with you here. We are not going to promise you what we cannot offer. We are going to point you to the Word of God and we are going to show you what God has to say to you. We are going to say hard and difficult things. Will you accept the Word of God? It will come with conviction, and the help you do not expect”. These might not be the exact words Vern used, but he said things along these lines. It was a Monday afternoon, and we spoke with him until the evening (just after 6PM).
Well, when we started sharing with him, we shared with him the Gospel from two texts of Scripture. The first was 1 Timothy 1:12-17 because he thought his was a hopeless case. But, Paul was a man saved for hopeless and helpless people like us. In this text the Apostle says, “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen”
The other text was Luke 14:25ff where Jesus talks about counting the cost of being His follower. It was an appropriate text thought it might have come across as harsh and insensitive for a man living on the streets. We literally told him that following Jesus would cost him everything. In fact, we pointed out to him that the test of genuine conversion was going to be demanded of him upon hearing these words, that very first day. He had nothing. Was he going to follow Jesus even if He was not going to give him a roof over his head or a job to have food to eat? [We were of course at this stage thinking of how to help him with physical needs even though we did not tell him]. Evans got the message. We put him in a shelter that night, but he was going to continue paying for the other days for himself at the shelter. When he left the park we asked him to leave his blanket for the other guys whom he left behind since one was going to be provided for him at the shelter. He gladly did.
From this time onwards we started seeing more of Evans and formed a friendship with him, and it later developed into discipleship. If I observed correctly, he was starting quit smoking, and was devoted to his Bible reading. He went back to the streets though, but for understandable reasons, and we worked on ways to gettin him off the streets.
Evans became precious and dear to us. I remember the first few days after he started coming to church he asked us to pray for him to get a job so that he could look after his daughter and his family back home. He was thinking of ways of telling them of the events in his life and how he sought and found the Lord. One of the very first lessons he learned after he professed faith was Deo Volente. One Wednesday at Bible study he told us that he had a job interview and he thought it went well. And then we said to him we will pray for him. One person asked him if the thinks he will get it, and he said with a smile: “definitely. I have faith”. With a smile Vernon responded: “You have to say if the Lord Wills”. I don’t think by ‘definitely’ he meant he will get it no matter what, but I thought it was appropriate for Vern to respond that way to challenge him to have a biblical perspective on life, and insight into how the Lord works.
Guess what? He did not get the job as he hoped, but with this ‘new’ knowledge he learned to accept it in light of the fact that it was not the Lord’s will for him. He struggled after this to find a job, but a church member offered him a job in the insurance industry. Around the same time he found a job as a bar tender/waiter at a local restaurant/bar in Bloemfontein. He then moved in with the single men at church and they shared a flat with him. What was encouraging with him was that he was working towards getting his own accommodation and going home to tell them of his new found religion. He also asked his employer to give him shifts that would allow him to always be free for church services. He attended those he could attend regularly.
It was a joy and a relief when Vernon and the other brothers took him in, because it was really not easy to see a man sleeping out in the open with winter approaching (not to mention other difficulties that come with living on the streets). I mean we would have late nights of fellowship with him present, but when we part we would have to drop him in the streets. Such made me wonder if I was applying the teachings of my faith. Jesus says, “For you will always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have me” ~ Mark 14:7. Again elsewhere, “What use is it, my brethren, of someone says he has faith but has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or a sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled’, yet do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself”. How was I applying these texts of Scripture?
These teach plainly that Christians have to do mercy ministry to the poor. We share the gospel as our primary and most important responsibility to those who are not of the household of faith, but should not miss the opportunity to do good to them. I praise and thank the Lord that Vernon and the other brothers practiced their religion by taking Evans in. We have been given much, and from us much will be required. We have more than the clothing, food, and shelter we need, and so we should be content. It cannot be okay for me to eat a KFC meal of R150 and then go share the gospel with a hungry man. It cannot be okay for me to spend the weekend in a hotel or go on a R5000 holiday yet pray for someone who does not have a bed to sleep on. It is time Christians get their perspective on the gospel right. We have to be grateful for the material things that God gives us, and we have to get the balance right of enjoying them in ways that will glorify God, and not be found to have not served the people of God who are in need.
A book I recently read on this which has challenged my thinking greatly, and I highly recommend, is When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. Not an easy book to find on the store shelves, but please try to find it. For an excellent book review (I don’t like reading a book review before reading a book) follow this link and the others. For short YouTube videos start here. If you care about the poor and won’t be comfortable being rich while many people are poor, this book will revolutionize your thinking.
But I’m on Evans. This dear friend of ours many of us last saw on Wednesday the 14th of June 2017. He left for work on Thursday, and that’s when the lads who lived with him last saw him. Since then we had not seen or heard from him. Ashamed I hate to confess that I was not thinking the best about his disappearance. Many of us kept asking where he was, but what I could think of was perhaps he was with his friends from his old life, and that was not good, or that he was celebrating June 16 the way the world does. I can understand the brothers who took him in and how they felt that it was not nice for someone they provided a roof over his head for disappeared without informing them.
On Sunday night, at our prayer meeting at church we prayed for him, and still asked where he was. Because they had stolen his phone on the streets while he was living there, he had recently just gotten himself a new phone but unwise and unintentionally none of us had his new number. So, on Monday night, the 19th of June 2017, I decided to go to his work place to enquire about his whereabouts.
When I got there the restaurant/bar was quiet, the mood was sombre with candles on, and the waiters and waitresses were wearing black (their uniform but it looked like they were dressed for a sad occasion). The waiter who welcomed me at the door was surprised to learn that I was looking for Evans. Poor guy looked perplexed and asked a second time who I was looking for. I said a second time that I was looking for Evans Monyatsi. He asked a third time who I was looking for, and my third reply was an enquiry as to whether I was at the right place and wondered if he knew who I was looking for. I had a feeling he was going to tell me some bad news when he said to me: “eish bra waka, tsena ka mo gare re tlo bua” (Let’s go inside to talk).
We went inside and met his colleagues. He told them that I was looking for Evans, and they all stared at me. There were a few seconds of silence, and one guy said: “Evans left us”. I thought: has he done anything wrong? Where is he? He then told me of the sad news they received that he was involved in a car accident on Friday the 16th of June 2017. It was surreal. Our friend has died.
Evans left work on Thursday to go to Zastron to see his family. His cousin fetched him at work and told him that he was going home. He asked Evans to come with, but he refused saying that he did not want to miss church, but his cousin persuaded him and Evans agreed to go with them provided they would be back the next day. It was good for him to go home since his family did not know where he was and had not seen him since last year. He arrived home and told them about Hope Bible Church. I know this because talking to his family that Vernon and I went to see today they told us of how he told them that “Evans is no longer Evans. What they see is not the old Evans”.
We shared with them this above story, and they also shared with us how he died. It was a horrible, tragic accident. There were 4 of them in the car, and he is the only one who passed away.
This all still feels unreal, and it made me think long and hard about three things. Firstly, that the gospel is real and if people do not come to faith in Jesus it would be a tragic loss if they die without being at peace with God. Death often comes as a thief in the night. We can only be ready for it when we have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Secondly, that God is Sovereign. He does whatever He pleases, and no one can question any of His ways. My fallen and feeble mind wants to ask why Evans? Why at this time Lord? How am I supposed to think about You at this time and how does all of this make sense? It is overwhelming for me, but it is not for God. God is just and good. Thirdly, the only hope we have that Evans is with the Lord that I can cling to is in the fact that God promises in His Word that those who come to Him will find rest and eternal life. So, Evan’s testimony was that He had trusted the Lord for his salvation. There was a bit of evidence in the language he spoke which sounded like the language of the new man and fruits of a repentant heart.
Recently my brothers and sisters in Christ have been hit hard by the difficult deaths of their loved ones, and I have observed how difficult it has been for them. It has also been a difficult and trying season for our church having to deal with the losses of the loved ones in the church. Evan’s passing has also hit me hard. We will miss Evans a lot, and we wish he were still with us, but “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21b)
His last Whatsapp status message was Psalm 40:1-3, and I console myself with it: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”