My Uber driver in Nairobi (where I’m living for a few months) had a good playlist going, so I was pressing him for recommendations from East African artists. As we talked, the music shifted from Belgian-Congolese Zap Mama to a familiar Australian voice.
“Do you know this song?” he asked.
“Definitely,” I replied, hoping my disappointment didn’t show. I like Hillsong’s worship anthem “The Stand” well enough, but I wasn’t in the mood. As it continued, I got a little grumpy. Kenyan gospel music is spectacular—and spectacularly popular. As one pastor here told me, emerging artists drop gospel albums whether they believe the gospel or not. Importing a Western gigachurch’s hits struck me as unnecessary at best and culturally imperialistic at worst. Then he said, “I became a Christian last week because of this song. This very song, right here. Now I listen to it all the time.”
He had been driving around one day and the song came on the radio. “You stood before my failure / And carried the Cross for my shame,” the song said. “I’ll stand / With arms high and heart abandoned / In awe of the One who gave it all. I’ll stand / My soul, Lord, to you surrendered. / All I am is yours.” The song came as a personal call to repent and surrender. He did and found a church. Now he was reading Abide in Christ between rides. He dropped me off at my apartment, parked nearby, and began reading Andrew Murray’s 1894 spiritual classic again.
Thoughts of God’s surprising and transforming grace, our global church, my snobbery, and finding identity in Christ were still with me as I headed upstairs to edit Mark Galli’s cover story for this issue. But it was Murray’s volume that came to mind as I read Galli’s insistence that identity, diversity, justice, and true fellowship find their home in our union with Christ.
“Abiding in Jesus, you come into contact with his infinite love; its fire begins to burn within your heart; you see the beauty of love; you learn to look upon loving and serving and saving your fellow men as the highest privilege a disciple of Jesus can have,” Murray wrote. “The very spirit of the Vine is love; the spirit of love streams into the branch that abides in him.” My driver found that spirit in a song from the other side of the world. Now he and I are somehow mystically united, both of us, in Christ. And in awe of the One who gave it all.