I’m the closest thing to Ronaldo you’ll ever see

One of the things that never seems to get old for the kids who live on the hills around us here is, well…us.

Despite the fact that there has been a pretty significant number foreign missionaries here for quite a few years, making dozens and dozens of trips back and forth from our houses to the hospital every single day…it never gets old. Every time we attract hundreds of stares, dozens of shouts of “muzungu” (white person) and a lot of yelling out of English phrases.

These conversations I take to be indicators of what the English classes consist of around here.

There are some things that seem very common. Like “and you” being used not as a follow-up-question but some kind of statement you make. As in:

child “goodmorning-eee, how are youuuuuuuuu?”

me: “I am good. How are you”

child: “Fine thank you and you.”

me: “I am good”

child: “Finethankyouandyoo”

{lather. rinse. repeat.}

I think learning their 3rd language via rote repetition in a classroom of 100+ students makes it hard to decipher dialogue. One time a child ran up to me and say: “goodmorningteacherhowareyoufinethankyouandyou” as if it were actually just one word.

Anyway, one of the things they really like to do when any of us guys is out for a run is to yell out which football star they think we look like.

Jason is Messi. (OK – actually just yesterday I mentioned this to a Burundian who knows him (Jason, not Messi) and he agreed that Dr. Fader was in fact a PERFECT COPY of Messi – and people would not be surprised to find they were brothers!)

hmmm. OK.

Ted is Marcelo. (obviously)

(OK……that one is actually pretty close)

I seem to be Ronaldo.

Always.

And just so that we’re all on the same page here, in case you haven’t seen either me or Ronaldo in a while, here is the similarity we’re talking about:

Photo by Isabella BONOTTO / Update Images Press / AFP

Clearly, your first reaction to the above is “I can hardly tell the difference.” or “which one is you?” One is a middle-aged dude living in the middle of rural Burundi, the other is one of the greatest footballers (or the greatest…according to him) to ever play the game. (Hint: I don’t think Ronaldo would wear a hat as it would wreck his beautiful hair)

For kids who live here in Kibuye, however, many of us have a rather distinctive look. We tend to stick out a bit, as evidenced below by my niece and my daughter:

So when they see me, compared to everyone else living on this hill, I suppose, well…. close enough (?)

The other day as I was running down one of the narrow hard-packed trails of clay that wind through the hills here, and yet another kid yelled out “RONALDO” I was struck by something. They think I look like Ronaldo, because, I actually am the closest thing they’ve ever seen to him.

If you’ve only ever seen maybe 10 people in your life who are not Burundian, and 5 of them are guys (me included), then I guess of those 5 it is entirely plausible that I literally look more similar to Ronaldo than any other person they’ve ever seen. And honestly, I am more of a doppelganger for him than anyone they will likely ever meet in their entire lives.

It got me thinking of how followers of Jesus are supposed to look like him (Jesus….not Ronaldo). Our actions and words should look like what Jesus would be doing.

That thought tends to trouble me, as I quickly realize how short I fall of that. But, then I think of the kids on these hills that truly believe I look a lot like Cristiano Ronaldo. If all you have ever seen looks a lot the same, then if there is someone who looks a bit different, even just a bit, it can be noticeable.

So what’s the point? I guess that in some ways followers of Jesus can find some solace knowing that we don’t have to look exactly like Jesus for a hurting world to see a difference. There is a lot of heartache, pain, suffering in this world, and if we deal with it in ways that feel just a bit different than others, it may be noticeable. There are a lot of people gritting their teeth to get through hard things, taking others down to get ahead or even just clawing after things for themselves. If we even try to respond to this world with grace, hope, love… that may be enough for some to see the difference. We don’t have to be perfect- we already know that. But also maybe we can just to look a bit different, to be different enough.

Jesus said that the world would know his followers by how they love. Not because of our ability to argue and debate the truths that we hold. Not because of the amazing ways we can communicate the message of the Bible. Not because we collectively have put out great art, or messages, or music, or anything else (as good as those things are). Not because we build huge buildings, or can gather huge crowds, or coordinate our political influence.

Simply, how we love.

That’s something I can find solace in. If we look like Jesus, even I think just a bit, because of how we love people, it may be so distinctive that we’ll stick out. You see, if we respond with love to those who love us, that’s not such a big deal. That doesn’t make us stick out. But what about that guy at work who you know threw you under the bus when he was backed into a corner? What about helping the mom who let her two kids kick the back of your seat for a trans-Atlantic flight get her heavy suitcase off the carousel? What about showing grace to those who tell you you are doing a bad job at: work/raising kids/being a good spouse/being a good child?

I hope and pray that I do a better job at that than I used to, and that throughout my time on this earth I will continue to improve in that. But until that point where I no longer struggle to be selflessly kind to everyone around me (aka…when I’m dead) – I can rest knowing that perhaps incomplete is close enough to make a difference. Imperfect is better than nothing. And a bit like Jesus may be the ‘bit’ that others need to see. Just to be perfectly clear, I should not be content to stay where I am. I should hope, pray, and try to be more loving every day of my life. But, also I don’t have to beat myself up for not being all the way there. Yet.

I can find solace in that.

(That, and the fact that I can always fall back on my career as a body double for ole’ CR7 if the need ever arises.)