I’ve learned a bit of Greek lately. Well, only two words really, but they’re significant ones. I picked them up, of all places, in Gaborone, Botswana. I was at LittAfrica, the Christian publishing conference that the MAI-Africa board—of which I am a part—organised. We’ve been planning this event for months, so you can imagine my relief as I finally sat down to listen to the plenary session. Part of me was still in ‘organising mode’, thinking of the upcoming workshops and wondering if all the venues had projectors and enough chairs. I kept glancing at my watch to see what impact our delayed start that morning would have on the rest of the programme.

But it wasn’t long before Dr Amon Kasambala had my full attention. It was then that I heard the two Greek words that left an indelible impression on me. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out the English version of the first word and, if you’ve been in Christian circles, you’re sure to have heard the second, but just because something is familiar, doesn’t mean we’ve understood its significance.

Dr Kasambala introduced us to the concepts of chronos and kairos time.

Chronos is where the word chronological comes from. It’s the quantitative measure of time using clocks and calendars. And oh boy, am I a chronos kind of girl! Just ask my family…meals happen at a certain time, pets are fed at precisely the same hour each day, quiet times and exercise all happen to a set routine. It gives my life structure. It gives me control.

Then, Dr Kasambala told us, there is kairos time. This is defined as ‘the right, critical, or opportune moment’. Moments like Moses catching a glimpse of a burning bush and turning aside to take a look. Like Abraham’s servant going to the well and ‘bumping’ into Rebekah, who would become Isaac’s wife, and the mother of a nation. Like Philip meeting the Ethiopian eunuch as he was reading the scroll of Isaiah in his chariot, and using the prophet’s words to point him to Jesus. These are the critical, opportune moments when God is clearly at work.

From that very first plenary, LittAfrica was defined by such kairos moments. Soon it was the phrase on everybody’s lips. Having to choose between four workshop tracks, people emerged from their choice saying things like, ‘this was the one I needed, this was just what I had to hear.’ Mealtimes were rich with opportune meetings as delegates ended up sitting ‘randomly’ beside someone who could counsel them, or spark an idea, or share a meaningful, personal story. I even had a very significant kairos moment on the last day when I bumped into someone going for a walk at 6 am and decided to join him. The conversation we had was probably the most significant, healing one of the whole conference for me.

I learned many things at LittAfrica but this is undoubtedly the most significant—that God is very much at work in our lives! He could take our committee’s slightly chaotic conference planning and our less-than-perfect-chronos-schedule and do something remarkable, something deeply personal, in the lives of those who attended.

It’s a big shift for me, I must admit, this chronos to kairos way of seeing the world. Yet the more I think about it, the more I see that Jesus was far more interested in the kairos moments than in getting through his To-Do list for the day. I’m not saying lists and routines aren’t important—Jesus went out every morning before dawn to meet with His Father—but we mustn’t stick so tightly to them that we lose sight of those quiet, sacred moments when God is at work.

It can happen anywhere, any time. We just need to pay attention.

Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire with God

But only he who sees takes off his shoes

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

(from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

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