Excerpt from On Higher Ground: A Journey to Faith

I started asking my questions. The man's name was Benson Kapoma. He was 88 years old and all seven of his children had died of AIDS.

"I have no one left", he said through Richard. "I have no one to take care of me. At my age I thought I would be living with one of my children. But there is no one left. It is all because of AIDS."

Both his voice and spirit seemed broken and his words resemble more of a cry that a language anyone could understand. I felt a pit in my stomach.

"AIDS had destroyed my country," he continued. "Something needs to be done. There needs to be a change in this country or else more and more people will continue to suffer."

It dawned on me that like the hundreds of African children I had encountered that week, he was an AIDS orphan now as well. Imagine an 88-year-old man forced to gather food in thte woods every day. My heart became sick with compassion for this man. I thought of my own father and mother, who are blessed with good health and happiness in their 70s. I imagined my dad wearing these tattered rags and leaning over a scrap-metal cane and it made me want to cry.

I knelt down to get a better angle with the camera as he continued speaking with Richard. I had stopped listening and stopped asking questions. This interview was over even though the camera continued to record. I only felt sorrow for this man and wished I had given him all of my power bars and tuna and not just some of it. I noticed how tightly his weak hands clutched to power bars as he continued talking in his weepy language.

The roosters had long stopped crying and the chickens were chasing each other all over the compound. I was feeling sleepy from having woken up before the sun did. I couldn't wait to get back to the canteen for another cup of coffee.

Now that same sun was nearly completely risen behind him and there was glare on the viewfinder. I moved slightly to one side for a clearer picture and I saw something else entirely. It was right there on my screen. I gasped and tears quickly washed the dust from my already puffy eyes.

Benson Kapoma was no longer the ragged old man in ratty clothes. Instead, I saw Jesus Christ, regaled in red and white robes in all His glory. He looked at me in a gentle, majestic, loving way and I could say nothing. I stared, holding my breath for several moments and then the image was gone.

The old man eventually wandered away with a bag of nuts, some cereal, and a few pieces of fruit. I watched him walk away and disappear into the forest like a slow lifting fog that merely blended in with the yellow elephant grass and brown trees.

I was sure that he would make it for at least another few days. But what about me: A tough, or so I thought, ex-New Yorker, former carpenter who was now an award-winning reporter for a major daily newspaper. Would I be all right? What exactly had I seen?

I tried telling myself that I could not have seen what I did.

For the rest of the day and night I thought of the old man and of Jesus, the son of God. How could I not have? Something inside me wished I had followed him into the forest. I wished that I had the courage to give him all my food instead of just some extra items I had. I wished I had the faith to bend down and wash his feet and put a pair of shoes on him.

I wished I cared for more than just my story while I was talking with him. Instead of looking for that killer quote that would help my story win some press award, I wished I had truly listened to him.

Even a borderline believer like me knew about Matthew 25:40, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you have done unto me." Sure, even Catholics like me who would grace a church with my presence only on Easter and Christmas knew that verse. Plus, I remembered it from the church hymn back in my altar boy days.

While I had always gotten a certain sense of comfort from that verse, now it was filling me with dread. I sure was hoping that wasn't the case. After all, how many times had I done the wrong thing to-or simply ignored-the least of my brothers? I was great at trampling on feelings and relationships, acting selfishly without any regard for others or for consequences.

How many times had I walked right past the least of my brothers and done nothing?

Knowing that there was no way on God's green earth that Jesus would ever show Himself to a worthless unrepentant sinner like me, I doubted what I had seen. Yet the image of Jesus, glorious and victorious, was there every time I closed my eyes.;

I told no one of what I had seen that day until I returned home to my wife a few days later. I could not erase the image or memory from my mind, no matter how hard I tried to rationalize that it could not have happened.

I was merely caught up in the excitement and the fervor of being with all these teenaged missionaries. Perhaps their words the night before on the wonderful notes they gave me were what caused the image to pop into my head.

But at the same time, I knew I had seen something.

I didn't want to be one of those people, the type who sees Jesus in their French toast or the Virgin Mary on the side of a building.

No, it couldn't have happened. I didn't know what it meant anyhow. But it would be the start of everything for me.