Oompa Loompa Sheep

by Joanie Butman

Have you ever felt like you’re eavesdropping in a God conversation? It isn’t a frequent event, but it’s unmistakable when it occurs because they always happen unexpectedly and by what can only be Divine intervention. They are an example of how sometimes God shows up most clearly when you aren’t even looking for Him.


My most recent experience happened during the wedding weekend in Boston. My daughter and I flagged a cab on our way to the rehearsal. Before my butt even hit the seat the driver, Walid, declared boldly, “I need your help.” Reflexively, I replied, “Sure. With what?” He proceeded to tell me about his struggles with an alcoholic spouse, his many interventions on her behalf, how the disease is ripping their family apart, and her reluctance to change. Yet, he still loved her despite all the pain.

He then proceeded to ask whether he should kick her out, divorce her or try yet another intervention. I felt totally out of my league and woefully unqualified to offer wisdom or advice. By this time we had arrived at the church. He turned to me and pleaded, “I just need to know if there is still hope.” AHA! I could answer this inquiry with complete confidence and without hesitation. I held his hand as he looked imploringly into my eyes with desperation. I pointed at the Cathedral and told him, “My hope resides with God who never gives up on anyone. He is a God of restoration – of broken lives, broken dreams, broken marriages. There is always hope when your hope is in Him.” If he could have, I think he would have kissed me. I promised to pray for his family, and we said goodbye. As he drove off, I regretted not getting his contact information so I could keep in touch with him, but I don’t think that was my role. I was placed in that cab at that moment for a specific purpose. It was as if Walid was having a conversation with God, and I was just the intermediary.

That meeting haunted me the rest of the weekend and beyond. What did Walid recognize in me that gave him the courage to share his pain with a complete stranger? My answer arrived the next afternoon. I was watching a news story* of a sheep farmer who was having a theft problem with his flock. As a deterrent, he spray painted his sheep neon orange so everyone would know to whom they belonged. They’ve been nicknamed “Oompa Loompa Sheep.”  As an aside, an Oompa Loompa refers to either:

1.  Any of the fictional dwarves who manufacture candy in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or

2.  A person appearing orange from fake tanning.

As I considered the farmer’s story, it occurred to me that Christ does the same with His flock. We may not be neon orange, but Walid saw something that indicated to whom I belonged. Perhaps this recognition is what Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 1:22 when he points out, “He (Christ) anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

One of the articles about the sheep included this notation under their photo.  “The sheep have been spotted 'lighting up' the countryside by walkers in Cumbria (@MilnerJason/Twitter).  Aren’t we called to do the same? To be a light to others? The article also mentions that the sheep have been drawing in tourists. Again, aren’t we instructed to live in a way that draws people to Christ? I thought the analogies were glaring and timely. I’m just glad Walid didn’t pick me up on the way home from the wedding. I’m not sure my light was shining very bright by that time.

Regardless, this chance encounter is exactly why we are instructed in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I’ll probably never see Walid again, though I will be on the lookout during every visit to Boston. However, I continue to pray for Walid and his wife, Diane, and ask that you join me if you feel so inclined. Can’t we all relate to a time when the only hope we could cling to was in Christ? And who hasn’t needed encouragement from others and the power of prayer to lift us up and carry us through our darkest hours? One of the many blessings of Christian fellowship is the privilege of praying for each other and knowing there are others who will step in for you when you can’t do it for yourself.

Always and in all circumstances, choosing prayer is a wise decision.