Our November 2019 updates are in click here for details.
Last week started out as any normal week but as the days unfolded, it turned into an abnormally normal one. Let me try to unravel the tangled mess that we walked through and have found, unfortunately, to be all-too-common on this side of the planet.
After an amazing weekend at church, I received word early on Tuesday morning from one of our church members, Joseline, that her 5-year-old niece, Grace, was very sick with malaria. She had been transferred from a local clinic to a government hospital on Monday and had taken a turn for the worse. I had planned to be out around lunchtime and said I’d pass by around 1 p.m. to pray for Grace. She immediately replied, “Come now.”
Gripped by the urgency of the moment, I jumped into the car with Selenie, one of our leaders and a dear friend, who lives nearby our house and headed for the hospital. Joseline met us outside with worry written all over her face; she briefed us on how the child had suddenly taken a turn for the worse overnight and doctors were scrambling to treat her. More tests were needed, we all gave some money to pay quickly as nothing is done here without up-front payment, and Joseline ran off to pay for the ordered exams.
By this time, we were standing outside the intensive care unit where Grace was but had not yet been allowed to enter. Grace’s mother came out momentarily and was able to escort us to the bedside of her little daughter. An older relative, who I assumed was her grandmother, was stroking her head as she was convulsing and praying desperate prayers. Selenie and I, unprepared to see what was happening before us, laid our hands on Grace’s flailing arms and legs and began to pray. Little can be said in such a moment of anguish so we cried out to Jesus. A few moments later, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye and knew the doctors wanted to tend to her (I assumed the ordered tests had been paid for and they were prepared to perform the tests). We concluded our prayers and exited the room, the heavy metal door locking loudly behind us.
We did our best to enourage Grace’s father and other family members we found outside, but our words felt so very inadequate. Grace’s father had married her mother after his first wife died and Grace was their first child together. His facial expression belied his worry and I had no words; I could only be present.
After some time, Selenie and I made our way home, praying for the best. What we had hoped and prayed for, a miracle healing, did not take place and less than two hours later, Joseline’s message came, “The child has died.”
I had no words.
I had alerted women in the church to pray when news first came of Grace, I had hoped not to have to bring them the news of her death. With a heavy heart, I forwarded the message to the ladies and what came next was what I find to be one of the greatest qualities of the people in this part of the world: their ability to comfort grieving families by simply being present.
By Tuesday afternoon, just hours after Grace’s death, the family made arrangements to transport Grace’s remains to a local morgue as there aren’t funeral services here to make arrangements for families. I am not sure why she wasn’t placed into the morgue at the hospital where she had been treated; I suspect it was full. By Tuesday evening, a “kilio” (literally translated, “a crying”), a time of mourning with the family, was being held at the family’s home on the outskirts of town. Since Grace came from a believing family, the feeling at the kilio was full of hope, comfort, and love. Family, friends and church members filled the house for the three days leading up to the funeral.
At a kilio one doesn’t have to do anything; you go, sit, pray, offer whatever words you may have to offer but the main point of the kilio is to be present. Together with Selenie and another lady from church, we went and spent time with the family for a few hours. The women sat apart from the men on the floor in the house; ladies came in, greeted one another, prayed, sometimes even slept, and sat with Grace’s mother. The men sat outside under a makeshift tent in chairs doing the same for the father. The understanding of the pain felt by loved ones in the death of family members runs deep here; everyone unfortunately has felt the sting associated with death many times. Here, it is understood that to be present is the greatest gift that one can give.
Friday morning arrived and according to custom, we met the family and others at the morgue and waited for the body to be released. Those who wanted, were allowed to view the body, called “jicho la mwisho” (literally translated, “the last eye”), and when all paperwork was complete, the funeral procession made its way to the graveyard about 30 minutes away by car.
Under the blazing sun, we filed to the graveside where a short but very poignant ceremony began. All did their best to remain brave, however, when the time came to read Grace’s short biography, the tears flowed. She had finised “ecole maternelle” (kindergarten) and was preparing to enter first grade, how short her life was and the unspoken question “why” settled in our minds but all of us determined to release that unanswerable question to an all-knowing God. Parents, family and friends took turns leaving flowers at the grave and finally, it was time to say goodbye – for now. We know that one day those graves will open when the sky lights up (1 Thess. 4:16) and all tears will finally be wiped away (Isa. 25:8).
A short ceremony was held at another venue after leaving the graveside by the family to thank all well-wishers and those who had helped the family at their darkest moment. As custom has it, the kilio for young children doesn’t extend beyond the burial. It was formally lifted at this short ceremony, but it was easy to see that for Grace’s parents, the kilio was ongoing.
Malaria kills 1,200 children daily, about 50 per hour, around the world. 90% of those deaths occur in Africa. Earlier this year, we handed out 200 mosquito nets in a rural area outside of Bujumbura city and I wonder how we can do more, help more and prevent more deaths. Grace, whose story we lived last week, is just one of 1,000s. Since she died, approximately 8,400 others just like her have succumbed to the disease. Pray with us and for us so that we can reach more families in the coming year with mosquito nets and malaria prevention classes, it is the least we can do.
And when we have done what we can, while there may not be words, we will simply be present.
This past week a cyclone hit the coast of Africa mostly affecting Mozambique and Zimbabwe. So far, according to reports, approximately 126 people (some reports say higher) have died as a direct result of the storm. In Nigeria, 120 people have died in recent attacks in local villages. There have been shootings in New Zealand leaving 50 dead and an Ethiopian Airlines plane went down last week killing all 157 on board. This short list of news is a only a small fraction of what goes unreported every day. Estimates vary, but there are about 151,600 people that die daily and most of those deaths go unreported in the news. 70,000 of these deaths occur in nations that are closed to the Gospel.
All over the world, people are crying.
Normally, my blogs are a bit quirky with a snippet of sarcasm and dry humor so I apologize if my departure from my usual self seems, at first, to be gloomy. It’s not my intention to leave anyone depressed today and I truly hope you don’t feel hopeless by the time I finish my little diatribe.
As this world’s media picks and chooses what stories to cover and what stories to shelve, but the truth remains that thousands of families have spent the past several hours and days mourning for lost loved ones. Death is no respecter of persons and all of us will one day shuffle off this mortal coil in exchange for that which is eternal; what we do with our time here before we have that final meeting is what really is of value.
I won’t pretend to be educated enough to address the issues that others put under the microscope and take their limited time to rant on over social media. I find it sad that many of us choose to spend the limited time we have on this earth arguing with others on a platform where those you are sparring with are most likely going to remain unknown to you. It’s amazing how vicious some people have become with the advent of social media.
Romans 12:21 NKJ “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Some justify their vitriol and even invoke God’s name when they do so, but as I know God, He still loves the world and all the people in it (John 3:16). In fact, the only time Jesus is seen weeping in scripture is when He looked over a city (Luke 19:41). He wasn’t crying over the buildings or land, He was crying for the people; some of those in that city He knew were the ones that would take part in His crucifixion. I don’t know how many of us would now have heart to do the same over our own cities where at times we face brutal criticism and attack for the cross that we bear and represent. Oh, that I might represent that cross well!
This hopeless hour we find ourselves in could very possibly be the greatest opportunity the church worldwide has ever known. As a lifetime missionary, experience has taught me that when people are most vulnerable is when they are most open to the Gospel that brings love and hope.
Last week, we held an outreach into a local area here in Bujumbura, Burundi called Buterere. About 20 years ago this area was little more than a trash dump and rice fields. After the war here in the mid-late 1990s, people who had been displaced by the war moved to this area. It was a horrible situation; there was little to no sanitation, no running water, nothing to serve the people. 20 years later I found myself again in Buterere surrounded by a growing community that is slowly finding its way. The surroundings are still very basic and due to its low-lying situation, it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. At the outreach, we held disease prevention classes teaching on topics like malaria prevention and basic hygiene. At the end of the teaching we distributed, to 200 families, mosquito nets, basins, soap, and a book by Joyce Meyers called, “Tell Them I Love Them.” We gave an opportunity for people to receive Christ and 45 people raised their hands. The reports coming back to us in the past few days have been full of words of appreciation and thanks for showing what God’s love is really all about.
Will all of those 45 follow through with their decisions? We will do our best to follow up on them and encourage them but the large majority probably won’t – but who follows through and who doesn’t isn’t what motivates me to reach out to them. What motivates me is God’s love for them and we do what we can do in any given situation so that some may come to know Him (1 Cor. 9:22). While we work to encourage those making commitments, the results aren’t my responsibility and truth be told, if I was moved by results or popular opinion I would have resigned from my position many years ago.
So how do we, then, speak out? How do we behave honestly, yet lovingly, in this upside down world?
Ephesians 4:14-16 NKJ “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
God loves the world and the motivating factor for what He does is love. I believe it’s only out of His love for the world that it hasn’t already fallen off its axis! We can say the right things but with the wrong motivation; the right thing said for the wrong reason is the wrong thing. God doesn’t need to have His reputation defended for His reputation is intact no matter what people think. Jesus understood this:
John 2:24,25 NKJ “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”
I hope today in some small way in my little world in Bujumbura, Burundi I am advancing the Kingdom of God by speaking the truth, not to justify who I am, but out of love for those who need to hear the truth. I can make what I say and do sound and appear righteous, but if my motivation is not loving the people, then I am only looking to raise my own righteous profile and not God’s.
“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines—as well as upon works!” John Newton
Nothing I’ve written has ever gone viral or been popular, but on the off-chance someone reads this little piece and it gives them a bit of hope for this lost and dying world – it’s a win. If it makes someone upset, well, take a number and the staff (me) will attend to your complaint at its earliest convenience.
Rant over. Time for coffee.
History was written on His face – not old – but ancient,
The lines told a tale older than time,
He was the Keeper.
Entering the room, lined with shelves that were stacked with volumes of books,
His calloused and beautiful hands gently caressed the bindings of those stories,
Eyes passing gently over each one, He knew them in detail.
He then stopped and I heard Him say, “Now, it’s time for you.”
Reaching a hand into a pocket on the front of His coat right next to His heart
He took out a book and in it
Was the story of me.
Pulling out a chair, He sat down
And rested this poorly written piece on a table and then opened to chapter one.
His attention was fixed on the pages as He started to turn
The book was worn and old, pages stained and sad.
“Who will read such a sad tale?” I called from the back of the room
“No one has wanted it, no one has cared.”
“I’m reading,” said the Keeper, “Come, let’s read together,
Take time to see what your book says.”
I sat with Him and we flipped through the pages one by one,
I felt ashamed He would read the words that were written there.
His tears began to flow freely and fell on the pages as we read –
But a smile crossed His face each time
My name was written there.
The print was faded, the letters had smeared
But He understood each word.
Lifting His head, His tears mingling with His smile,
The same beautiful hand that had touched
Those wonderfully written books on the shelf
Reached to wipe from my face
Tears from the hurts of lost time.
As the pages came to an end, there was no happy ending
No fairy tale magic or magic rescue,
There was only sadness and loss.
I dared to turn toward Him and asked,
“Why take all this time for me?
There’s no way to rewrite history!”
Eyes that read far deeper than times past
Reached into the darkness of my story and saw beyond my pain,
He drew me to His words as He spoke and said,
“But you are wrong dear one,” His voice as gentle as the morning sun,
“I am the Keeper and I’ve kept something for you.”
He then opened a drawer in his table and pulled from there
A new pen and inkwell –
And began again at chapter one.
On those pages of my book He wrote words fresh and new
The volume came to life on pages written in my heart.
Dipping His pen in red ink each time He wrote a phrase
The blood of the Keeper’s Son would never fade!
And as He wrote, He said “Without doubt,
I am the Author and I’m changing your story
I have a new plot in mind.
Won’t you stay here with Me a while?”
The stained pages blew away with one stroke of the pen
And when He was done I said,
“How wonderful! Will my story be together
With all those marvelous books on Your shelf?”
“No, My child,” said the Keeper, “This story is special – I will keep it with Me.”
And He returned the book to the front pocket in His coat
Close to His heart and said,
“Yours is My favorite to read,
Won’t you let it stay with Me?”
In the volumes of Your book, it is written of me.
6 February 2013
Loss. It’s a subject that no one likes to think about or even talk about; our silent hope is that we’ll learn as we go when we experience it. Everyone handles loss differently and not everyone agrees on the “right” way to walk through a season of grief. How can anything be “right” when grieving?
Usually, when the word “loss” is mentioned, we immediately think of the grief we feel when a loved one has passed away. To know the grief experienced when losing a loved one can only be understood by going through it – and that is an experience few, if any, of us will escape in this lifetime.
As I’ve been pondering loss in my lifetime, my thoughts have been moved to areas not usually associated with loss. Grief occurs when we lose something or someone that we had grown to love, correct? We can therefore say that grief isn’t limited to losing loved ones; its scope is much farther reaching than that. We can be grieved when we lose visions, hopes, and dreams.
The mission field has taught me a great deal about loss; I’ve learned to breathe in and enjoy every moment as we have them for we have no assurance what tomorrow may bring. We comfort ourselves by saying that we have the assurance of God’s presence – for it is all we need – but the truth of how much we believe that statement will come only when tested. Those tests don’t come easily; we are tested by loss of dreams for the future, loss of financial support, loss of emotional support, loss of family and friends that are left behind.
For obvious reasons, our family has always had an affinity for missionary stories. We have our heroes: David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, and most recently, Adoniram Judson. Judson, together with his wife, was the first missionary from the States to Burma. (You can read more about his story by clicking here.) They endured loss after loss, yet persevered to see – not thousands, no, not even hundreds – come to the Lord in their first 5 years of service. Not a single soul came to the Lord during that time; in their 6th year, 2 came to the Lord, and the progress continued thus for many years. Even though their “progress” was slow, their dedication was steadfast. They put themselves in the impossible position of going somewhere that was nearly impossible to leave – they chose to stick it out before they knew what they would face.
The choices we make on the front end of a journey have lasting repercussions that will inevitably result in loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of experiences, loss of relationships, and the question we have to answer before knowing what will meet us on the other side of our choices is this: can we rise to the level of our choices?
Of course alone, we can’t possibly manage the losses ahead of us, but the unseen “secret sauce” we have that others don’t is God’s presence.
Exodus 33:12-14 ESV “Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you say to me, “Bring up this people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.’”
Moses is not one we think of when the word “loss” is mentioned. However, he lost a great deal in his lifetime: his family (when raised in Pharaoh’s household), his identity when he fled Egypt, all he had was his relationship with God as he stood leading millions of Israelites in the wilderness. He refused to move forward without that relationship intact.
It is inevitable that we will face loss as we move forward in the will of God, either through death or other circumstance. It will be painful, it won’t come easily, but there’s a way through the pain if indeed we believe His presence is all we need. With His presence, we can walk through that wilderness, like Moses did, and find our paths to our Promised Land.
Open your heart; don’t allow any kind of loss to rob you of a relationship with the only One Who can fill the emptiness you’re facing. It’s never too late to begin again.
That’s the $64,000.00 question whose answer has evaded those asking it generation after generation. Everyone wants to know “why” something happened in order to escape the pain of the experience. If we could know why, perhaps we could avoid the suffering.
Ours is a world that goes to great lengths to avoid pain; no one likes to experience pain. Why experience it when it can be avoided?
Some of life’s greatest experiences put us in the direct path of pain. Who wants to experience the death of loved ones or the pain of loved ones moving far away? If we fear pain to the point of avoiding its very appearance, we rob ourselves of the joy that accompanies living.
Like you, I have had my fair shake of painful experiences. I wish that I could have avoided those times, but there are moments in life when one can’t avoid pain. When my mother passed away in 2008, I wasn’t able to get back from Africa in time to see her before she died. In our last conversation we had just 3 days before her passing, she said to me on the phone, “I’ll get through this.” The next day she slipped into a coma and was gone 2 days later. How I regretted not seeing her one more time before she left us. The pain of her passing was bad enough, the pain of not being with her to say goodbye was another ache I wish I could’ve avoided.
When my brother Matthew was near death 3 years ago, I remembered missing being by mom’s bedside – I promised myself to be with him every minute I possibly could. I have lived away from my family for so long as a missionary in Africa, I wondered if I would even be needed. As Matthew’s home going drew ever closer, he made it known to me he was glad I was around. The most precious memory I have of those horrible days in the hospital was when he asked me, “You’re not leaving, are you?” My reply was, “No, I’m right here.” As painful as that experience was, I don’t regret going through it. I chose to be there and I’m so glad I did.
When war erupted in Burundi, we chose not to leave. Would we have been wrong for leaving? I don’t think so, but we chose to stay with the church members who we had grown to love. It was a 9-year season of painful experiences, watching the nation we had grown to love suffer in great pain. At the end of that season, we chose to move on to start all over again and plant another church. Leaving was very hard; it would have been easier if we hadn’t grown to love the people so much.
Love puts us at risk.
Now imagine Jesus. He willingly took the risk of loving us when we were unlovable. He, our Elder Brother (Romans 8:29) could have chosen not to risk rejection, misunderstanding, and death at the hands of those He came to save. Willingly, He put Himself in the path of unimaginable pain and sorrow – but He did so because He considered the outcome to be worth it.
When I ponder the fact that He thinks of me as worth His death, I am overcome with wonder. Wonder over how I could have been worth everything He went through, but He reckons I am worth it. He risked it all for me because He loves me.
I’ve heard it said the measure of pain we feel at the loss of someone we love is the measure of the love we have for them. Jesus felt great pain; His was a greater loss than we can imagine for not only did He experience physical death (Matthew 27:50), He experienced the absence of His Father’s presence Who had never been apart from Him until the moment He was crucified (Matthew 27:46). He experienced total and complete abandonment and rejection, a spiritual death, so that we wouldn’t have to. Because of Him, we have the opportunity to receive the forgiveness and acceptance of a Father Whose love is boundless. Now it is up to us, what will we choose, to become a part of the family or remain estranged? The choice is ours for He wants us to become willing members of the family – not forced servants.
The pattern Jesus set for us in His sacrifice gives meaning to the pains we experience in life. Every pain, every scar, has it’s meaning. It may be that those reasons aren’t going to be revealed in our lifetime – but they certainly will be revealed in the lifetimes of those who will follow us. As a family, we have been reading the biography of Adoniram Judson (I highly recommend this book, click here to preview) and we have cried tears in reading of his lifelong journey. Who knew that his son, Edward Judson, would be the one to pen the following:
“Suffering and success go together, if you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered, if you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”
This is the wonder of the God we serve: He takes our pain and uses it as stepping-stones for those who come after us to succeed. How He does that is His miracle, but it is the pattern He set in place with His Son. His suffering has allowed us to experience the ultimate success: becoming part of His family. His pain became our success and now, in turn, we can do the same.
Hast thou no scar’
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand’
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar’
Hast thou no wound’
Yet I was wounded by the archers, spend,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound’
No wound, no scar’
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And, pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole: can he have followed far
Who has no wounds nor scar’
– Amy Carmichael, Missionary to India
I cry ugly. There are some people who have the talent of crying and looking good at the same time. Both of my daughters, when they were very young, would practice crying in front of a mirror. They acquired the talent of crying and being pretty while crying. This is a talent I do not possess.
Not only do I cry ugly, when I cry there’s a chance (and a good one) that I might cry my contact lenses out of my eyes. It’s extremely unfortunate to lose a contact while crying – sometimes the lens can be recovered, but more often than not, I fail in any recovery effort, often finding the lost lens dried out on the bathroom countertop.
So, in addition to crying ugly, I risk suffering financial loss if I lose a contact lens while crying – I am therefore highly motivated to “hold it together” for the sake of vanity and finances!
Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, it’s impossible for me to avoid tears:
- I cry when my young daughter gives me a drawing she made just for me.
- I cry when I miss my older children and my grandson.
- I cry when accidentally stubbing my toe in the middle of the night.
- I cry when I see an animal rescue story.
Apart from these, there are life experiences that can move me to tears so intense I may have trouble seeing the path in front of me. Emotions can run so deep that my soul’s pain blurs my vision. Those are the kinds of tears no one wants to cry.
Psalm 6:6,7a NLT “I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief…”
When we go through those moments, it’s tempting to think that “no one” could ever understand our pain. There’s no one who has ever gone through what we are experiencing. This is true to an extent since pain is individual. What is not true, is believing our pain is so great and unique that there’s no one who can relate to us and help us.
In Genesis 21, after Abraham’s son of promise Isaac was born, his first son, Ishmael and his mother Hagar, faced a lot of hardship. Sarah, Isaac’s mother, understandably was protective of her only child. She wanted them both gone from the household. So, they were sent away into the wilderness.
Imagine being Ishmael’s mother, rejected by your son’s wealthy father, wandering in the wilderness with your son and running out of water. When the water did run out, she couldn’t bear watching her son die. She laid him under a bush and sat some distance away, waiting for what she thought was inevitable to happen.
Genesis 21:16 NLT “Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. ‘I don’t want to watch the boy die,’ she said, as she burst into tears.”
Tears at a seemingly impossible and intractable situation. Uncontrollable tears, for her son was going to die. She couldn’t see because of her tears, until her eyes were opened.
Genesis 21:19,20 NLT “ ‘Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.’ Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink.”
Hagar thought she was in an impossible situation. However, what she thought wasn’t the truth. God had a plan for her son – He had a wonderful future in store. Her tears kept her from seeing straight; it wasn’t until God “opened” her eyes that she saw a well full of water.
Don’t allow pain and tears to close your eyes to the wells of water surrounding you. God has a wonderful plan in store for you and your loved ones – allow Him to open your eyes to see the well. That water will revive what you think is dying inside of you.