Categories
Death Family Goodbye Grief Loss Love Malaria Missions

😶

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.

 

Categories
Choices Control Courage Faith Finishing Ministry Missionary Missions Sacrifice Sorrow The Call of God Vision

The Giving Up

Psalm 45:10 LB“I advise you…not to fret about your parents in your homeland far away.”

Living far from my homeland, where my children, grandchildren, and extended family live, has been a walk of faith. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I had what it takes to carry this kind of load, the “not to fret” kind of load.

I’ve been told when talking of living overseas all these years, “Oh, you’re used to it.” Indeed, I am used to this way of living on many levels. I can speak several foreign languages, live without A/C or power, shop for groceries like a pro in the markets, and even drive in foreign nations (it’s wise to take an antacid before trying to drive here).

However, I digress, there’s something that one never “gets used to” and that is the giving up to go. The giving up has less to do with giving up things and more to do with giving up being with loved ones. Each time I say goodbye I wonder how long it will be until the next hello. Will we meet again on earth or in heaven? Will my grandchildren know me? Will I matter to them?

In fact, with the passage of time, I have come to find that the giving up becomes increasingly poingnant as time goes by because the longer I live, the more I’ve missed in the lives of those I left behind.

My mother passed away when I was in Malawi in 2008. I had been speaking with her on the phone throughout her final illness and she kept saying, “I’ll get through this.” Sadly, she didn’t get through it here; instead she got through to her heavenly home. I remember flying home for her memorial service, having to surrender what I missed of her later years to my Heavenly Father. That lesson of losing a loved one while far away on a mission is not taught in any curriculum anywhere. There’s no homework, course study, or internship that could have possibly walked me through that time, it was all part of the giving up to go – the offering that is made not of money or possessions but of sacrifice.

Last year when we had our most recent trip to the USA, we spent time with our son and his family who had just had their second child, a beautiful girl (their first is an amazing boy). The few days we had together were a highlight – I now understand what all the hype is about concerning grandchildren. The day we were to leave, I felt a wave of emotion of the kind I’ve never experienced before when I held those two precious little ones before climbing into the car. There was no way to hold back the flood of tears that spilled over onto my cheeks. I imagine no one knew what to do with me as I’m not usually given to tears. Yet, there I stood, much to my chagrin, crying ugly tears as I gave up to go.

The morning we left, my thirdborn son, together with my daughter and son-in-law who are now here serving with us, was helping us put the final touches on our packing. He’s a man in his own right, but as I looked at him past his beard and 6-foot stature, I saw the face of a little boy mischeviously peeking around the corner of the living room to watch Jurassic Park when we had told him he was too small to watch such a scary movie. I cried again leaving him behind that morning, alone but not alone.

Some hours later, we stepped onto our return flight to Africa. There was a strange heaviness in my steps that hadn’t been there before; the ugly tears were still flowing as we waited for the plane to take off. In years past, as a young missionary, I had my children with me and the excitement of the mission overtook any overwhelming sadness. We were headed for adventure! Now, having lived a little while and having felt the painful lessons of loss, my sacrifice became increasingly real. The question that arose in my mind in tandem with the hum of the jet engines almost taunted me, “Is He worth giving all of them up to go?”

I found myself stepping off a plane onto the tarmac at the airport here in Bujumbura a few months ago; the mountains vaguely visible through the haze of the dry season. The warm breeze blew past my face and the tears, still flowing, fell to the ground. This land where we started our work planting churches had called us back and there I was, standing in the heat holding my youngest daughter’s hand tightly. Memories of years past played in my mind of the victories and defeats we had faced all for a dream to see a church planted when everyone else thought it impossible.

I wonder how many have had the chance to offer a sacrifice and how many have held on instead of letting go? How many people are waiting around the world for those among us to give up so they, too, can go with us to our Heavenly home when He calls? Perhaps I’ve not given the best offering or had talent to woo the thousands, but I’ve given what I have had to give and will keep giving even when it feels there’s nothing left so others might also go.

And those tears? He has counted each one and bottled them, waiting for the Day when all tears will be wiped away and sorrow will be gone. Until then, He is welcome to have all my tears, my offerings, my sacrifices – as unfit as they are for Him – because He gave His all for me so all of me has become His.

Psalm 58:6 NKJ“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?”

Categories
Church planting Courage Goodbye Hello

Suck It Up, Buttercup

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Here I am, starting all over again. I’m a mom of 4 (my youngest is 9), a grandmother of 1 (soon to be 2) and I’m still keeping the pace of a much younger me when we began planting churches in our early 20s. There’s a lot that goes into moving from country to country, sometimes continent to continent, to plant churches. Yes, it is very exciting to see a something born from nothing; our church here in Blantyre, Malawi, is barely a year old and I see the shadows of a great church forming from the humblest of beginnings.

Our “facility” is not really a facility. When we first started meeting, we met at our home on the front porch. Later, we rented a place to pitch our tent at a local school. Once God miraculously provided us with a piece of land, it was truly miraculous; we moved the tent to our land and began to settle. While we have yet to see any real development on the property, you can see the outlines of the foundation for a security wall fence and underneath our tent there are regular church activities taking place. The church is growing not only numerically but also spiritually; I can sense some roots going down and people growing stronger in their faith. For me to be even a small part in this eternal miracle is a great honor; I don’t take it lightly that God would allow me to see this happen over and over again when many never see a new church born this way ever in their lifetimes.

That being said, I do get “relocation fatigue” from time to time. Honestly, it’s not easy picking up and starting from the beginning every few years when the church we’ve planted and raised becomes mature enough for us to go and start another one. As the excitement and honeymoon phase of the church plant gives way to the bare knuckles work of growing the church, I begin wondering how much longer I have to enjoy where I find myself working. If I’m not careful, I can pull myself away to keep from feeling too hurt when it is time to hand over the work to the national sons and daughters God gives us to take over. We are, after all, missionaries, and our job is to work ourselves out of a job, right?

That reality doesn’t make leaving when the work is done any easier. Indeed, that knowledge helps us as we set things in order but when you pour your life into a work and then have to leave it – it leaves a mark. Those marks, those scars, are the marks we bear as a result of growing spiritual children. It’s a process that mimics growing our natural children. My first three children are now grown and I bear the familiar marks of motherhood: dark circles under my eyes, graying hair, a few wrinkles, stretch marks, and lots of dental work! Now that they are grown and on their own, I am overwhelmingly proud – but they’ve left me, and that has also left a scar. That scar is not a physical one, but one that I bear in my heart. It’s an ache that doesn’t go away, but accompanying the ache is a great pride that they are productive adults on their own that love God and their families. Releasing our churches is like watching our grown children navigate the world – it gives us great reason for joy as well as great reason for tears.

We are still in the season of heavy plowing and pushing away great piles of dirt to lay deep foundations that will hold this church, hopefully, for many generations to come. Yet, somewhere in the deeper recedes of my soul I find myself wondering if, after a lifetime of farewells, I have the stamina to keep saying goodbye. Goodbye to family, friends, and churches – but what is the alternative when so many are waiting to hear hello?

“It’s time to shake it off, then, have a cup of coffee, and suck it up buttercup,” I say to myself. I’ve learned when it feels like I can’t take another step, I simply put my foot out and step again. That’s when life becomes truly powerful because there’s none of my power left.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NKJ “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

So suck it up buttercup and take that step. You know you can’t do it alone, that’s why now by His grace you can. Someone is waiting for you to say hello.