Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Off the Hem of Affliction

Today I have been doing some editing on the draft of my second book which continues the story where In This Place left off. We had been dramatically evacuated from our home & ministry in Liberia, West Africa, and forced to return to the United States for a time. In June, 1991, at the eve of our third daughter's first birthday, we - along with a team of three other missionaries and their children - moved to a border town in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Only God knew what we would experience there. If I had known, my flesh would have pitched a tantrum and refused to budge from the comforts of America. But we did not know. 

And that, my friend, is always a gift from God.

Below is an Excerpt from my second book, In Every Place, to be published early 2012.

And the Beat Goes On and On (July 1991)
          Just as our second daughter Stefanie’s first birthday was celebrated in the shadow of our Lassa Fever scare in Tappeta; our third daughter Lauren turned one in the middle of the oppressiveness of the small village town of Pehe in Ivory Coast. Yes, we had a cake and even had presents for her. It was balm in the middle of our struggles to be able to celebrate Lauren’s first birthday. Soon after her birthday, Jeff had to return to Abidjan (a seven hour trip) for supplies. While he was gone, Lauren came down with chicken pox and, because of the African heat, was suffering tremendously with the itchy side effects of the virus.
          An old Liberian lady who lived across the path from our house had evidently seen the sores on Lauren’s little body. One day the old lady’s daughter came with her to our house for a visit. She had brought some country medicine for me to rub on Lauren’s sores which was guaranteed to dry them up. She insisted that I rub the homemade concoction on the baby right away. These are the moments that make or break a missionary in her effectiveness. While not wanting to endanger my baby girl by rubbing her open sores with unsanitary-looking ointment, there was an abiding confidence that I was to do just that. As I put my fingers in the salve, a horrible smell wafted to my nose and so I asked the daughter (who had been interpreting for the older lady who knew no English) what was in the medicine. A particular tree bark, herbs, and cow manure were the main ingredients, I was told. Trying my best not to gag, I knew that I was up against another cultural collision. Those two women were not Christians though we had witnessed to them repeatedly, so I did not want to offend them by turning away their medicinal offering. That did not stop both Lauren and I from cringing because of the smell, but I decided to apply the salve and let God take care of the my little girl. It was greenish in color, and there is a picture of Lauren enveloped with the salve, looking like a bug-eyed little lizard.
          As I wanted to talk to the two Liberian women a little more about their need for Christ, I asked Michelle to take Lauren into the bedroom with her. When Michelle picked up Lauren and got a good whiff of her little sister, she adamantly refused to take her anywhere smelling like that! It was so pitiful that it became funny. After a few minutes, the African women left and I took Lauren straight to the bathtub to relieve us all from the smell! As does usually happen in cases of chicken pox, within two or three days, the sores started drying up and Lauren was feeling better. The old Liberian woman and her daughter came in the yard to tell us how happy they were that the country medicine had worked so well. I smiled and thanked them profusely for their kindness, leaving out the fact that Lauren had only worn that salve for all of ten minutes that first day. There are some things that just do not need to be revealed!
          According to my journals, the ministries in that spiritually dark region continued despite the hardships and oppression that we felt everywhere we turned. Growth and spiritual revival often come off the hem of affliction and tribulation. My journal of August 18 reads: Jeff and Mark have started a Bible study in Pehe every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Jeff had 25 men attend yesterday. I have a Ladies’ Bible study here on Tuesday and Thursdays, one in Kpobli on Saturdays, and a teenage girls’ class on Sunday afternoon. Many of the African Christians are growing. We are seeing fruit. And every Sunday Jeff preaches in a different town in the surrounding area. We see salvations each Sunday for which we are thankful. We want to be faithful, and we choose to live faithfully, but we need strength from our even more faithful Savior. 
          It felt like we were plodding through thick mud instead of pure refreshing water.  However, what I can see now is that, even in the mud, there were those who needed Christ. Isn’t that where most people reside that truly need Christ? In the mud? Didn’t Christ say that we may have to get our hands dirty to make a difference in His kingdom? (How many times did Jesus put His hands in the dirt or mud as a symbol of the healing He was about to do?) That particular time in ministry prompted a necessity to totally die to self so that God could totally have His way. My battered, selfish flesh just kept getting in the way! Honestly, I only remember many of the results of our ministries in Pehe when I read my journals. Sadly, most of the memories that I carry in my heart about Pehe are the bad ones. The hard ones. That has been a poignant revelation for me, but it has also shown me that God, like the infamous Footprint poem infers, carried us through those times when we had no strength of our own and sustained us wherever He needed us to be. I am in awe that He used us, broken, overwhelmed, and floundering in some of the darkest parts of the West African culture.
          Seriously, we had always loved living in Africa and had always been able to overcome most of those cultural collisions, but with the war raging across the border and thousands of war-battered, traumatized Liberians living around us, the dynamics were beyond our control. Nothing could have prepared us for that. So we had come unprepared, clueless, and vulnerable to the decaying elements around us. I Surrender All was more than just a song those days. We were called out to truly know Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering. It was not what I would have chosen outside His spirit that lived within me. (Philippians 3:10)

 The lyric of The Prayer echoes my heart cries from that dark, difficult time in ministry. Wherever I go, my prayer is that God will lead me, guide me with His grace, and shine His blessed light through eyes that reflect His. (Lyrics below video)

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know

Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe
La luce che to dai

I pray we’ll find your light
Nel cuore restero
And hold it in our hearts
A ricordarchi che
When stars go out each night
L’eterna stella sei
Nella mia preghiera
Let this be our prayer
Quanta fede c’e
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace

Give us faith so we’ll be safe.
Sognamo un mondo senza piu violenza

Un mondo di giustizia e di speranza
Ognuno dia la mano al suo vicino
Simbolo di pace e di fraternita

La forza che ci dai
We ask that life be kind
E’il desiderio che
And watch us from above
Ognuno trovi amore
We hope each soul will find
Intorno e dentro a se
Another soul to love

Let this be our prayer
Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Just like every child

Needs to find a place,
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe
E la fede che
Hai acceso in noi
Sento che ci salvera