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Traveling in our neck of the woods is always an adventure. There are some well-worn paths that remind me of a park trail. Other paths are crowded by encroaching jungle, full of prickly vines that make traveling slower. There are other paths that can hardly be called paths—we know that they will most likely lead somewhere, but it is hard to tell when we are on it. I often think about our lives as sojourners, or pilgrims, and we are all on a path in life.
When Mike made his initial trips into this place we call home, he took pictures of one lady in particular. I still have the picture today. He said, “Libby, I can’t wait for you to meet her. Her eyes literally twinkle, and I know you are going to love her.” I tend to gravitate toward older people. Hudson does the same thing, and my mom was the same way. I focused on gerontology toward the end of my university degree and began working in the social department of a health care center after college. So Mike knew that I would be happy about the older people in the tribe, especially this woman.
We eventually moved directly into her hamlet. She became part of our everyday life. She became “Grandma” to the boys. Her youngest son lived in our hamlet also. In that first year or so, he (Grandma’s son) took a wife and they had their first baby, a beautiful tiny little preemie girl. Our team spent a lot of time making sure she was well cared for; she seemed so fragile and susceptible to every cold and sickness. With each month she gained strength and weight. However, her dad started dealing with some illnesses and grew weaker and weaker. We did a lot to try to help him. Finally, our coworker took him out to town to receive further medical treatment. He died a few days later. It was a very emotional time for each one of us.
A few months after this man died, Grandma’s daughter, whom we had never met, arrived from a distant hamlet to mourn for her younger brother. The tribal territory that we live in is quite large, and there are hamlets that are spread out days away from one another. So when word of her brother’s death came, she made preparations for the trip to her mother’s hamlet. She brought her two sons with her. Not long after she arrived and was mourning for her brother, her infant son died suddenly. This dear family experienced sorrow after sorrow.
What a path of suffering they had all travelled. However, the Lord is faithful to take the hardships of our lives, the tears that are shed, and the heartache that doesn’t always make sense and bring from them beautiful things.
Grandma’s daughter is named Ira, and she said, “Because this is the place where my youngest child was cremated and my mother now lives here without her son, I want to stay here.” And so she did.
We began teaching chronologically through the Bible just a few short months later. All three of them—Grandma, her daughter Ira, and Ira’s last young son Pu—attended faithfully, six days a week, for an hour or more every morning. At the end of that teaching time, Grandma gave a clear testimony of her faith in Christ and said that the only reason she was still alive was because God had planned for her to hear the teaching and become one of His children. She said that she had deserved to die on the funeral pyre long ago, but she was now trusting in what Jesus Christ accomplished to bring her into a right relationship with him.
Months later I asked Ira to share her testimony on film. She was happy to do it. As we sat outside in my backyard, I remember having a hard time focusing because of the tears that were in my eyes as she said something like, “My home was far from here, but it was Yahweh who brought me to this place so that I could understand the truth.”
I have often thought about her introduction to her testimony. I knew the hardship and the death that caused her to travel the path that led to our village. I knew the hardship and death that caused her to stay in our village. She quickly acknowledged the Lord's working things together for good in both circumstances (Romans 8:28). We have seen it over and over in our tribal friends’ lives, how they don’t question the will of the Lord in their lives; they are not bitter but accept hard things as well as joys coming from the hand of their Creator.
I love that I learn from my fellow sisters in Christ here in the tribe. Where will these paths of hardships and trials end? For us as believers, our paths are not guaranteed to be smooth in this life, they may not always be clear, they may include suffering, death, and hardships, but they all end in the same place. For us as believers our hope is in Christ and in His Word. Our hope is in where this path ends and where the next begins as we read in John’s Revelation:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9)
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