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He came to my house one early afternoon breathless and edgy, asking to talk to Mike. He paced back and forth under the tree. He was sweating, and when he paused long enough I could see his chest thumping as his heart was trying to keep up. I had never seen any tribal man show fear. I had never seen any man, for that matter, as fearful as this man standing before me.
This man was from across the valley and speaks an entirely different language from the tribal language we speak. He had brought his young son to our area to be treated for malaria. Over the previous months we had earned his trust and had gotten to know him, two of his wives, and many of his children through our free medical clinic.
News had come that men were coming to kill him because his tribal group had killed someone from another tribal group. In other words, this clan was seeking retaliation, retribution for the loss of life. It didn’t matter if this man played a part in the killing: he was a representative of the overall clan. So here he stood in my yard, away from his home, surrounded by jungle, and his eyes were darting, watching, waiting. I can feel my own heart rate rise as I write about it now, because as the story unfolded that day, this man, so fearful of death, trying desperately to escape, ran straight into it.
He slept on our front porch that night but called to us around midnight saying that his clan members had secretly come to take him down to the river where his wives and other children were. He never made it home. He was carrying his son on his shoulders while crossing the vine bridge over the river that ran between our territories when he lost his balance and both fell into the rapid, racing river, never to be seen again.
Another afternoon as I sat weary in my living room from a very stressful medical case, I jumped as I heard a woman’s scream. I remember those first years in the tribe, I felt like I was on 24-hour call every day. I jumped up and ran the 10 or so meters to the little round house. Ducking through the doorway, I see this man sitting with his hand on her head. He was mumbling. The mom was screaming at the spirits to leave. A little girl was laying there seizing. I remember the fear in that place. I remember my own fear of not wanting to watch this three-year-old leave this life—this sweet little girl who had strung green beans with me on more than one occasion. I remember holding on to her ankle and praying the same prayer over and over as every seizure came, feeling like I was wrestling over her soul.
Another afternoon as the mist was covering the mountain, I sat with my dear friend. We both stared off toward the high peak that is behind our house. She said, “It isn’t that I fear death; I know that when I die I will be with Yahweh. I just don’t want to be killed by arrows.” Tears streamed down her face. “I just don’t know what to do or where to go.”
Men had blamed her for her husband’s death, and her life was being sought after as a payment for his life.
Fear can be crippling. It can sap us of all of our energy. It can lure us to retreat. It can lurk around every corner of our days. Fear of man’s approval; fear of man’s words; fear of losing something; fear of failure; fear of not measuring up; fear of imperfection; fear the unknown; fear of the undone. And yet, is our fear misplaced?
What is it or who is it that we ought to fear? We read over and over again that our Lord and Savior, the God of the Universe, the Ancient of Days, the Author and Finisher of our faith, our Creator who never slumbers is working out every detail of our lives for our good and says to “fear not.” He says, “I have given you everything you need for life and godliness,” “my grace is sufficient,” “I have assigned you your portion and your cup.”
In Matthew 10:26–31, Jesus says,
Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Since these words are true, we can boldly be obedient to Christ no matter what our future holds. We can take every opportunity we are given to do good works and proclaim his message. Since this is true we can have perfect peace and rest during any circumstance. It makes me want to fear not and work hard to make the best use of the time that the Lord has granted me.
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