Summer of 2006—I think we had been in the jungle all of four weeks when a group of ladies hiked to our new hamlet to meet us. My first journal/language study notebook has their names written down. Three of the girls were young, and they were giggly and quick to want to share stories. I understood little of what they told me; we used a lot of hand motions.
The fourth lady was older and hung off in the shadows of the little lean-to shelter. My first impression was that she was grumpy and unfriendly. Then a couple of nights later, a man who spoke the language explained that she had a sore tooth and, sure enough, when I inspected her mouth she had an infected tooth. Her gum was swollen and angry red. I brought her warm salt water to gargle and medicine to take. That was the beginning of our friendship.
Over the years we have done a lot together. I remember the day she finished weaving a net bag, and as she handed it to me, I realized it was a gift. I remember holding her first granddaughter. I remember when her youngest got his nose pierced. I remember sitting and crying with her when her husband died. I remember her helping me all the way home in the rain carrying kilos of fresh harvested peanuts.
Over a decade of memories!
Her son has now become one of the faithful Bible teachers. The other day, when she came to my house for a visit, I told her how happy I was to sit in church the day before and listen to her son teach us from God’s Word. I went on to talk about how just a few years ago our boys were children, playing in the yard together, and how happy I am that they have grown up and love God’s Word. I told her how easily it could have been for them to follow the ways of many young boys in our area, to stay away from home, get caught up in the things of the world, look to the towns that offer an easier way of life.
Her son’s right leg is shorter than the other, making it more difficult for him to walk. I knew he hadn’t been born like that, and I thought I had heard it was an accident that had caused his leg to be shorter, making him walk with a pronounced limp. But in response to what I had said, she told me that day on the porch about how God saved him as a young boy when he could have died. He had been sick and an untrained person gave him an injection. The injection site became infected and the infection spread quickly. The injection site was on his right upper hip, and she explained that it spread as high as under his arm and down the middle of his thigh. She told me that he was sick with fevers and the infection drained for three months. She said his skin peeled off three times before it healed.
As I sat and listened to the hardship, I felt such compassion for her. She fought over the life of her boy, and it was evident that all the details were still clear in her mind.
The difference in his leg kept him from doing things. She told me that he doesn’t travel far often, and walking difficulties have kept him close to home. For that reason he has heard all of God’s Word being taught, has come to know the Lord, and now is a very well-spoken Bible teacher.
Those first few Sundays that he was involved in teaching, she caught my attention. She sat up front, eyes trained on him, and her mouth moved as he spoke. I think they had both prepared for his part of the lesson. When he volunteered to go on an outreach to a village in our same language group that had not yet heard the gospel, she volunteered to go with him. It was so sweet. Her love for him is evident.
I am sure at the time of her son’s infection, when my friend was up for nights on end tending to him, she was tired and weary, never thinking that even this would one day work out for the best. When he got older and couldn’t run quite the same as other boys, she didn’t know that the Lord had a plan to use this for his glory. Hardship is a difficult thing to understand; we are not guaranteed to know the outcome of some suffering or to understand its purpose. We believe that all suffering is under God’s control, and we trust that it is being worked out for our good. We hope that it will be used for God’s glory.
In this situation, however, a glimmer of God’s sovereignty was revealed—a little bit of the puzzle fell into place. I sat there on the porch thanking the Lord for his goodness that he truly loves us. Even while we were yet sinners, he was directing our steps. “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
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