[Our dorm. Just look at my boys.]
A few weeks back during dorm meeting, one of the guys posed this scenario: What if terrorists threaten to kill your family if you admit you’re Christians. Is it okay to lie to save the people you love? [Keep in mind that this wasn’t purely hypothetical. A couple months after we got here, this scenario unfolded at a nearby mall to the tune of 67 deaths; some of our RVA students were there.]
After the meeting was over, my fifteen-year-old crossed the room with his lanky teenage walk, all angles and limbs. “Sorry Mom,” he said, “but if that happens you’re probably going to have to die.”
“There are things worth dying for,” I agreed. It was one of my more bizarre Proud Mom Moments.
I suppose we all have our own peculiar brand of theology, the self-soothing theories that comfort our hearts in our more desolate hours. Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that God protects us—and especially the smallish people who tag along with us from continent to violent continent—when the whole reason we’re even here is out of plain obedience to Him.
And you know, sometimes He does. Sometimes it’s all Hebrews 11, with folks routing armies and quenching fires and shutting the jaws of lions and leaping back to life. But if you finish out that paragraph, it swings us round the worst kind of U-turn: all of a sudden these guys are being sawed in two and living in holes in the ground.
So here’s the thing. At times I field questions about the wisdom of our impending move to a country gutted by civil conflict and the occasional roaming militia. And hey, fair enough. On the one hand, our particular village is small and poor and happily located on the way to nowhere, so by all of our human reckonings, it’s pretty safe.
But also. There are things worth dying for. In this very minute, folks in Asia and North Africa are surrendering their lives with trepidation and resolve because they’re steely-sure that Jesus is worth it. If we live, fabulous. If we suffer, it’s maybe not my favorite plan, but so be it. If we die, Jesus is worth it. The lives of the Mbororo: worth it. Bringing the gospel to the least-reached: worth it.
My girl Shannan’s first book will hit a shelf near you this fall, and you’ve got to read it. It comes straight out of the brain and heart of someone so clear-sighted and generous and funny, but also I’m a little bit scared of it. Because if anything I know of Shannan is true, her book is liable to break me to smithereens, till down looks like up and I’m rock-bottom desperate for Jesus.
In the opening chapter of Falling Free (which I got to preview because I am the luckiest), she writes: “We so often say we believe that there is no safer place than the center of God’s will, but we refuse to believe it would ever lead us to places of brokenness or danger” (p 16). And a bit earlier, “We could simply go, as though (God) meant it each of the hundreds of times he says throughout the Bible to go, as in literally, move your feet, guys” (p 9).
I’m not anti-safety, but I am pro-the-least-of-these, and they tend to be found in places that aren’t exactly safe. Christie Purifoy puts it this way, “But Jesus never promised safety; He promised abundance. The abundant life is a wide-awake life, and it is anything but safe.”
How does this life of abundance shake out? It looks like trekking out to wherever it is He says to go, living skin-to-skin with neighbors He points out are mine, and dying in precisely the minute and place and manner that best proclaim the immense worth of Jesus.
One of my all-time favorite students here recently asked me if we heard an audible voice (hopefully belonging to God) telling us to move to Africa. I had to say no, sadly. If we had, though, I suspect He would’ve told us pretty much what Shannan said. Guys. Move your feet already.
Speaking of moving, would you pray for us please? We’ve never stared down so tall a mountain of Things To Do, not even when initially moving out this way, and also we keep hacking our lungs out. It is not pleasant, but about 80% of the campus is sick, so at least we’re in good company. :)
And speaking of prayer, one more story. We have friends back home in the islands who’ve stuck by my family since I was a wee slip of a lass (ie hanabata days, for my Hawaii peeps) and my dad started serving at Mililani Missionary Church. I was six months old.
Some of my best memories circle around those Sundays in the 70s and 80s: donuts and the tang of orange juice, a hundred winding stairs, rows of plastic chairs on linoleum, chlorinated baptisms in the rec center pool. My dad was MMC’s senior pastor for about 25 years, until a stroke shunted him into an early, medical retirement. He still serves there in a voluntary capacity.
So our friends. A few days ago my mom mentioned, offhand, that Mr and Mrs Nitta have prayed for my dad and my mom and my brothers and me every single day since my dad became their pastor. Every single day for the past almost-forty years.
You know those moments when your heart stands still in your chest out of sheer wonder? Yeah. That.
I don’t know how it all spins out, but I can say with certainty that left to our own devices, my brothers and I would’ve self-destructed a thousand times over in those forty years. (Or at least me–maybe I shouldn’t drag my brothers into it.) (No yeah, I should.) That I/we are functional, lucid, half-decent humans at this very moment speaks of nothing but unadulterated mercy born of wrestled-out prayer.
These people know a thing or two about what it means to love.
So do you.
And this is why I am keeping you forever. Depending on where you stand with declarations of affection, perhaps I say this far too often or not nearly enough–I sincerely, deeply, for really real, flat-out love you people. You walk steadfastly beside us, unblinking, courageous, living the gospel in ways that are at once down-to-earth and irresistible.
Please always be mine.