cupped in your palm covered by your right hand (safety ‘round my soul) you hold me close caress my tears away and still your hand is busy flinging star showers weaving the winds keeping danger at bay (it’s skulking all around) I’m terrorized, Lord, but I know you’re watching I curl into the curve inside your fingers where I rest
It has been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, and as a nation we’ve been remembering the devastation. We were overseas in Côte d’Ivoire when it took place, but followed the news with horror and grief. It definitely woke us all up to the fragility of peace and to our vulnerability.
One year after that, we faced grave danger ourselves. We had known that there might be violence in that country; there was much political turmoil and even a military coup. In fact, for about ten years we had studied how to handle risk, and were required to have evacuation plans filed and ready for implementation. Backpacks carrying necessities were sent with our daughters to their boarding school in Bouake. Ours – Glenn’s, our son Bryn’s, and mine – were stored in the top shelf of our clothes closet. We had files for Plan A, Plan B if that main road was closed, Plan C if we might not be able to join the other missionaries further north at all. (We would find a way to “hide” with Christian friends in a more remote village, hoping that news would not spread too fast about the white family staying there. It would be impossible to truly hide.)
But we got used to living with the ‘maybes.” Shortly after the commemoration of that first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we got ready to go to Bouake, the city the boarding school was located, to participate in a training seminar that would qualify us to lead Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills workshops. Bryn was doing 10th grade via online schooling (his sisters were in the U.S. by then), and at first the plan was to leave him in Ferke (about four hours north of Bouake by road), with a friend. But the night before we left he said that he really would prefer going with us. I had just returned from a translation workshop in Mali and Glenn had been at meetings; he wanted less separation. We agreed. Looking back, we believe the Lord made sure he would be with us. He alone knew what was ahead.
We settled into life at the SIL facility in Bouake, where there was a walled courtyard containing a large meeting/dining room and another building three stories tall with dormitory-style bedrooms and community washrooms, kitchens and sitting areas. The training began.
On September 19, 2002, we were sitting in the little kitchen on the 3rd floor where we were lodged, eating breakfast with a few others, when we heard gunshots. Not just one; a whole series! They were fairly distant. We wondered if maybe the police had finally figured out who was robbing various banks and neighborhoods in Bouake and were chasing them down in town. Then one of the other workshop attendees came into the room with frightening news that she had heard on the radio. Rebels were attacking the three largest cities in the country: Korhogo to the north (just west of Ferke, where we lived), Bouake, and Abidjan on the coast.
We discovered that it was the group of government troops in Bouake who were being attacked by rebels led by soldiers who had lost their positions after a president with strong southern affiliation had won the 2001 election. It developed into a conflict between northerners who had felt marginalized and deprived of government services for years, and the southern ethnic groups and power-holders. (News outlets seemed to jump to the conclusion that it was the “Christian south” versus the “Muslim north,” and while it was true that some “Christians” in the south were attacking Muslims who were characterized as “northern” since they had originally come from northern countries, Mali and Burkina, and the north was about 40% Muslim, the civil war that erupted was not fought on religious grounds.)
So there we were, in Bouake, one of the major cities where there was daily fighting, some of it very close to us. What would it mean for the over 200 students at the boarding school at the edge of the city? What would it mean for us, in our courtyard not far from the government soldiers’ training school?
This story will continue in next week’s blog, remembering that crisis and the way we were protected. But right now I want to focus on a major lesson learned: whatever is happening, the Lord knows where his loved ones are, and they must put their trust in his goodness, presence and sovereignty.
The picture of being held in his hand became a comforting theme for me.
One thing we had learned early on in our adaptation to Nyarafolo culture was the importance of the right hand: it is the “good hand,” the one to be used for eating, for shaking hands, for giving something to someone else. The left hand is the “bad hand,” the one for wiping off nasal fluids and excrement (no toilet paper available). So if you were to hand money or something else to someone with your left hand, it would be seen as an insult. But the right hand was the hand for right action and for showing respect.
It is evident that the Jews saw things that way as well, so the imagery of the right hand comes up frequently (see the verses below). The place of authority and honor was at the right hand of the king or other authority. And God’s right hand is the one that I can count on to hold me securely.
So, when chaos and danger lurk all around, let us rest in the palm of his hand, the one place where we are completely protected. He will not let us go. He holds us fast.
Well, someone will say, how about those who do die in the war? The only answer is that in God’s timing, it was then that he wanted to bring them home to unending peace. They were still held tightly in his hand.
And we are held too, when we belong to him, whether in ongoing life with opportunities to serve or in great release from all this world’s troubles when our time has come. He is a good, good Father, and King of the world!
FROM THE WORD:
Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. (Ps. 17:7 NIV)
You give me your protective shield; your right hand supports me; your willingness to help enables me to prevail. (Ps 18:35 NET)
Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered. (Ps. 60:5 NIV)
I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. (Ps. 63:8 NIV)
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (Ps. 73:23 NIV)
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139:9,10 NIV)
The depths of the earth are in his hand, and the mountain peaks belong to him. (Ps. 95:4 NET)