fear is feathers in the wind unsure where to land and at the mercy of whiffs and puffs maybes and maybe-nots could-bes scared to fall scared to fly scared to uncover the real world yet unknown too many feathers cloud my sight and make it hard to breathe Breath of Spirit, blow your clarity into this air and take me to what you have planned your destination light shines on a winding path and my soul lands at rest in his hands
When life is hanging in an “in-between” zone, fear can take on a whole different character. What does the future hold? No one knows. Except our Lord, of course.
After evacuating from the warzone in Bouake on September 27, 2002, we were trying to figure out what to do next. We were in Abidjan, which the rebels had not been able to take. But they were increasingly asserting their control over the north, city by major city. Our African friends, mission family, and my sister and her family (who had arrived just a few weeks ago) were still stranded up there. What would happen to them?
And what would our next weeks, months or years look like? We contemplated staying on in Abidjan, but were not at all convinced that it would be wise. Tension was high; violence was simmering. Many missionaries from there were heading to the States already. We were lodged at the main SIL center there, processing these things with friends. Word finally came that the American missionaries in the north (including my sister’s family, the Merrys), were being flown out to Accra, Ghana. So we decided to join them there.
It was a time of relief, especially some days at the beach together with Linda Sharp, a missionary nurse also from the north, and the Merrys. But we were all in that quandary of what-to-do-next. Steve (M.D.) and Kayleen Merry decided to serve at a hospital in Togo, for at least a year, while waiting to see if the war would calm down. We decided to go stay with friends in France for a month, since we had been asked to use the training we had just received (to facilitate Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills workshops) at a workshop in France in a few weeks. We had already been planning to take a six-month home assignment in the U.S. beginning December.
Glenn had to make a trip back to Abidjan to set financial things in place for the mission. He made it safely back to Accra, with stories to tell. And we flew to France to live with Jean and Holly Richerd in their guest apartment: a former wine cellar that looked out across Grenoble to the amazing snow-capped alps that framed the view.
This too, was refreshing. But we could not escape the sense of being in some unknown space between the known and unknown. It continued during the next year, when we were in the U.S., still waiting. The mission would not allow families with minors to re-enter the war-torn Côte d’Ivoire, so we were in hiatus. The country was not divided north and south, with the rebels in control of the north, just south of Bouake up to the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso. The Baptist Hospital in Ferke was struggling and dealing with rebels seeking medical treatment (no guns allowed past the entry!!) and promising to pay later (which never happened). The single women missionaries who were medical personnel had re-entered and were at work. But we knew that since we had a son in high school, we were in the U.S. until the unrest was resolved or at least until Bryn graduated.
It was all a season of spiritual formation, the hard kind. We feared that we would not be able to go back to the field. We had no place to live if we stayed, after our first 6 months in the church’s mission apartments (they were already reserved after that, for others). We followed the news best we could, and realized that no solutions were being found to the civil crisis Côte d’Ivoire. French troops were there to help keep peace, but tensions were rising and so was the violence.
Then friends from church; Lyle and Sylvia Algate, opened up their home to us, ceding us their basement apartment. It was just what we needed, but still in-between.
Prayer was our recourse, and we cried out continually for the Lord to show us the way forward. He did. That story will be continued next time. But it taught me once again that the Lord’s promises are true. The following verse had been one of my childhood anchors, and it has become a thematic place of refuge in times of waiting for direction. I like the New Living rendering:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Prov. 3:5,6 NLT)
We all learned it as “he will make your paths straight.” What we were experiencing was that they did not seem “straight” at all, but winding between “maybe this” and “but this door just opened, didn’t it?” The note for the verse in the New English Translation explains well what “straight” meant to the Hebrew audience:
The verb ) יָשָׁרyashar( means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB 444 s.v.). This phrase means “to make the way free from obstacles,” that is, to make it successful (e.g., Isa 40:3). The straight, even road is the right road; God will make the way smooth for the believer. (NET note)
The “right road” may not always be an expressway, and we may not be able to see beyond the curves. But the Lord will lead us step by step as he works to remove obstacles, often one by one. I think of Paul’s travels and the way he thought he knew how long he could stay in one city, but things would change and he would need to move on to the next destination God had for him. In the end it resulted in much “fruit.” He did not see a direct path from “here” to “there” the way we might expect.
And that became our story. We were definitely shown the way, but it seemed more like a winding road sometimes requiring detours, and often leading through other crises. All the way, the Lord led us, and we are here to make that known.
I hope this is encouraging to you if you are in a phase of uncertainty and challenges. TRUST in the LORD – he will show you what he has planned, in his timing.