Lord, I’m looking out my picture window into a perfect scene: a sunrise shaft of orange lighting up gold autumn and smooth green leaves and the rippling lake in spite of looming clouds. Center stage, the red-white-blue flaps in the breeze, picture-perfect. And I don’t want to be here. The still-dark woods beyond the brooding mansion better fits my yearnings. The flag droops, breeze lost. My heart droops, dreams lost. If I go into the woods I’ll lie in the shadows, sobbing. So I sit here, holding my sore heart up to your healing light, noticing the hope painted by your finger when I remember to look for it.
All around us there was evidence of God’s fingerprints, but I often forgot to notice them as we approached the first year anniversary of our evacuation. We still had no idea if a return to our ministries in Africa would be possible. The wait became overwhelming. Lament seemed my one recourse. It was now early fall of 2003. The civil unrest in Côte d’Ivoire was ongoing; the country was divided with the rebels holding the northern half. So many friends, so many “sons” and “daughters” were left behind. I had just begun my personal involvement as Hebrew exegete in the Nyarafolo translation, and my co-translator Moise and I had been loving our first project, Genesis. Glenn and I were discipling new believers in a village very special to us, Tiepogovogo, and had just sent off one of its young men for pastoral training. Was our participation in all this to come to a grinding halt?
We actually had much to be thankful for, and needed to remember to take note of it. Bryn was doing well adapting to high school at Southfield Christian School. The mission and our supporting churches had granted me permission to continue my studies at Michigan Theological Seminary (which I needed for my translation involvement) while Glenn worked as a contact with pastors in the region. We had friends and supporters praying with us, and time with family.
When our six-month reservation of an apartment provided by our church for missionaries came to an end, and we had nowhere else to go, a loving family from our church, Lyle and Sylvia Algate, offered us their basement apartment. It looked out on a beautiful lake, and the sight of water has always been one of my places of renewal. It was exactly what we needed. But the morning that I wrote the poem above I was still struggling to find peace and hope in the middle of that “in-between” time. Was I doing all this academic preparation for nothing?
Those months of digging into the challenges of translating Scripture into Nyarafolo had seemed to show me that God had formed me to do this detailed research that required perfectionism. He had definitely prepared Moise to be my partner in the venture, placing a deep love in his heart for the Word, and giving him an intimate knowledge of Nyarafolo culture. We had already discovered some exciting solutions to essential key terms in Genesis, like “covenant”. I longed to get back into it.
On the other hand, I found out that the Hebrew professor at the seminary I was attending had just launched a new course developed for the four of us students that he knew were actually using our Hebrew! He provided a study of Hebrew poetry based on the book of Isaiah. It was scintillating. (And in the future, that background would convince SIL that our team could actually translate the Psalms, something usually only allowed as a final piece of a translation project!)
Glenn had also been able to go back to the field on his own for a few weeks to set things in place so that the Nyarafolo team could continue work in promoting literacy and encouraging believers, and he organized certain things at the hospital as well. For years it was the only hospital open in that northern region! His stories about the rebel activity, the lack of normal resources like fuel, electricity and water due to government cut-offs (a tactic to discourage the “northern” rebellion), and the suffering of friends made it clear that it was not yet time for our family to return. But our hearts yearned to be there.
Pouring out our hearts to the Lord is not a bad thing. As it says in the psalms,
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Ps. 62:8 NIV)
I needed to be honest about my fears and worries and download them into that safe place, my Father’s listening ear. But I also needed to recognize what he was already doing, and trust that he was indeed preparing a good way forward – whatever that might end up being.
There was more: in 2004 the Lord provided us with a house in Detroit to move into, affordable because it had been rehabbed by a mission agency associated with our church. We had no funds saved for a house at that time, but two couples gave us funds for a down payment so that we could negotiate a mortgage. And it was in a Black neighborhood; we knew the Lord had placed us there for a reason. Friends overwhelmed us with their offerings of furnishings. For the first time since we had left for Africa in 1978 we had a home of our own, a place to decorate with African art and store our belongings.
And in 2006 the Lord did open up the way for Glenn and me to return to the field. Bryn was in college. I had finished my M.Div., even while spending many of my last months of study doing it long-distance so that I could accompany my young sister through her bought with leukemia. She entered heaven. Since other things were in place, we went back to Ferkessédougou, knowing it was time to do so.
During that in-between hiatus we learned the importance of paying attention to the signs of the Father’s loving provision. Just as we had experienced in our first years of mission service, what was important was taking the next step that he showed us we should take. Sometimes we weren’t sure if we would land on concrete, mud or thin air. But we needed to trust his character, and he showed us his goodness over and over – even in the beauty of the lake and that early outburst of autumn glory in August 2003, in a place where we had been welcomed with amazing kindness and emotional support.
So if you are in a zone full of uncertainty or other hurts, do pour out your distresses to the Father, our truly solid safe place. He will accept that and respond, in his timing. As David wrote in another season of feeling surrounded by menace:
As for me, I will call out to God, and the LORD will deliver me. 17 During the evening, morning, and noontime I will lament and moan, and he will hear me. (Ps. 55:16,17 NET)
Even if it seems to take ages for the answer to come, he will provide what you need to keep on keeping on:
Throw your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the godly to be upended. (Ps. 55:22 NET)