No dark corners, Lord – set the lamp high, turn up the glow, show up the shadows for what they are dust that needs sweeping, empty spaces, or hidden wonders. My soul is before you, the wide-open mouth of a mammoth cave, hungry for light, hungry for you: fill up the cavern with Spirit of God, light me with you! This long night walk, Lord, saps my courage. I can’t see clearly, I come to a crossing and have no clue: should I continue! should I turn left? is right now right? My life is before you, mid-chapter, mid-verse, an open book with the page almost turned, the plot complicating – turn the page swiftly, shine your light on it, move the plot on!
You have probably been at that point too, once or several times, that moment when a choice must be made but the way forward is unclear. Those of us who have decided to trust the Good Shepherd and his guidance can find it hard to understand which way he is pointing. We long for clarity, but in that critical moment the one thing we are sure of is that we do not yet know which way to turn, or what the consequences of each choice might be.
Back in 2006, we had been evacuated for three-and-a-half years from the country where we were serving as missionaries. Our son had reached adult status and was a freshman in college, so we would no longer be taking a minor back into an extremely volatile situation if we were to return. The country, Côte d’Ivoire, was still divided in two, with the government ruling the south and rebels holding the north where we had been living. If we returned, there would be danger, with no rule of law and supply chains fractured. But other mission partners were there, dealing with it all.
I was finishing my last classes for my M.Div. at Michigan Theological Seminary, even doing some of them long-distance while accompanying my younger sister through her battle with leukemia. That blessing of being able to be with her during her last months on earth kept us confident that we were to be in the U.S. Then she passed away. Knowing that we had much yet to accomplish in our various ministries, we felt it was time to return. We’d had enough of that mid-chapter phase.
Once that decision was made, we received confirmation from the Lord, that peace within that comes when you take one step forward and sense that you must continue in that direction, that he will guide the next steps too.
We went through the heartbreaking familiar process of saying goodbye to our kids and our parents, and headed to Côte d’Ivoire. Re-entry brought back the memories of that wrenching evacuation, with no closure back in Ferke since we had been at a training session in Bouake when war broke out, with no opportunity to say goodbye to our national friends and ministry partners. But now there was great joy in being reunited with precious “companions of the Road” in the Nyarafolo community. Glenn had been back a few times on short trips to ensure that co-workers could continue their various new ministries, adapting to the new restrictions. I had not been back at all.
The drive north from Abidjan on the coast, passing through the government checkpoints in the south, and then the numerous rebel barriers across the roads in the north was an introduction to the next years of living in the divided country. The north was without government services, so there were no police anywhere. There were frequent water and electricity cutoffs which the government was using as weapons to weaken the hold of the rebel forces.
Fear became a continual challenge for me. Did I really trust my Father’s promises to watch over me? Did I have confidence that he would provide a way when there seemed to be no way? People were dying at the whim of any rebel leader in their area who became upset with them. We missionaries had a certain amount of protection due to our status as caregivers, with the mission hospital (where Glenn worked) the only one still open in the region. This definitely helped us pass through all the road barriers. But we knew that those desperate for gain also viewed us as “rich.” Could I let go of my anxieties and pursue the kinds of ministry that were still possible?
It was a story the Lord was writing, and the plot seemed to be at an ongoing climax with no resolution in sight. This forced me to actually put my trust in him, come what may, and focus on navigating the part of the path that I could see before me. I got back into Bible translation work. It had been on hold since the rebels had taken over in the fall of 2002, with my Nyarafolo coworkers doing what they could in literacy work, outreach, and literature development, and one of them down south studying at the seminary that was dealing with most faculty evacuated as well. Delving into God’s Word with purpose, discussing the treasures with my coworkers, hearing their stories –it all grounded me again in the walk of faith.
God answered my prayers, daily. I asked; he gave peace and encouragement. He used the difficulties to show me what was hidden in shadows in my heart. He is the Light in the darkness, and I learned to trust that truth in a whole new way as he clarified my purpose and opened me to his promptings:
35 Take care then, that the light in you is not darkness. 36 If, therefore, your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be entirely illuminated, as when a lamp shines its light on you.” (Lk. 11:33 CSB)
He is good, and although his answers may not be just what we expected, they are what will accomplish his purposes in us and through us. Luke 11:9-13 spoke to me as I asked for guidance:
“So I say to you, keep asking,and it will be given to you. Keep searching,and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil,know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Lk. 11:9 CSB)
I have many more stories to tell, and they will be coming. But right now, I just want to reach out to any of you who are dealing with scary circumstances or shadows on the path, and encourage you to keep on trusting the Guide, the Author not only of our salvation but of his plan for each of us. He loves us with a depth that no one else does. He just asks us to trust his heart, believing that he will show a way when there seems to be no way!