Living inside Your love I move within a world protected not that I am never wounded but that you keep me safe from ultimate harm from all malignant and pernicious evil inside the loving kindness of your heart I’m held where goodness is my atmosphere, your tenderness the song that plays incessantly and heals me, fills me with new hope for this poor world
When I wrote the poem above, it was August 2002. I did not know it then, but looking back I can see that the Lord was preparing me for September, when war would break out in Côte d’Ivoire and it would seem that evil was winning.
Glenn and I had signed up for a workshop in Bouake, the second largest city and in the center of the country. Our son Bryn, 15, was taking 10th grade online, so we thought leaving him with a coworker in Ferke would be best for him. But the night before we left he begged not be left. Both Glenn and I had been busy with many other commitments, and he wanted to be with us, whatever that might mean. That, too, was the Lord preparing the way before us.
The workshop was training missionaries to facilitate the Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills Workshop. Eighteen of us were there, from several West African countries, being trained by three instructors skilled in member care. But then, on September 19th, we heard gunfire that seemed to be coming down the main road toward the SIL conference center where we were housed. We were having breakfast, preparing for the day, and shrugged off the noise as probably an indication that the city police had at last located a band of robbers that had been active in the city for months. Then one of the other trainees came in with her radio in hand. The morning news was saying that mutinous soldiers were attacking at least three cities in the country! What would happen now?
Fortunately our instructors were also trained in crisis management. We were told what to do “if” danger came near. Two different times, mortars blasted and zoomed for hours over the three-story building where we were housed, targeting government soldiers on the other side of the courtyard. Following instruction, we lined the second-floor hallway of the building, sitting on the cement floor, waiting for the blasts to end. Our one refuge was prayer, trusting the love of our Lord and Master, knowing he was with us too. We ended up being marooned in that courtyard with war ongoing in the city for eight days, when finally a 24-hour ceasefire was arranged to give foreigners who had passports the right to exit the city.
That is a very short summary of that tense week, when not only was our future up in the air but also the future of this loved country and of dear coworkers and national friends, scattered elsewhere. It was finally decided that we needed to evacuate Côte d’Ivoire, and it was three years before we could return – going back into a divided country with the rebels still in charge of the region where we lived.
Having been in a war zone, and having left Bouake with other foreigners while wondering what the future would be for the young people lining the roads and watching us leave while they could not, I empathize with Ukrainian Christians who are crying out to God for protection and for peace in their country. Meanwhile, the battle rages and is closer and closer to the major city. They cannot know if their Father’s choice will be to save them, or take them through tough new times, or whether he will call them Home. But they cry out to him, remembering his love and his sovereignty. They are already living in the kingdom of heaven, under his rule.
God is love, and living together with him in the here and now of troubled times is the only sure place of peace. In that month before the war broke out in 2002, what I was hearing from the Lord (and wrote in that poem) was preparation for the coming terror. I would still deal with fear! Would my son be hurt? Would my sister and her family, still up north in Ferke, be shot? Would my best Ivorien friends have safety in their scattered places – would they have food and water? The one thing that was not in jeopardy was God’s love and the truth that he will accomplish his purposes, even though that may not be the way we would have hoped. He is in charge, and he alone knows the future. When suffering and hardship comes, he will still be living together with his children, guiding them and speaking to them. And his love will finally, in his timing, bring them home to live forever with him in peace where no evil can come near them.
Knowing this, we pray for Ukraine, and especially for our brothers and sisters there. “Christianity Today” is updating its online news on Ukraine regularly as it hears from pastors and other Christian leaders there. This word from Vasyl Ostryi, a pastor at Irpin Bible Church 18 miles northwest of Kyiv and a Kyiv Theological Seminary (KTS) professor of youth ministry, really hits home:
“When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need,” he wrote for The Gospel Coalition. “We will shelter the weak, serve the suffering, and mend the broken. And as we do, we offer the unshakable hope of Christ and his gospel.” (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2022/february/russia-ukraine-invasion-putin-war-christian-churches-prayer.html)
“Unshakeable hope”! Yes, this is what we can cling to in any tough time, whether it is war or crime or pandemic or other personal distress that is changing our life story. We Jesus-followers always live inside his lovingkindness, because he has promised to always be with us, “even to the end of the world.” We cannot be separated from him. His life in us holds us firm and gives us the ability to reach out in love to the weak, the suffering, the broken.
Even during that time of waiting for release from our hiding place in Bouake, God gave us a way to help some people suffering, with no protection from society: Liberian refugees. They came asking for a safe place to stay, since they were already being targeted by some as perhaps fomenting or participating in the attacks all around the city. We were able to find ways to keep them sheltered and fed, hidden away in the classroom/dining building, for at least a few days. What happened to them when we needed to leave? We don’t know. But we heard that at least some of them reached safety.
Let’s join our brothers and sisters in Ukraine in their prayers for their country, for their families, and for opportunities to share the love of their Master. Another example is this prayer also on the “Christianity Today” digital website: “Prayer requests from Donetsk: “First, to stop the aggressor. But then for peace of mind, to respond with Christian character and not from human hate.”
And may we live the same way, wherever we are today, offering help and healing to those who need it, those the Lord puts on our hearts or in our path. Christians will be salt and light in their communities when they love their neighbors and show mercy, no matter what is going on. May it be so!
(photo from http://www.pexels.com)