Ramblings from the Cove...
By Lars Gren
It was on a trip to Quito that we met the young lady who had been on the mission field for a year and was going through a hard period in her life. She told us that her very best friend and fellow missionary had died and she was returning to the States, for what she said was a year of counseling. “But why are you going back for that and for a year?” Her answer was that it was the mission’s policy to do so. Elisabeth was not against counseling per se but rather the amount of time. I was not surprised at Elisabeth’s question considering that she had lost her very best friend who also happened to be her husband. Elisabeth and Jim had been married for twenty seven months when he was killed. During that time they had been working with the Quichua Indians in reducing their language to writing. Jim had also been teaching new believers who would become the leaders in the formation of a church. With Jim’s death Elisabeth did the natural thing for her of continuing the work at their station in Shandia. She was pretty much alone except for the Indians and Valerie. There was no thought in her mind of returning to the States for counseling even though Jim’s parents and hers had suggested a return, at least for a season. They were also skeptical of Elisabeth taking Valerie in to the Aucas if the opportunity presented itself.
What did she do about the suffering and grief over losing Jim? It was not as though the Indians would commiserate with her in her loss, although when an Indian met someone on the trail, whom he had not seen during the first year of mourning, he would “wail” voicing his grief to the one who had suffered loss. However there were no “sit-down” and tell me how you feel sessions. Life went on.
Elisabeth, speaking of that experience, mentions how the Lord brought her hope, peace and strength from the Scriptures such as Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” It was her conviction that the Lord had called her as a missionary before she was married and that she did not have a sense that that call ended when Jim and the others were killed. There was language work to be done—she had the ability to do so—so why not stay on until a new call was given. There was loss, pain, and sorrow with the unexpected turn of events but what would she have gained had she returned home for a season?
What would be our reaction to a catastrophe? I have been wondering about that in the light of the turmoil in the Arab countries or the tribal wars in Africa. For two years we had a Seminary student living with us who came to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Rwanda. He had lost 4 brothers in that horrible conflict. I asked which tribe he was from and he said, “My problem was that both tribes were after us for my father was a Tutsi while my mother came from the Hutu tribe.”
In an issue of World magazine published this year there was a photo of a young African girl lying in a dry grass field. She was in a fetal position on what I think was a section of cardboard for a mat. Her skin wrinkled beyond that of a very old woman. The only skin that was tight was over her ribs which formed a bow as it were. Looking at the photo I caught a sense of the horror of seeing a suffering person die alone without a comforter. The report said that she died later that day. That scene has come to mind many times. Why? I think that one can grasp somewhat the suffering of an individual and have a sense of empathy while in large scale disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis or tornadoes we become spectators of the drama that come to us in endless videos courtesies of the media that race from place to place to show the “best” of what is happening with constant dialogue. Listening to some of these reports brought to mind a recording of the Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey. It was big news and the “approach and landing” was sent across the country by radio. The broadcaster’s voice broke as he described the first sparks, flames and then the collapsing blimp beginning its plunge to the ground. It was Herbert Morrison who was the announcer and the following is a transcription of what he said. If you want to add more reality go to Wikipedia and there is an audio portion that clearly transmits his feelings of anguish.
“It's practically standing still now. They've dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship, and they've been taken a hold of down on the field by a number of men. It's starting to rain again; it's—the rain had slacked up a little bit. The back motors of the ship are just holding it just, just enough to keep it from — It burst into flames! It burst into flames, and it's falling, it's crashing! Watch it! Watch it, folks! Get out of the way! Get out of the way! Get this, Charlie! Get this, Charlie! It's fire—and it's crashing! It's crashing terrible! Oh, my, get out of the way, please! It's burning and bursting into flames, and the—and it's falling on the mooring-mast and all the folks agree that this is terrible; this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world. [Indeciperable word(s)] It's–it's–it's the flames, [indecipherable, possibly the word "climbing"] oh, four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it ... it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's flames now ... and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here. I told you, I can't even talk to people whose friends are on there. Ah! It's–it's–it's–it's ... o–ohhh! I–I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest, it's just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk, and the screaming. Lady, I–I'm sorry. Honest: I–I can hardly breathe. I–I'm going to step inside where I cannot see it. Charlie, that's terrible. Ah, ah—I can't. I, listen, folks, I–I'm gonna have to stop for a minute because I've lost my voice. This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed.”
How different from the TV world with its many reporters who it seem to vie for the best location to view whatever is going on and if there is not much then it is, “over to you David” who is announcing from such and such location. It was so in Japan during the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. There were videos after videos showing different aspects of the disaster. In one rather lengthy one I saw a group of people on top of a business building looking out to sea. In front of them and lower was a highway that people had gathered on, all peering seaward watching the cascading water driving boats, cars, and a bus along with other debris towards the land. Everything was being funneled under the highway overpass into an opening between two buildings. As the pressure built up one object or another suddenly moved and the a sea of debris would be forced as through a sluice gate, forming what appeared to be a tidal undertow released from its bonds. The tumbling mass seemed to slow as it spread again over the flatter land while continuing its march inland. It was surreal to see and I wondered if we as watchers of a video thought much at that instant of those who were experiencing their last moments trapped in the terror of that flow. Did I have Morrison’s sense of despair—of course in this case it was days old news. Even so did I sense the suffering or was it watching tangled debris tossed about in the raging surf with no further thoughts and on to the next clip.
Not long ago we had a rash of tornados that crisscrossed many of the southern and middle States. To see a photo of a town nearly completely destroyed is too much to get our “emotions” around but watching an old person rummaging through the wreckage of their house searching for something from the past brings forth empathy and a desire to help. It was so in seeing that photo of the solitary girl silently waiting for help or the end. Perhaps the thought of that photo will come to mind as I sit down to a party table amply set with food and I might say,”Why?” Perhaps better for me would be to quote a line from a song by Johnny Cash, “Why me Lord? What have I ever done? To deserve even one of the blessings I’ve known.”
What brought these thoughts of suffering to me were not the natural disasters of late but the singularly suffering in the family of one person. Lisa had been a Gateway to Joy listener and had written to Elisabeth telling of her own suffering and the course that brought ”beauty out of ashes.” She gave Elisabeth permission to print the letter in her Gateway newsletter which some of you may have read. The 2nd letter below is from ’09 and it was the impetus to meet Lisa and over tea get a bit more of her story.
I am a new listener to Gateway To Joy. I really enjoyed today’s program, “The Necessity of Pruning.” Let me explain why. My 15 yr. old son, Eric, committed suicide back in February. I’ve never been more crushed and devastated. I’m no stranger to loss. My older sister was killed by a drunk driver in 1972, and my younger brother killed himself in 1973, and in 1985 my father killed my mother and then himself. Through my faith in Christ, I handled my siblings’ deaths well, but I could never quite accept the deaths of my parents—I had no peace, although I could quote all the right verses and sought desperately to believe in God’s purposes through tragedy. When my parents died, Eric was 2 years old. I felt that God had given him to me to help me continue on after that loss. And suddenly, on February 10, he was gone too. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t pray. I thought God had totally forsaken me. The waters had come into my soul (Ps. 69:1). I was so crushed. I thought my heart would stop beating; secretly, I wished it would. One day a friend from work came over and brought her Bible. She read many verses to me; my focus began to change. I began to believe Romans 8:18 and 28. I claimed 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. I memorized Psalms 27, 40, and 116 in order and I quote them every day. God has totally renewed my mind through His Word. I have His peace, even as I cope with all these sudden, violent deaths, especially that of my son. I am reading books by Amy Carmichael and Oswald Chamber. I know that God is giving me beauty for ashes as I become “broken bread and poured-out wine.” I now realize that suffering and glory are connected, by God’s design, and that Christ is my example as I walk in His steps. So that is why I enjoyed your program today and will continue to listen.
Dear Mrs. Gren,
I am sorry to hear you broke your hip, but it prompted me to write to you and tell you how much God used your ministry in my life. I have written to you twice before to update you on my life. My son committed suicide almost 11 years ago. Through your ministry, God enabled me to see the Heavenly, eternal perspective of suffering. I began to memorize Scripture and have now memorized 75 of the Psalms! My beloved Psalms have given me courage and strength that I would never have had without them. God, through His word has put a new song of praise in my mouth. Thank you for yielding yourself to Him to speak through your and your life. I will be praying for you.
(Sent 2009) With joy, Lisa.
Even though Lisa suffered multiple losses her story is singular as it was with the African young girl. Her solace came from the reading of the Psalms. Was there anyone there to comfort and offer hope to the young girl as the photo was taken? If so, it was not mentioned. Perhaps a bit of water was given. As to the young missionary, we had no further contact but trust that in the year of counseling that she found peace and acceptance in her loss. Such individual stories one can in a way relate to for we all have had a share of suffering or if not we know that in the course of life there will be some. But when it comes to major catastrophes that, of late, seem to occur with some regularity we become spectators without the ability to enter in as we can with an individual. It leaves us in incredulity and perhaps we can only sigh and utter, “Lord have mercy.”
And that’s it from The Cove.
God bless y'all,