God’s Strange Providence

23 05 2018

Timberley and I just had lunch with a friend of ours who drove up from London to meet us at the Tyndale House. We met Lindsay when she and her husband came to Indonesia to begin their work there with our same organization. They moved to our city because to do their language study. After several years in Indonesia, they moved to London to continue their work there.

Lindsay was there when Anna died, and was one of the ladies who helped Timberley while Anna was missing before we found out what had happened with the bicycle accident. She was very much part of what took place during those very difficult few days.

But as it turns out, Indonesia was not our first interaction with Lindsay. I did not know this, but Lindsay was in a class at Southern seminary in Louisville in 2006 when our family was on a stateside assignment. During a missions emphasis at the seminary I was invited to speak in a church history class. Lindsay was in that class. I don’t remember now much of what I said, but I do remember that at the end of my presentation there seemed to be an inordinate number of questions about the struggles of family life on the field. They wanted to know how my wife was doing. How were my children adjusting to life on the field.

Lindsay reminded me of that day as we had lunch today. She told me that I shared a particular story about Anna that she has never forgotten because that story helped with her decision to go to the mission field.

When Anna was five or six years old, we were preparing to move from Salatiga to Semarang. She had finished a year of Indonesian pre-school. I asked her on her last day of school if she was going to miss school.

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“No,” she said.

“Well what about your friends there. You’ll miss them, won’t you?”

“No, I don’t really have any friends at school.”

“But at play time, don’t you have fun with the other kids in the play yard?”

“No. I just go to the swing, because I can be alone there and I don’t have to talk to anyone.”

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Keep in mind that at this time, Anna knew no Indonesian and was quite shy about learning any, so her attitude was not unexpected. Still, I kept grasping for some positive aspect to her year at school. “Well what about your teacher? You’ll miss her.”

As I recall, this last question made Anna laugh out loud at the suggestion. “No. She’s really mean. She always yells at the children.” I always thought that her teacher reminded me of a female, Indonesian, Sgt. Carter, so I guess I should have know better.

Finally, in desperation, I asked, “Well Anna, is there anything at all that was good about your year in school?”

“No. Not really. I won’t miss it at all.”

“But Anna, I thought you liked going to school every day.” She made a funny face and shook her head no. “Why didn’t you say something to us?”

“Because I knew that that’s what I needed to do.” Anna knew that her Mom and Dad were in language school and that God had called us there. Sam was old enough to go to the international school for first grade. She was doing her part at the Indonesian school. That was her bit of sacrifice.

So that was the story I told in class that day back in 2006. What I didn’t know was that a young Lindsay was in the class struggling with understanding how God might be calling her and her husband to the mission field. One of the big questions she had was concerning children. How could she take children to the mission field. When she heard Anna’s story about sacrificing even at five years old, she knew that God would take care of them, too.

About two years later, Lindsay and her husband arrived in our city and there we were. And there was this little girl that was so instrumental in bringing this new family to the field. She so wanted to meet Anna. When she did, she found this vibrant, young girl who was excited about the Lord.

But then, just as quickly, Anna was gone from our lives.

At lunch today, Lindsay told us this story of how Anna helped to clarify God’s call on her life. She told us as well that she tells all of the teams from America about how Anna affected her life and about Anna’s vibrant faith in Jesus.

It was encouraging for Timberley and me to hear this story. We never know all of the various ways that God is using us and the events in our lives in so many ways that we are not even aware of. The tragedies in our lives are part of a much larger picture of what God is doing. The fact that God is using these tragedies does not make them any less difficult or somehow cause us to view these events as good things in and of themselves. But it does help when we step back a bit to see the larger picture of God’s work in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and even in the lives of people that we do not know. Anna had that impact on Lindsay, and today, in some small way, I think Lindsay had that impact on Timberley and me. To hear about the ministry Lindsay and her family is involved in and to know that God had used Anna, in her seemingly small way, to bring all of this about . . . how would I say it? It doesn’t make it worth it. But it does help give meaning to these things.

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In England: A Different Kind of Remembrance and a Different Kind of Prayer

7 05 2018

0505181241_HDRTimberley and I are in England as I am writing today’s post. We are staying for one month at the Tyndale House in Cambridge, where I am reading and writing for a few projects. Our change of place and routine brought on a few unintended changes for me. Yesterday (May 6), Timberley asked me something about today (May 7).  My slow response must have alerted her that I did not know the day’s date. “You do know what tomorrow is, don’t you?” Just then, I remembered the date. Yes, today is the sixth. Tomorrow is the seventh, I thought. How could I have forgotten? It is that day.

But then, I began working through the events and adventures of our day. There were reminders of Anna everywhere. Well, some were reminders of Anna. Others were those events that are new to us for which we can only wonder about Anna’s response. The first were things like being in a church service at Eden Baptist Church with what seemed  a hundred families with young girls, from babies to young teens. Was there even a boy in the congregation? I didn’t see one. Or, perhaps more darkly, walking on a street and being passed by a young girl on a bike, being followed by her mother who was carefully calling out cautions to the young girl about not riding into the street without looking, which seemed to go unnoticed by the girl. We walked on silently, as I prayed silently that nothing would go wrong in front of us.

0506181456b_HDRThe second type of event was on our afternoon bus ride to nearby St. Ives and the beautiful walk along the Ouse River to Houghton. Along the way we saw a pack (is it called a pack? Or a herd? Or some other name?) of llamas or alpacas, freshly shorn and enjoying the recent sunshine that seemed to have arrived in Cambridgeshire at the same time we did. In moments like those, we know of course what nine-year old Anna would have thought of those funny creatures. But we have to enjoy those new things without her.

We have had a delightful time so far in England and look forward to many more good experiences and adventures. My brother Richard and his wife, Dianna, flew with us from America to London and we stayed for a few days with them there. On our first day we visited the Churchill War Rooms. The second day we traveled to Windsor to see the Castle. Among our other adventures that day, Timberley saw a family touring the castle, and she went and listened in on their conversation to discover that they were Indonesian. They were traveling from Medan and had visited the United States and the United Kingdom. We had a nice conversation. They were very excited that we were able to speak Indonesian with them. Timberley remembered her language very well. As would be expected everyone exchanged hugs and handshakes. Hugs for the women. Handshakes for the men. And photos. There are always photos to be taken.

We stayed after the castle closed to attend an Evensong worship service in St. George’s Chapel, where the upcoming royal wedding will be held. Earlier in London, we attended an Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. I decided then that when it was in my power to do so, I would visit old churches during times of worship rather than simply during the tourist hours. Doing so, we could experience the church building in the context in which it was designed–not as a museum piece but as a part of a living and worshiping community.

After our walk to Houghton yesterday, we experienced a bit of the living community of the church in St. Ives. We came back into town, hot and tired from our walks, looking for a place to have afternoon tea. We happened to see in the churchyard a sign advertising tea at the church. A few folding tables were set up in the grass in front of the church where a half dozen people were enjoying tea and conversation. We decided to join them for their tea time. We met some quite friendly people who helped us through the ritual of tea and scones. It was our first “proper” tea. (The British seem to take pride in being the only people who know how to do something the “proper” way. In Cambridge there is a restaurant advertising a “proper” hamburger. Another advertised “proper” pasta. Perhaps some Italians will venture here to find out the right way to make their own food!) While we were there we picked up a printed announcement about next month’s event, which we will unfortunately miss. “Booze in the Pews” is a three-day event to be held in the church with “12 Real Ales” and other beers and ciders. I don’t know what a “real” ale is, but I suppose it is something like a “proper” ale. The things we miss in America.

While today marks ten years since Anna died, it is also the most unusual day of remembrance for us as we are in a place where nothing is normal and everything is new. The newness of things ought to be a reminder to us of the newness of heaven.

I am writing this in the library at the Tyndale House. A gong recently sounded which marks the first of two tea times. I retreated with the others to the Common Room where we have tea or coffee and socialize. There I engaged with a man I was just meeting for the first time. In the course of our conversation, we had an opportunity to speak of the three NT aspects of salvation–what we term justification, sanctification, and glorification. I made the observation that it could be helpful to pray for others through all three stages of this process: for the lost that they would come to know Christ, for those who believe that they would increase in holiness, and for those whose life here has ended that God would complete that act of salvation in heaven. My new friend commented on the third prayer, “It seems to me, though, that that is already decided. Isn’t it a bit of a wasted prayer?”

I don’t believe so. When I pray that God would save Anna, I am not praying that she would be justified. That happened long ago at our house in Salatiga. I am not praying that she would sanctified. We saw that happening daily in her final five or so years. What I am praying for is that God would complete that work of salvation by giving to Anna “that inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade–kept in heaven” for her. Is there some uncertainty over whether God will do that? Not a bit. I am completely certain that God will accomplish these things according to his word. Does that mean we do not pray for it? I hope not. Our prayer should always be based on the promises God made to us in his word.

And so we pray now. Come, Lord Jesus. Bring all things to their proper and fitting conclusion. As you have saved us in the past by bringing us to the point of faith, continue to save us through the sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit, and save those believers who have gone before us by bringing them into their unperishable inheritance. Amen.