I have lately been reminded of how God can bring blessing out of adversity. Just this week, a Sunday school teacher approached me after church and told me what a blessing our son Daniël had been to her. She explained how he had told the class about some things the Lord had done in response to prayer while we were living in a Third-World country, serving as missionaries in Bible translation.
This set me thinking about how we mostly try to protect ourselves, and especially our children, from any unpleasant, difficult, or potentially dangerous situations. Now there is certainly nothing wrong with shielding our innocent, vulnerable children from harm, and I am not for a moment suggesting that we should stop doing so. However, as with anything in life, we can go overboard in trying to protect our children.
This is beautifully illustrated in the animated film Finding Nemo, when Nemo’s dad, Marlin, says, “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.” To which the indomitable Dory replies, with her homespun brand of logic, “That’s a funny thing to promise … you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.”
Apart from the fact that being overprotective is unbalanced, there is a problem in that we can so easily leave God out of the equation.
The fact is, my children have a heavenly Father who is much more concerned about them than I could ever hope to be. He knows the number of hairs they have on their heads, which I obviously do not, and not a hair falls from their heads but their Maker knows it. When I begin to think that I, with my limited resources and fallen nature, can love and protect my children better than their Father in heaven can, I am heading towards the murky waters of self-deception and faithlessness. That is why I have had to make a conscious effort at acknowledging my limitations to God and recognising that our dear children are, ultimately, in his care.
When we felt called to move to East Africa as a family, I remember wrestling with myself and the Lord about all the bad things that could happen to our children. Our youngest at the time was not even a year old, and I was horrified at the idea of exposing him and his siblings to the numerous health risks and other threats involved in living in a tropical Third-World country. The nearest decent medical care would be in a city more than five hours’ drive away and virtually unaffordable to us.
Well, the Lord kept urging me to surrender my will, my hopes, fears, and dreams, to Him and obey his call. This I did with clenched teeth and pleading for his mercy to help me go through with whatever He wanted me to do, and to face whatever would come our way.
The upshot is that we did move to East Africa, where we stayed for a year. And no, it wasn’t all fun and games.
Our younger children, who did not have much English and no Swahili at the time, could not relate or communicate well with anyone outside of our family.
We all became ill with a variety of nasty diseases. Despite using insect repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets, all but one of our children contracted malaria. My heart still skips a beat when I look at pictures of our eldest daughter, smiling happily at the camera, pale, thin, and with dark circles under her eyes, as her body was recovering from its struggle with malaria.
Within our first six weeks of arrival, we had five attempted burglaries. I had to scare off an intruder breaking open a window in the passage next to the girls’ room while making a phone call for help in very broken Swahili, all the time trying not to wake our sleeping children.
On our eldest son’s birthday, there was a riot, with police shooting tear gas and live ammunition at an aggressive crowd of protesters from another religion, right in front of our house. We had to hurriedly send out text messages to call off his birthday party, warning the guests not to come anywhere near our house. Some tear gas got into the house and all of us learnt first-hand what it feels like to get it into your eyes and air passages. We had to try to comfort our little ones who were crying and asking, “Why are the police hurting the good people?”
I could carry on, but you get the idea.
Some people would have felt that staying there simply wasn’t worth it, packed up and returned to their home country. I cannot say that such thoughts never crossed my mind in the wee small hours of the night, but when the sun came out in the morning, the kids were happy and I could go about the Bible translation work for which we had come. Then I just knew that we were exactly where we had to be. God had not forgotten us. We did our best to keep our children safe, but it was, ultimately, a lesson in trusting God.
This description of some of the hardship our children faced because we chose to follow the Lord’s call gives only one side of the picture, though.
It does not tell of the fun our children had, playing good old-fashioned games like jumping rope, French skipping, dodgeball, tag, hide-and-seek, and many more with their local and expat friends.
It does not hint at the encouragement to their faith when the riot literally stopped, turning to peaceful discussion, mere minutes after they (the kids) had dropped to their knees and asked Jesus to please make all the violence, tear gas, and shooting stop.
It does not convey the children’s joy at being able to talk about Jesus to a little friend from another religion.
Nor does it give any indication of how hard it was for our children to adapt back to our home country and culture, trying to make friends with kids who like sitting inside with their electronic devices rather than playing outside.
It is easy to look at a situation, such as ours in East Africa, and see the difficulties and dangers our children faced. We may even grieve for a certain loss of innocence. For example, to this day, one of our elder children wakes up scared at the slightest nocturnal sound, assuming that bad people are trying to break into our house again.
But then God surprises us with a completely different perspective. Our children have expressed, in no uncertain terms, that they want to go back to East Africa. They are excited about our ministry in Bible translation, and they also have such fond memories of the life and friends they had over there. Granted, some of the younger ones can hardly remember anything about that time — in fact, our youngest was born only after we returned to our home country — but those who do remember talk about life in East Africa in such glowing terms that everyone is convinced that that is the ultimate dream!
And here is my point: God can and does bring blessing out of adversity, if we are only willing to recognise it. If we take our eyes off the obstacles and hardship we have encountered and start counting the blessings that have grown in and out of that situation, we will truly be amazed. And when we realise that God used the soil of difficulty from which to make these blessings grow, we begin to look at adversity in a different light. Not as something pleasant, but as a field with the potential to grow a harvest of blessing — if we will trust and obey the Lord even when we do not understand.
I can honestly say that, although I do not like the idea of my children being exposed to all the things we have gone through, I would do it all over again if that were what it would take for my children to grow in their faith, worldview, and character the way they did. There is no doubt that they would not be who they are now if they had not gone through the hard times with us. And if you asked them whether they would do it all over again, their reply would be a resounding, “Of course!”
Marlin and Dory from www.media.photobucket.com