Much of the daily life of a missionary is the same as the daily life of anyone else, but done in the backdrop of another language and culture. This past Christmas, for our family, was a time that combined the sadness of a miscarriage with joy of celebrating the Incarnation with our much-loved and expanding family.
Just after Thanksgiving we were surprised and delighted to discover that I was expecting baby #9. Although the pregnancy felt different than the previous ones, the nausea and fatigue did finally kick into gear. So it was with great sadness that we learned on December 20 that it didn’t appear that the tiny baby (still just an embryo) was still living. But Rebecca and Collin had just come in from the US the day before and the day after we were due to begin our week long vacation at a little cabin in a beach side town just outside the city. So it wasn’t until December 30 that we received confirmation by ultrasound that our little one had indeed passed away, probably around the first week or two of December.
Our baby’s life on this earth was very short. We were not able to even find out the gender, due to the tiny size. And yet we are thankful for the extremely brief time with this little one. We have great hope that this child of the covenant is with the Lord in heaven. Seeing how fleeting life is has reminded us to be thankful for the eight children that we have with us. Having a large family for me has meant that my children are and have been my career. My home is cluttered, my free time is nonexistent, our budget is tight. The world would say my time could have been more productively spent in more worthwhile pursuits. And yet, I do not at all regret the lives of any of the children the Lord has given us, not even this one who entered our lives just for only a few fleeting weeks. And this little one who neither got to experience the joys nor the hardships of life on this earth has an eternal soul, for which we are grateful.
Of course, we had much to rejoice for this Christmas as well. Rebecca and her boyfriend Collin spent two weeks with us. Although we’ve known Collin for something like 5 or 6 years, this was a chance to get to know him better. We also love when Rebecca is able to visit us, trying to carefully treasure each moment. We will probably not see her face to face (well, except over Skype or Messenger) until we come back on furlough at the very end of 2018. Our week in the beach house was a chance to get away and just be a family. The seasons are reversed here in the Southern Hemisphere, so Christmas is a summer holiday. And after 9 months in school and doing church planting ministry, it was a joy to take a break. Even in this fallen world, the Lord is good to give us times to rest and be refreshed.
Rebecca and Collin officially got engaged in the beginning of February. They are hoping to get married and be graduating from Providence Christian College in 2019.
The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world…”. Indeed, it is the naive missionary who goes to the field without an awareness that it is in the spiritual world that much of our battle is waged. It is for this reason that prayer is our principal resource that we bring to the field. We can be winsome and relevant all we want, but to plant a deep and lasting church that bears good fruit is dependent on the Lord. What is more, the spiritual forces of evil are doing what they can to hinder us. There have been times in our decade of service with Mission to the World (MTW) where it seems like I could feel a deep sense of oppression that went beyond just the trials themselves that we were experiencing.
The first week of December of this past year was one of them. It had been a winter with a lot of illness in our family followed by a spring that was just as intense (remember that seasons are reversed). I can honestly say that the local medical clinic has been our home away from home, but this week in particular it seemed to intensify. I developed a strong case of viral conjunctivitis with a fever. We never knew pink eye could be so bad, so I went in to the doctor. She gave me some medicine, and I tried to keep the fever down for the sake of the baby in my womb. Then when my eyes started bleeding, I went back in, for what for me was a difficult experience of getting my eyes scraped free of the membranes that had developed.
Just a short time later, one of the children developed impetigo, a bacterial skin infection that is usually not serious. The pediatrician was worried about the severity in his case, however, and warned us carefully to keep a close eye on our son, and she made sure to call us and check up on him a few days later. Thankfully the oral and topical antibiotics did their job and he recovered quickly. The same time I was in the doctor for my eyes, our 13 year old son who was sick with a sore throat developed at fever of 104 (40C). So, he needed to be seen as well. We thankfully found out that he had strep throat. I say thankfully because our two other teenagers had been sick with a bad cold and fever off and on for over a month, and it was a relief to find out that they also had strep throat, because they could be treated with antibiotics and finally move on! Sadly, we would later find out that it appears that our tiny unborn baby died around this same time–whether from me having a fever, or just by coincidence we will never know.
I can’t pretend to know all that it means for a missionary to experience spiritual attack, but I do know that when we ask for prayer–prayer for our ministry and prayer for our family–we really believe it is important. We also believe that God is sovereign and fully in control of all that happens in our lives, and take great comfort that the days of our lives our numbered by He who loves us and cares for us as the Good Shepherd. Even the bad things that happen to us are carefully chosen by our Father to lead to our sanctification. This side of heaven all of this is wrapped up in mystery. But we take hold of the spiritual weapons of warfare, and ask for help from our supporting churches back home to do the same on behalf of us, and those who belong to the church we are planting.