It’s 4:46am on a Friday, and I’m aching for a miracle.
We’re in the featureless swath of borderland, that thistled zone between life stages: no longer fully part of life in Kenya, but not yet arrived in the Central African Republic. I’m glad for this pause, and the gift of dipping into ministry here one more time, but in the same breath we’re itching to push roots into the loam of our new village.
Two mornings ago, Lauren and I went for a walk through the trees. The cardinal law of exercise in rural Africa is Thou Shalt Never Run Alone, Especially if Thou is Female, but I’ve been taking Toby, the exuberant yellow lab we’re dog-sitting. (He came with the house, and I’d plum forgotten I was a dog person until I glimpsed his waggy-tailed smile.) Toby is maybe not good for calling for help from the cell phone I never carry anyway, but he has teeth, and so I think I’m coming out ahead.
Usually Toby and I run together as the sky gathers color, but on this particular day I convinced Lauren to come for a walk. And right before we left the safety and dust of the road for the forest path, a German Shepherd joined our trio. Toby didn’t bat an eye, so I assumed they were friends, and besides, if you’d watched this other dog walk for a while you’d know he’s a bit on in dog years.
“I am going to call him Elder Dave,” Lauren said as we picked our way over tree roots and gullies. Senior citizenship aside, he cast a hulking presence, and with Toby up front and Elder Dave at back, I’d never felt safer in my life. We passed a few questionable characters on the path, and who knows what manner of wildlife observed our crossing from the trees, but those dogs were on us like glue.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you,
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1b-3a).
I wonder about the sense of it all, of taking kids to a place wrecked by conflict and great suffering. And I don’t read passages like this one in Isaiah and think God is promising certain deliverance from harm. I mostly just read two things: He will be with us, and we are His.
We had the best super-fast Home Assignment. So many sweet, brief connections—some online, some up close—with people we love. So many chances to bear witness to God’s unrelenting faithfulness in Africa. Without question, I wish it’d been longer by years and that we could have seen every last one of you; but even as we were relieved and filled being home in the States, He was pulling our hearts back to His work and His people in Africa.
At one point during furlough, my dad mentioned that I’d long ago said the safest place to be is exactly where God wants us. But what I remembered was telling my mom that it’s not a bad way to die. We all give our lives for something, and so then, why not this?
The God who sends an extra dog on a walk and shows up in a flaming furnace could absolutely pluck us out of any war or horror. He could. But even if He doesn’t, right? Even if He doesn’t, we will do His bidding with joy (I hope) and a good amount of trembling. He will be with us, and we can’t stop being His.