What does it take to stay alive? I remember lying awake at nights in Uganda, listening to gunfire across the valley, knowing it was the night watchman at the water plant firing at potential intruders. After our armed robbery I never slept well. Unlike the water plant, we did not have an armed guard. We just had a "watchman" who was really a gardener whose living quarters were near the gate so that he could respond if there was a problem. Our intruders found their way around him when they entered our compound early one evening, in the darkness that had fallen like a curtain at 6:30 p.m. That night we joined the ranks of many foreigners in the country who were mistakenly assumed to have lots of money. We were saved by the fact that we did have quite a bit of cash ready to pay our project workers the next day, by the bark of our dog, and likely by my husband's cool head, our own prayers, and the sheer need of guilty parties to escape before they would lose what they gained by their clever robbery.
That was not the only time we escaped with our lives. When we lost ten times that amount of money to a trusted Christian employee who betrayed us when we were back in Canada for a much needed break, we were considered fortunate to leave the country finally with our lives and our most treasured possessions, mostly books. He did not take being fired in a Christian spirit, and launched a hate campaign against us, fuelling more opposition to our work and presence. We felt it was time to leave. The safety of our children was at stake, and the joy in our work.
Yes, those events were Satan's work. How else could we see them? Satan is a liar and a thief. Yet he is often God's unpaid servant. A few years later we were glad that these forces had brought us back to our own country. God had other things to do in our lives.
Here in Canada, I don't lie awake at night listening to gunfire in our peaceful town. I don't worry that at any moment we might have another armed robbery, or that someone we have trusted will rob and cheat us. Yet I have likely had more difficult moments here being anxious about the future and the present than I ever had in my five years of missionary life "on the field".
I am not one to see a demon in every doorpost, or to interpret a lot of life's events as the work of the devil. I work hard on my "stuff", taking responsibility for the way I come across and seeking to grow in new and creative ways, as a Christian and as a human being. I urge others to do the same, and not to blame the devil for what is really the result of their own immaturity or bad boundaries, or their addictive patterns of behaviour.
Yet I, and many I care about, often struggle just to have the courage to be, to stay alive, to continue forging ahead with the many difficulties, outer and inner, that plague us. I rejoice to say that I am not depressed, and find many moments of joy in my life, much to celebrate. I work hard to help others find reasons to believe God's promises for their lives - that they have a hope and a future. And I weep inwardly at the discouragement that Satan will bring to all of us, His capacity to rob and cheat us out of every blessing God intends, and to make us despair of the worth of living life.
We don't have to be on the brink of madness like Hamlet to say to ourselves: "To be or not to be, that is the question." We don't have to be famous like Dag Hammarskjold to write in our private diaries that the main issue in life is not to have run away.
What is the saying? "Faith isn't faith until it's all you're holding on to"? Is that how it goes? Well, you know what I mean. I thought I was really learning about faith and courage when I was a missionary in Uganda, went through an armed robbery, and then all the rest. But I have faced more existential questions about the courage of just living life since I have returned.
And for me, in the end it all comes back to God. He is my source, my supply, my capacity to stay alive. We got a lot of attention for a while when we told our story of the armed robbery or the betrayal of our Christian employee. But our private struggles back here in small town Ontario are not the stuff of missionary newsletters.
I wonder how the 4 million who have been butchered to death in Congo went through their struggles. How many of them will I see in Heaven? What are our struggles compared with the persecution of Christians all over the world? These are important questions. I am glad I can think about them, and not take peace and whatever prosperity we have for granted. Yes, I guess I am glad that it takes a lot of courage just to be, at times.
Of course God has blessings in store for us, in this life, but they are often not what we would expect. Often they are treasures of darkness, riches stored deep in the centre of the most difficult moments we know. And that centre is only truly the centre, like the true centre when you are throwing a pot on a wheel, when it is God. What else makes life worth living? Who else is there, in our darkest moments? Either we know Him in His presence in our lives, or we don't. And when we do, then He can be all that we need. He can give us the courage to be, and the courage to live out all that is before us.
And until we come to that place where He, and faith in Him, are all that we are truly holding on to, then I don't think we really know what it means to live.