We serve at a base that is not under a lot of the same pressures many other bases around the world, in our Iris Global family, face. Even so, there are many days on the mission field that are just plain tough!
Covid 19 has been extremely rare in our area and despite extreme violence, domestic violence crime, tribal unrest and payback practices, we face no wars or civil wars or people dying of starvation as many of our family bases and missionaries do around the world (although we do see a lot of people dying of food related illness and other things).
We serve in an area right in the middle of a country many call “the lucky country” with a welfare system that (other than spiritual ministry) hardly leaves missionaries much to do!
Schools, clinics, hospitals, money for food and living expenses, housing etc is all supplied by our government to the people Jesus called us to... and in abundance.
While many children and adults don’t seem to have basic needs met, drug and alcohol abuse is rife and nearly every afternoon and evening of the week, large circles of ‘card players’ gather unashamedly out in the open in parks, to literally throw money away, gambling in their family groups and at the casino down the road.
I have no rights to complain at all - anytime! God is so good and compared to most, despite the mysery and extreme challenges we do face here among our people, at times this place feels like a huge paradox- as though we live in a somewhat sheltered utopia with sunny, bright skies , close knit families and the simplicity of country life, quite removed from the terror we see of the news around the world...
Yet still we face daily challenges that are simply too much to bear!
Last night I received a message telling me a woman I’ve been visiting a lot recently passed away. She was only in her early 50’s and just a few weeks ago her daughter had a baby and she became a grandmother.
Her sickness was long and drawn out as she suffered from a lung disorder that’s all too common here. It’s chronic, fatal and rarely affects those of us from privileged back grounds.
The illness is called ‘Bronchiectasis’ and is caused from damage to the lungs early in life. Out here it can be as simple as recurring untreated chest infections in childhood and in some cases, the young people get caught in cycles of petrol sniffing and this can also cause bad damage that leads to this disease and inevitable early death.
Two years ago, another, even younger friend passed away from this disease, still nursing a 2 year old child. That was also a terrible shock.... But last night’s news about this recent loss, seemed to weigh on me even more. We’ve attended many funerals since we arrived here, both in town and out bush, in remote communities.
It’s not that I wasn’t expecting this lady to pass away. I had visited quite a few times these last weeks and months and in the last two weeks or so had seen another deterioration...
....It’s just that I wasn’t expecting her to go yesterday... Just the morning before I heard news of her death, I had missed a call from her and what hurts so much is that I never got to call her back.
I homeschool our 14 year old son and this happens to be the last week of our school term here before our sons are on their winter break.
The morning I missed my dying friend’s call, two day’s ago, I was determined to get my 14 year old started on his last English assignment for the term. He’s experienced learning delays and often small tasks can be arduous. I need to stay focused and keep him on track!
My phone rings a lot most days and nights and while I try and answer most of the time, I can’t possibly answer it all the time. So that same day, I had passed the sick lady’s number on to one of our visiting missionaries and had asked her to call her back in my place, explaining she would need prayer and support. The missionary, since, let me know she couldn’t get through.
...But last night when I heard the news that my friend had passed away, it hit me so heavily, I couldn’t even focus on my sweet boys chatting away to me obliviously. With my eyes and heart stinging, I stared blankly at my missed call list and saw her number there, from the morning before- 9.34am.
Why couldn’t I have put my English lesson aside just for that morning and attended to my friend who had reached out to me in the last 30 hours of her life? It hurt and still hurts so much! If I had known... “Did I miss it Jesus? Did I get on with my day without listening to You? Did you try and tell me but I wouldn’t hear, locked into my own plan...?”
In these moments we must throw ourselves into His heart with all our trust, leaning on His perfection, knowing He’s in control, knowing me not being there for my friend in her last couple of days of life must, for some reason, have been in His plan. “Before a word is on my lips oh Lord, You know it completely” psalm 139:4
To Jesus, on that morning, He saw me home supporting my teenager with his school work as just as holy as sitting with a dying woman in her last hours. “...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31
A month or so ago, a couple of us had visited this lady in hospital. She was urgently requesting prayer as the hospital room she was in was “full of demons” that were tormenting her.
When we arrived I asked a question I ask most of our people “who else have you got help from? Has a witch doctor been here?” “No” she said “I would never get that”. I got to have a beautiful talk with her and ask her if she felt ready to go home to be with Jesus. She told me she loved Jesus but that she didn’t feel ready to go, because she wanted to see her granddaughter. “I have a granddaughter coming. I still have things to do”. She was scared and needed prayer for the torment she was feeling. Her eyesight had rapidly deteriorated and she often saw dead people in the room.
The other missionary and I put a worship song on my phone and sang out loudly in the hospital room “Jesus, Jesus you make the darkness tremble”.
When I laid hands on her and commanded whatever was tormenting her to get out, she cried and shook powerfully under the Holy Spirit. We anointed each family member in the room with oil and prayed unhurriedly around the room and for healing for my friend. The glory of God was so strong His presence was tangible. That day we left her with a bible in her language (and my bottle of anointing oil!)
A government funded support worker in the hospital room that day -a young Buddhist woman-also received prayer from us and we explained the great love Jesus has for her and how he died for her.
Not long after that visit we heard from my friend that her daughter’s baby had been born and we were invited to visit and pray for the baby. It was a beautiful morning when I visited and we were able to walk from the maternity ward to the medical ward where my friend was and I got to see her hold her granddaughter.
When we got there she explained to me through desperate eyes that she was getting weaker. We prayed again and my heart went out to her so much. I asked her if she needed anything and she simply said “get me a cushion, a pillow”
I planned to go to Kmart and target- the department stores close by but the stock has really slowed down lately, delayed from China and I found nothing I felt was right for her...
I walked into a lovely boutique, one of the only ones, in our small town and saw a beautiful, colourful cushion for $50. I would never buy myself a cushion for that and debated in my mind momentarily before I heard Holy Spirit whisper to me:“Will you sew that into her? I want to honour and comfort her”
Later that evening I went back to the hospital with the cushion. My friend was always happy to see me and when I handed her the cushion she taught me new words in Pitjantjatjara “kurjupa kutjupa tjana wirunya” translated “that’s really different and beautiful”
Then last Thursday morning she rang me, saying she was staying at the Alice motor inn. The hospital would discharge her periodically to other accommodations around town only for her to get sick again and return back in. She sounded anxious “I’m getting weaker” she insisted and asked me to come “quickly”. 20 minutes later I was there. She looked more tired than I had ever seen her and asked me to adjust the support around her head so she could sleep. I stayed with her praying by her side for 40 minutes or so as she slept then crept out, leaving her with her carer.
I’d been meaning to return to spend time with her while she was more awake but never had the chance to...
Today, instead, after homeschool lessons, I visit with her daughter and close family in a camp, to join with them in ‘sorry’ then tonight we gather a group of mainly women by a fire outside our church to eat, fellowship, pray and encourage them in their walk with Jesus at our weekly Thursday night discipleship meeting.
I wanted to share this short story as it’s a fairly typical story of what we do here a lot of the time.... again and again and again.
We stop for one at a time. It hardly seems like much to write home about. Many times we pray for healing and we don’t see it. Sometimes we do. Sometimes it goes well, other times we feel like we really miss it. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” 2 Corinthians 4:7
Mostly we give and pour out all we have...and it’s still no where near enough. As missionaries and many Christians faced with great human need, we live constantly with the reminder that “apart from Him we can do nothing”. John 15:5
This work is humbling! My friend’s death is just one challenge we face now. In the last two weeks, a young man close in proximity was murdered resulting in terrible pay back feuds between family members. Covid 19 restrictions mean that our church busses can’t run, our weekly community meal has stopped, volunteers have left and are returning, conflict regarding who can be classed as a long term missionary with us has risen. And at any given time, the old questions many of us face of language barriers and how to be in multiple places at the same time... huge amounts of need all around us...there’s only so many hours in a day and people you can connect with!
All the prayer, bibles, anointing oil, pretty cushions and visiting in the world, in the end- for the dying ones-simply aren’t enough... Even the hospital care and government support, although so proficient here, will never be adequate for what my friend or any of us are needing.
We are nothing apart from Jesus and He is all we have to offer. He was with my precious friend those times I was right there by her side, a few weeks back, seeing Him touch her in power, He was there two mornings ago as she faced the last hours of her life and my phone rang out. And, most importantly, she’s there with Jesus now for eternity.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Oh what a perfect saviour and oh how Jesus is the only answer.... for all of us! ❤️
A good reminder for us all from my spiritual Dad, co founder and director of our missions organisation, Iris Global, Doctor Rolland Baker, spoken at an Iris base leadership gathering in 2013:
“You know there’s all kinds of good things we can do. We can build things, organise things, fix things and teach things. And many organisations focus on exactly that. These things give us a measure of satisfaction, a measure of interest. We can work on feeding people. Helping people medically is rewarding. But in speaking to our Iris leadership, I want to say something here. I’m hungry for more than that! I’m hungry for much, much more than outward, physical transformation. As great and as good as these things are, they are absolutely not enough for your heart. They are not enough to be our focus. Not enough to be the reason we sacrifice and labour and do all that we do. Our hearts are hungry for more than that. Our hearts are hungry for Somebody. Our hearts are hungry to feel and to experience Love, Peace and Joy. Our hearts need to be on fire for a reason! Our hearts long to be in love with a perfect person. Our hearts long for a perfect love affair. Our hearts have deep, deep, deep desires. Our hearts long for our God...”
As I go on as a missionary living in Central Australia and as I go on in life in general, I experience this longing more and more.
“Who have I in Heaven but You and besides you, the earth has nothing that I desire” Psalm 73:25
I pray this post doesn’t depress you but quite the opposite! That it would fill you with joy and expectation and inspire hunger in you to “...press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:14