Here is a story from Kimberly Smith, President of Make Way Partners, one of our partnering organizations on the ground in Sudan…WARNING: some graphic content.
Milton [my husband] and I live on a hill alongside a river. In the winter months, when the trees are bare, you can see both east and west for miles up and down the river while sitting on our back porch. When summer greens close in on us, we hike down the hill to water’s edge, taking in the water and her host of life.
Moving water is a mysterious thing. When perched on the rim of the water at sunrise, one moment I may be in quiet wonder of an otter peeking out at me through the elephant Eears lining the shore. Then, in the next moment, I’m breathlessly trying to pull my 175-pound Great Dane (Elijah) out of the water because his brother (Elisha) has knocked him in, and neither of them can swim.
I think this mysterious nature of water must be partly why, in the Bible, Jesus used words such as those found in John 7:37-39 to express His promise to us. “…Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me’, as the scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Life is precarious on the water, one minute peacefully reverent, and in the blink of an eye, you’re drowning. Our God is wild, untamable and often comes rushing at us.
I once felt God rushing at me just this way as I sat in the middle of a group of Darfur women. Heat and the smell of death roasted together singeing my lungs.
The desperate women of Darfur crowded in around me. Nearly all their black arms clung to brown babies. Elizabeth, a girl of no more than 15 or 16 told me about the last time her village was attacked. She wondered aloud if she had become pregnant from the first man who raped her or did God not give her Abel (the half-Arab baby in her arms) until the fifth man. Or perhaps the gift of life did not find its way in Elizabeth until the last man pushed her close to death before rolling off of her.
That’s how she put it, “This baby. A gift. Abel, my life.”
It has always been clear to me that life begins the moment a child is conceived, and I firmly believe life has divine recognition marking his place in eternity. Still, I admit that even my mind reeled as I took in the scene:
A young black African girl holds a half-Arab baby who was conceived because of a violent attack upon the girl. His mother birthed him in drought and starvation in a homeless desert. Yet, Abel is called the gift of life by his mother while he hovers near death from some unknown parasite, disease or malnutrition.
God rushed at me in the odor, the girl’s desperate pleas for me to help Abel, the heat and the crowd pushing in around me. I knew each one of the women and babies had parallel stories. Where is God in the stench?
Authors like Phillip Yancy (Where is God When it Hurts), Ken Gire (Intimate Moments with the Savior), Elisabeth Eliot (The Liberty of Obedience) and C.S. Lewis’ words about “pain being God’s megaphone” all failed to help me understand what to do with someone else’s pain. They had schooled me well on dealing with my own pain, but I was not the one hurting.
I could get out of Darfur at any time I pleased. Elizabeth would watch her baby die a slow and painful death in this desert, and then she would soon follow him. Feeling guilty wouldn’t help. Feeling sad wouldn’t help. I confessed that I doubted prayer would save either Abel or his mother.
When I tried to pull my Great Dane, Elijah, out of the river, he was pinned between the pier and a boat. As I heaved on his collar to save him, the waves kept rocking the boat against him threatening to crush him. He panicked and flailed against me. Not knowing how to save his brother, Elisha reared up like an elk, crash landing into my back – biting and pulling at me in an effort to help pull his brother from the rough water. I nearly joined Elijah in the water, between the boat and the pier.
Finally, Elijah’s collar slipped over his head and I lost him in twenty feet of water. If he had been at the end of the pier, in the open water, I would have dove in after him. I could not get to him in this cramped space; I had to let him go.
For several moments, I heard monstrous thrashing about as Elijah flailed under the pier. He could not swim. There was no hope. Elisha and I both paced trying to guess what to do.
Suddenly, at the back of the pier, Elijah erupted through the water lilies. Bobbing up and down as he would hit bottom and push his way to the surface, swim a stroke or two before sinking again, he made his way to the shore. I had done everything reasonable and in my might to save him. I had failed. I lost him. In my hands, Elijah was dead.
Jumping on the pier, Elijah greeted me with a dog shower as he joyfully shook himself out. He was happy to be alive. Something bigger than me was at work in this dog.
Darfur is exactly like life at the water’s edge. I am not in control of things in Darfur. I cannot fix all the problems of Elizabeth, Abel or others. But, I can be a witness of Something Bigger at work. I can tell their stories to all who will listen so that you and others can be a part of that Something Bigger.
Like me, you may not be able to save them all, but coming to terms with our limits and allowing God to do what He will through all that He has given us, we can save many.