Rue entered the living room where the whole gang was together: Moxie and Able, his mother and Bane, Lucent and Blue. Sage Wiseman had reluctantly conceded to being fed again with the understanding she would stay for some after-dinner conversation. Rue felt good, like almost everything was as it should be … almost. Of course, Joy wasn’t here; she would be the perfect completion for this evening, and the night, too. Is this you, God? Rue wondered to himself. Is it possible?
Lucent was glad, too, to have everyone in her home. To tell the truth, even though she was certainly no coward, she was wise enough to know they were being watched and that they might very realistically be in some danger. Of course, they had their own neighborhood watch, which had been put on high alert, and dear ole Captain Bernie Ruff lived just down the street. She was thankful for all that, of course, but having the presence of so many people, family and friends, in her home provided much-needed, extra comfort.
Of course, her home had sort of become Grand Central Station for the Brighterday-Sloughheart-Ebenezer case, as well as various topics of theology, philosophy and the like. Actually, no one minded, least of all Lucent. Her ordinarily fairly quiet and sedate home was abuzz with life and activity, and she loved it … especially now. Moxie did, too, as her mother could easily tell; in fact, her “Mox” was practically eating it up, despite the very serious nature of it all.
“Well, actually, my own proud heritage goes back to my father’s parents,” Blue was sharing with the others. “Believe it or not, they were both quite accomplished academically and ‘professionally,’ if I should put it that way. For about 20 years, they were missionaries in Sierra Leone.”
“Wow! O.k. Blue Poorman, I’m learning something very interesting about you now … finally, something from your secretive past,” Sage joked as she winked at her friend.
“Ha! My ‘secretive past?’ Well, I don’t know about that, but I guess I haven’t made it a habit of sharing a whole lot of my own personal heritage…”
“You should!” Lucent called out. “Go on, Blue. Tell us more, like what church were they with and what did they do primarily?”
“Ah! Now that’s the very interesting part, and one of the golden treasures of my family history … in my humble opinion,” Blue answered enthusiastically. “You see, my grandparents met at college and then continued on to graduate school together, which was not nearly as common for women in those days. At any rate, my dear grandpa earned his Master of Agriculture, while my grandmamma, who was already an RN, earned her Master of Public Health.”
“Oh my, that is pretty cool!” Moxie chimed in. “Did they know they were going to be missionaries then, or did that come later?”
“Actually, they both knew long before college, back in their high school days, before they even met. This was one reason they were so attracted to each other … not the only reason, mind you, but an important one nevertheless. So, yes, when they earned their masters, they already had their eyes set of Sierra Leone and missionary work. After four years at home, honing their knowledge and skills, they then set out for this small, west-central African country under the auspices of the largely ecumenical International Coalition of Viable Christian Missions (ICVCM), which is now sadly defunct.”
“At any rate, my grandfather began working in the fields a few miles southeast of Freetown, teaching and training residents in better agricultural practices so they could grow more crops as well as healthier ones. My grandmother worked in an up-to-date – well, up-to-date at the time – clinic, or hospice, I suppose. After about ten years, interestingly enough, my grandmother felt an urgency to learn more about diseases. There she became at least the first Caucasian woman on the African continent to earn a Master of Science of Epidemiology … maybe the first Euro-American woman to earn any master degree in Africa, I don’t know; however, it was certainly an achievement par excellence and one that turned out to be inestimably valuable to those she served.”
“My Lord, what an intriguing, adventurous story … or should I say testimony,” Sage commented. “Obviously, they were quite a pair, and I’m sure being out on the mission field for two decades, doing the kind of work they did, they saw plenty of pain and suffering… Oh … I’m sorry if it’s inappropriate to mention this right now; I guess… Well, we’ve been talking quite a bit about that lately, and it’s just in the fore of my mind. Actually, it’s always in the fore of my mind, but anyway…” she chuckled and shook her head. “To kind of steer the subject back, I guess I’d have to say it would be really, really interesting to read their chronicles, or diaries, if they left any behind. I’d probably be the first one in line to check out a copy, or buy one!”
Rue loved being in the room with his new ‘family,’ but he really wasn’t all that interested in the conversation. In fact, he wanted them to change the subject, even though this was Blue and he was telling them about his family. Rue had learned to really like the man, almost like an uncle he never had, or something along that line. Of course, he would never interrupt to try to abruptly redirect the course of conversation. He wasn’t rude, and he certainly didn’t want to hurt Blue’s feelings … not for the world! So, Rue sat and half-heartedly listened. Dr. Wiseman had just said something about pain and suffering and diaries.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, they kept rather meticulous diaries, and I’ve had the privilege of culling through them, especially during their mission years, and editing them into quite an enthralling story, if I do say so myself. Of course, I ‘fleshed’ out their autobiographical material with other research into Sierra Leone in general and Freetown in particular. Anyway, it all hangs together nicely and reads comfortably and interestingly enough. I submitted the copy to five different small to midsize publishing companies, which each turned me down. In the end, I simply self-published enough copies for family members who cared to have one. But, as for what you were saying about pain and suffering, they certainly saw and experienced their share… No, they were not immune.”
Rue shifted nervously now. His ears perked up and he was alert. Even though he didn’t feel like he wanted to hear what Blue was saying, he still needed to hear. He looked around the room and everyone else seemed content just listening, except for Bane. His brother was sprawled out on the other side of the room playing with an assortment of toys. Isn’t he getting a little old for that? Rue wondered, and then directed his attention to his mom as if to ask, aren’t you going to stop him? After all, he’s almost ten years old! She just smiled at Rue and winked.
“Well, if I might be so bold,” Able joined in, “how much did your grandparents suffer, and how did they keep their faith through it all?”
“Oh, they suffered more than most Americans, I dare say,” Blue answered. “Deprivation was common enough, but at least a half-dozen times they nearly starved. Sickness was rampant, and so they were afflicted, too, many times over. My grandfather almost lost his life … you’ll have to forgive my failing memory; I don’t remember from exactly what, but God and grandma saved his life. At least, that’s what he always said!” Blue chuckled along with everyone else. “Now, I don’t know that it necessarily had anything to do with being in Sierra Leone, but my grandmother lost her first two babies. Toward the end of their 20-year mission work they saw more and more civil unrest, which meant shooting and looting and other forms of violence. At one point, the clinic my grandmother served was blockaded, and at the same time my grandfather couldn’t get back into the city, and they had no way of communicating with each other … for three days, no less. It was frightening. Of course, I could mention more, but the point is they certainly saw and experienced pain and suffering.”
“And how did they maintain their faith? Well, this is something I learned over and over again at my grandparent’s feet. They had an ironclad faith, to be sure, so they were adamant in their belief that the Lord hears those in need, and he does not turn a blind eye or deaf ear to those in distress, no matter the magnitude. Obviously, they were especially sensitive to those imprisoned in darkness, sin and death, which is why they were almost desperate to tell people that, to quote from the Psalms, ‘just as a father (or mother) has compassion on his (or her) children, so the Lord has compassion on those who revere Him.’ Indeed, ‘the Lord is merciful and compassionate; he forgives sins and saves in times of trouble.’ For ‘the Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works.’ Of course, they couldn’t always see this, and they had plenty of opportunity to throw in the towel and just give up … to give up on God, their faith, their missionary work, everything really. Both of my grandparents always maintained, though, that they had witnessed and personally experienced far too much of the goodness and faithfulness of God to ever justify turning their backs on the One who had saved them from darkness, sin and death, and so much more along the way.”
“They certainly believed they had experienced, and were still experiencing, the ‘more abundant life’ the Christ came to give all who believe. And who am I to question? Their life testimony reminds me of something I later read from a sermon by St. John of Kronstadt: ‘To the human heart, the heart of Christ is given. The perishable is made immortal. Those naked and wounded by sin and by passions are adorned in Divine glory. Those who hunger and thirst are sated and assuaged by the nourishing and soul-strengthening Word of God and by the most pure Body and Divine Blood of Christ. The inconsolable are consoled. Those ravaged by the devil have been – and continue to be – delivered.’ Touché! This really is the central promise of the Christian faith. If it’s not true … if it doesn’t hold good, then everything else comes crashing to the ground, really. For my grandparents, it held true to the very end. So … even though they both certainly went through many trials and bouts with doubts and pressing questions, in the end their faith was still rock solid.”
“What really amazes me the most, personally, is that they didn’t have any formal missionary or theological or biblical training. They came up through secular schools, one and all, with the burning desire to dedicate one portion of their lives to serving others in the name of Christ … and so they did just that … for 20 years.” Blue shook his head in wonder and deep respect. “Naturally, they knew very well what they believed, and they were perfectly able to share that, but first and foremost grandma was a medical professional and grandpa was an agriculturalist, and both were servants… Both were servants.”
“Just out of curiosity, for my own satisfaction, I suppose, what was their church affiliation … or did they have one?” Effete queried.
“Umm … you know, they were mostly ecumenical. During their time in Sierra Leone they worshipped in primarily three churches,” Blue answered while obviously tugging at his memory. “They … uh, let me think… They worshipped at the Methodist church on Sunday morning, then at the Anglican church at least one morning per week, and they also attended some of the high masses at the Catholic church on some of the holy days. These were the only three churches in that section of Freetown, if I remember correctly, and they wanted to be as much a part of the whole Christian community as possible. Of course, the overwhelming majority of the population was, and is, Muslim.”
“Obviously, then, they didn’t come from anything like a legalistic, fundamentalist background,” Effete remarked. “This being the case, and since the majority of the people were Muslim, how did they do getting along with them?”
“Oh, quite well, actually. Point in fact, according to the stories I remember, as well as their diaries, they had many, many opportunities to show the love of Christ to their Muslim neighbors and compatriots. What so many people apparently don’t realize is that Muslims – genuine Muslims – highly revere Jesus. They believe he was virgin born, that he lived a sinless life, that he worked miracles, and that he was an especially anointed prophet of God, or Allah… So, in short, as my grandparents strove each day, with divine help of course, to truly follow Jesus in thought, word, and deed, their Muslim neighbors learned to highly respect them. It’s just a crying shame, tragic shame, that for various and sundry reasons that is becoming less and less common… But that’s another subject for another time. Anyway, no, they certainly were not legalistic fundamentalists; otherwise, they would never have made it for 20 years in Sierra Leone, at least not doing the work they were doing.”
“Right. The kind of work they were doing required true love and compassion with an awful lot of dedication,” Effete responded. “Oh, and I really appreciate your sharing your grandparent’s … take, I guess, on pain and suffering… I’ve got to admit, I still have my own doubts and questions, for sure, but… well, anyway, thank you.” Effete smiled at Blue. “You’re always very interesting and certainly a good friend… Thank you.”
True, thought Rue, but I’m with mom. I’ve still got my doubts and questions, too. Blue’s grandma and grandpa sound like they were really great folks, but … great folks aren’t God, and great folks can’t really answer for God… Can they?