Earlier this month, a tragedy struck our community in Managua, when a missionary family lost their nineteen-year-old daughter in a freak accident. She was laying in a hammock strung between two palm trees when one of the trees broke. She fell out of the hammock and hit her head on a concrete block nearby. She died almost instantly.
When we followed God to Nicaragua, we knew there were inherent risks involved. This family did too. The mom shared that she had contingency plans for her contingency plans. We all know not to travel alone at night or flaunt wealth. We have guards and security systems to try to prevent theft and robbery. We know the route to the hospital and have exit strategies should we need to evacuate after natural disasters or political unrest.
But this was just not something anyone prepares for. And it left much of the community — both foreigners and locals — in shock.
The family decided to bury their daughter here, in the land she had grown to love, among the people she couldn’t get enough of. This translated into them having to navigate the painful world of funerals and burials in another culture, with a language they were still learning. And yet throughout it all, they have shown a strength that is amazing.
When my husband and I first heard the news, we contemplated how we might respond. I’ll spare you the gory details, but simply say that of all the ideas we suggested, burying our child in Nicaragua wasn’t one of them. Most involved running away, hiding from the world, and wallowing in self pity. Yup. That’s how we roll.
That wasn’t how this family responded. Just days after the initial event, the mom wrote the following statement:
There was nothing that could have been done. We are grateful that we will not live with the what-ifs… what if she wasn’t in a third world country, what if it was a better hospital… it was simply her time to go. She was with her precious friend and the boys. She was where she loved to serve, doing what she loved to do in the land that God had called her, serving God with wild abandonment. Psalm 139 tells us that our days are ordained before we even spend one day… our days are ordained… her days ended yesterday. God knew that. He wasn’t taken by surprise. He was with her. Satan will try to use this for bad but we choose to use it for good. She will no longer know a dark world, she will know longer stand on the front lines against evil. She will be standing with the King.
I sent that message to some of our prayer supporters who had been praying since we first got word. Their responses were just like mine: Wow, what a testimony! Very special words from a broken heart! Faith at work!
And then there was one that spoke of the doubt that often creeps into our lives in times like this: Is she in denial? Shouldn’t someone speak openly with them about returning to the States to deal with their loss?
In fact, the family has shown such faith and grace throughout these past two weeks that they apparently received several questions about how they were coping. This prompted the mom to post the following response:
Have I been mad about this? No. Am I in denial about this? No. (The dying and burial process here is quite real.) Am I grieving? Of course. Do I cry? Absolutely. But I believe we all do it differently. I’ve even gone to scripture to see how grief plays out there, and it is done differently in every case.
God had so laid on my heart, from the three years ago that I lost my mom when I did wrestle quite strongly with Him, that death is not to be feared. Yes, be sad for a time. But grieve as those who have a hope. I trusted my daughter with God on this earth. I’d pray for her safety almost without ceasing sometimes. We were in an armed robbery here, when as we were paying, three men (one with a gun) stormed the counter. My first thought was, “Oh my, I have my child with me.” Take me, fine, but my kids are a different story! She was between me and the gunman and I told her to stay close to me no matter what. The gunman heard me and we locked eyes. I have no idea what he saw, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t me because he yelled at the guys and they ran out. So, how can I not trust God in her death when He totally had us covered here on earth?
Her time had come. And we are OK with that. We rejoice that she is with God, that her race was well ran. I’m sorry if I don’t display grief as maybe I should? It doesn’t mean I love her any less than if I were curled up in a ball somewhere. It also doesn’t mean I’m stronger or something special. I just seem to have the greatest story ever to tell right now. It is the same good news we have been telling for years, but now there is even a greater sense of urgency.
I spent a lot of time pondering her words after that. And then when I was reading Colossians from The Message, I found myself connecting a few dots, so to speak. The part I’m referring to is in Paul’s letter, written while he was in jail awaiting trial, to the church in Colosse. Check it out:
I feel like I know that gritting-your-teeth strength pretty well. It’s what happens when I really don’t want to do something, but find a way to grin and bear. It’s what I do when I hate the task in front of me but know there is no other choice but to press on. It may look strong on the outside, but absolutely is anything but on the inside. And there certainly isn’t any joy involved.
But this glory-strength stuff? That sounds like the real deal. I’ve seen people exhibit this before, and have often thought to myself, I couldn’t do what they are doing.
It is the strength that endures the unendurable — What this family is dealing with: losing their daughter in such a tragic way in the midst of “serving God” in the land He brought them to? Ugh. That is definitely the unendurable — and spills over into joy. Yes! I see joy in them, even though they are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Watching this family walk through something we all beg to never experience has taught me a lot about this glory-strength that God gives. We recently saw a moto-taxi here in Nicaragua with the following phrase added to a verse most believers know well:
no es fácil! pero todo lo puedo en Cristo // It isn’t easy! But I can do all things in Christ.
Losing a child isn’t easy in any way, shape, or form. And doing it in a foreign country takes that not-easy level up a notch. [Shoot, some days I think just living in a foreign country is unendurable!] But still… we can endure the unendurable, and even somehow find joy in the trial, if only we keep our eyes fixed on the One who knows the very number of our days before we ever take our first breath.
We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul — not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is the strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. —Colossians 1: 10-12