Yesterday my husband, our high school teacher and I had a meeting with a 16-year-old single mom who is interested in enrolling in our new seventh-grade class.
We sat together around a concrete picnic table under the breezy shade of a tree in our front yard as it was explained to us that she and her one-month-old son moved to our rural town to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother was murdered last month while someone was stealing her cellphone. I didn’t hear all the details on her father’s situation, but he is also dead.
Just three or four days ago my husband informed me that a dear neighbor of ours had received news that his younger brother – a Christian man in his early thirties who lives in Honduras’ capital city – was also murdered recently when someone jumped him for his cellphone.
About two months ago a famous Honduran soccer player in his early twenties was murdered in the parking lot of a small shopping center in the nearby city of La Ceiba that Darwin and I frequent. The night following the murder Darwin and his youth choir held a Christmas recital at the same location.
A few months ago as a family we attended the funeral of a dear friend of ours’ dad, a security guard for a local pawn shop who was gunned down in broad daylight.
Last week as Darwin and I rolled down a rocky street in our 2001 pickup, I asked him casually if so-and-so neighbor, the daughter of an elderly couple we know well, is a single mom. He answered “yes,” and then added that she’s single because someone had killed her husband.
The piercing question — that can neither be answered nor entertained in the slightest if one wants to live with peace – that has been invading my thoughts over these past few days is: “Who’s next?”
The utterly chaotic and unstable situation on Planet Earth is a reality quickly accepted when you live in Honduras. Here there is generally very little white-washing of sin, no careful cloaking of death, no tasteful hiding of the elderly, the sick and morbid behind a safe curtain to shield anyone else from catching sight. Everyone seems to know that death is close and that no one is exempt from being its next victim.
In most cases, the murderers keep on murdering, the thieves keep on stealing until someone kills them (as was the case with a 16-year-old neighbor of ours), and those who break the law in other ways continue doing so because the Justice system. Does. Nothing.
Just last week as I was in the government’s child protective agency’s office in a meeting with one of the agency’s lawyers, a wonderful Christian woman with whom we hold a very positive relationship, I asked about 7-year-old Gabriela’s step-father’s court proceedings, a naïve hope for resolution permeating my question. The lawyer, knowing all too well the system in which we find ourselves here, let out a sigh and informed me that the specific investigative branch that was in charge of looking into the stepfather’s case had been shut down. The government, in hopes of perhaps creating a ‘better’ investigative branch, opened up a different operation only to put all the previous cases so far back that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they are ‘out of sight and out of mind,’ meaning that Gabriela’s stepfather, who took her as if she were his adult lover and openly proclaimed to others that she was such, is loose – at large, not behind bars – and may very well never receive any earthly consequence for his pervertedness, seeing as the new cases have taken precedence over the old and now 7 months have passed since he should have been caught in the first place. It is what they had promised us.
For a few moments, all hope, all energy drained out of my body as I could do no more than stare at the lawyer lifelessly, wanting to slip away into some other reality, full of rage but at the same time sucked dry by a sorrow so strong that I almost felt as if I could not move. Everything within me seemed suddenly paralyzed, while the following thought methodically stamped itself across my mind:
My thoughts came to a standstill at this conclusion, everything tuning dizzy and dark – I mean, why would he not? With no pending consequence, no apparent court case or investigation, no police searching for him, no repentance that we know of, why not find another little girl and continue unfazed?
My thoughts — suddenly both slowed and sharpened by an acute emotional exhaustion — began: How could this possibly be happening? Who’s next? Wh-who will be the next little girl to have her world smashed to pieces, slamming her behind mentally and emotionally, perhaps for the rest of her life? Gaby wetting her pants so frequently — so, so, SO behind in every sense of the word, hours and hours of holding her, praying over her for restoration — the gargantuan although imperfect effort that has been made to give Gaby a sense of ‘normal,’ all the talks to teach her that taking her clothes off and dancing sensually in front of others isn’t God’s plan for her, and…and – there’s probably another little girl out there, who –
If it is said that Jesus is a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with the profoundest of grief, with each passing day He is giving me a deeper glimpse into why that is so.
So that afternoon as I drove up the lonely gravel road toward our rural property speckled with little melon-colored buildings, I raised my eyes to the mountainous backdrop before me and began praying the only words that seemed to make any sense: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come. May Your kingdom come, Your will be done, one Earth as it is in heaven. Come, Lord Jesus. Please come.”
Replete with exhaustion, the gaping hole in my chest allowed for a sudden flooding-in of praises toward our Father God who is just, who is trustworthy, and who stands in such raw, utter contrast to all that is wrong in our world, all that is wrong in me. So, against all logic my heart let out a welp of joy – a desperate cry for hope – as my eyes travelled up the mountains before me, taken to such depths of sorrow that the Lord lifted me up to some new perspective of His sovereignty, His perfect justice in the face of what can only be classified as bewilderingly tragic unfairness — total, inexplicable lunacy.
So when I climbed out of our pickup and entered our dining room, little Gaby turned around from where she was sitting at the table to greet me with a big smile, her face painted like a kitten.
From that moment on I believe I lost my patience with anyone and everyone, snapping here and there at Darwin and the kids as I felt that I was on the verge of exploding from the inside out. It wasn’t until over dinner that I asked each person individually for forgiveness and, for better or worse, wept in front of the kids and shared with them the news of Gaby’s stepfather (which, of course, is the news of nothing at all, more of the same). Some of our kids looked appropriately intrigued at seeing me utterly undone, while others looked moved toward a compassion I had not yet seen in them, but I believe all of them understood: Our hope is not and cannot be in this world.
In the days following I have had several similar episodes of sorrow, weeping, and praise. If I didn’t know the end of the story (Christ’s total victory over sin and death), I know that personally I could not continue in this work because, from our human perspective, perhaps no territory is being gained at all. We’re just losing time and resources, wasting our lives on a fight that simply cannot be won. But – against all logic, I continue to raise my eyes to the mountains before me as my spirit cries out: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come now. May Your kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Without You, nothing makes sense. Come.”
One thought on “Who’s Next? [A Reflection on Suffering and God’s Sovereignty]”
How terribly frightening and so difficult to wrap your human mind around! It happens here with mass shootings in schools and theaters and workplaces! We desperately need God! No one can do this life here alone! I can’t imagine telling your daughter the hard, cold truth of the lack of justice and punishment for that man. I can’t imagine living where police don’t or won’t come to your rescue or to apprehend the criminals–what a overwhelming feeling!!!!