Yesterday morning (Sunday) at 4:41am the startling, loud sing-song tone of Darwin’s cellphone rattled us both out of a very profound sleep. We bolted upward, shaking loose the cobwebs from sleepy minds as our attention snapped to that peace-shattering jingle lighting up our dark bedroom about a yard away.
Darwin reached for the phone, both of our nerves suddenly on edge. Who would call so early on a Sunday?
The night prior a dear neighbor who lives on the rural property adjacent to ours had called in the night with the disturbing news that two armed gunmen had stormed their property. Luckily, the young woman and her family had enclosed themselves in, hurriedly securing the small padlock on the inside of their front door as the aggressors forcefully passed through their gate, throwing a knife under the door and threatening to break in. Without touching our neighbor, the men had fled to the mountainside behind our property when a couple local watchmen showed up to scare them off. We called the police in an optimistic attempt to enact justice in this land ruled by anarchy and, as expected, they never came.
In this country where anything goes, we’ve been granted the grace of understanding that the only real justice is the one Creator God will enact at the end of time upon the inception of His kingdom.
So now, 24 hours after the initial phone conversation with our neighbor, both Darwin and I thought we were receiving some kind of unnerving follow-up call. After all, we had heard the gunshots the night before. Had the gunmen come back, and why? Had they raped our dear neighbor? Who were they, and what did they really want? Why storm the home of a very poor single mom and her four kids? The violence never makes sense, but, even so, we keep searching in vain for answers.
Darwin, in one swift motion throwing off any last remains of the deep sleep he had enjoyed only but a half-second prior, clicked the little button on his cell-phone, brought it up to his ear and mustered a somewhat startled but under-control greeting.
I squinted at him, not a foot away as I sat propped-up on my elbow, the small glow of his cell-phone the only light available to help my eyes see. I tried to read his expression but couldn’t.
The conversation was quick and stressful and, in retrospect, I do not remember what was said. When the conversation was finished, I looked at him expectantly and asked if it was that dreaded follow-up call to the night before.
“Who was it?” I asked, my heart now beating quickly as the rest of my body still felt drugged from having been dragged out of such a profound sleep – that precious, rare sleep that almost always eludes me.
“It was my sister.”
His sister? She had nothing to do with our neighbor from the night before. His sister lives over 30 minutes away in another rural town, and –
“My brother got murdered.”
The words register in my mind.
Murder. It’s always murder. Darwin almost got murdered after having been kidnapped by local gang lords not three months ago, but they miraculously spared his life (Read: Triumphing Against the Blows of Fear). This time death came not only to flirt but was fully consummated. Not with Darwin’s life, but with his brother’s. He’s really dead. His wife and two kids really will never get him back.
It was one of Darwin’s older brothers, one of many in his family to make his living off of cattle and livestock. He had spoken out in a public place against some local men who had been stealing his cows. They didn’t like his comments, showed up on a motorcycle on his walk home late last night, and shot him point-blank. Another one of Darwin’s brothers was walking right next to him when he got murdered.
In this world where the Great Reversal reigns – that great confusion of trust where the people of planet Earth have rejected the good, loving God, deciding rather to wholeheartedly trust and obey the lord of death and lies – a murder like this or any gross deed at all is not surprising. Terrible, yes, but not surprising.
When you turn your back on the Life-Giver, you get death. When the vast majority of the inhabitants of planet Earth shout in unison that they do not want the love, the joy, the abundant life and Truth of their own Creator – the free redemption, the extravagant invitation to participate in an eternal Kingdom, renewed with true peace and justice! – when the nations roar that they prefer their own sin, rejoice in their own darkness, desire nothing beyond their own control and understanding, perhaps they do not know that they are voluntarily choosing the exact opposite of all that God so freely offers: pain, confusion, suffering. Death. Not only physical (which comes eventually to all), but an eternal, spiritual death, cut off from the Life-Giver. The father of lies – Satan himself – has utterly blinded humanity. So many live under this great deception.
And then when there’s dreadful human suffering all across the globe – AIDS victims, riots, marital unfaithfulness, teen pregnancy, drug trafficking, terrorist threats, communism on the horizon, deep-rooted depression and self-loathing widespread – those same people who turned their backs of the Life-Giver shake an angry fist at Him, accusing Him for not having showed up, for not having forced humanity’s hand, for not having magically made everything “okay”.
Oh, but He respects our freedom – wants to win our love freely, not by compulsion. He who is faithful is waiting for us – this generation of prostitutes, for we have been utterly unfaithful with the One who bought us back at a high price. We have prostituted ourselves – our lives, our souls – to the love of money, to the great lie that there is no God (alas, we like to believe we are our own gods!). He lies in wait – broken-hearted, abandoned by His own creation as men and women across the globe spit in the face of the only One who can actually save them from their own misery, exchange their sorrow for joy.
We prefer deeds of darkness, prefer all that is lie, all that is deception. We openly defame the God who wants to share all of creation with us, who has not given up on us even though He would have every right to do so. We ignore Him, accuse Him — We kill Him! We did so 2,000 years ago and continue doing so each and every day henceforth! — and then wonder why there’s so much chaos in our world, our lives. “What is Truth?” We ask sarcastically as if there is no answer.
We have edged out the One who actually saves, who actually loves until the point of death. We want nothing to do with Him. We prefer to worship ourselves, to worship the evil one who comes masked as a beautiful lie – he who comes with great promises of fulfillment, but always deceives, leaves you empty. Just a little more money, and then you’ll be happy. Just a little more pornography, and you’ll be satisfied. Enjoy your life – Buy! Eat! Drink! Travel! – because life is short and it has no meaning. God is dead.
This is the Great Deception, the Great Reversal. We want to throw God off His throne – throw Him into the dirt; trample Him! — putting Satan in His high place. We bow down and worship. And die.
So, no, it’s not at all surprising that something so tragic would happen. Of course it would. It does.
The phone rang again, only moments after the first call, shattering the dark silence, my many thoughts. Darwin answered. His eldest brother, weeping, shared the same news.
So another human being has now found himself standing in the presence of the just, holy God, giving an account of his life without ever having believed that he would, in fact, find himself in said position. During many of our trips out to see Darwin’s family we have boldly, lovingly shared the good news of redemption, of a caring God who longs for a worshipping people, but there has been little to no visible result thus far. And now it’s too late.
I don’t remember what was said between Darwin and I Sunday morning after those two phone calls, but there weren’t many words. No tears. Just an even deeper, shared, appreciation for God’s justice in the face of such bewildering, maddening injustice. Yes; there is a good, trustworthy God who is just and loves justice. Our world does not know His justice because we have chosen not to know Him. But here – in our little cinderblock home in this little country raped by senseless violence we, alongside of so many other little people scattered all around the globe in the most diverse of places – we choose to love and trust He who saves us, He who promises to enact a final, unbiased judgment, He who promises to end all wars and bring an everlasting peace, a new Kingdom with a benevolent King. We really believe this, and we dare to participate in His joy even when the world screams Pain.
After all, just two days prior one of our 14-year-old high school students had shared the news with us that one of his old classmates was recently found dead in a field. Our student’s sister was crossing the overgrown field on foot when she stumbled over the young teen’s corpse.
On Thursday as our community Bible study was coming to a close in our dining room and all students and Christian laborers were flowing out those swinging front doors, each prepared to return to work and study, the wife of our night watchman informed me with wide eyes that the news had just come to her that a dead body had been found in a local swimming hole that many of our students frequent. Nobody knew whose body it was and, honestly, there are probably very few who care. It’s just another dead body in a country that wreaks of death.
All this – the armed gunmen, the two local murders, now Darwin’s brother – in the last three days.
In the dead of night – in the dead silence of Honduras’ many dead – Darwin commented in an even tone, “In the United States people die from sickness or old age. Here people die by murder. If someone here actually makes it to old age, it’s – it’s…really surprising…”
We both layed there, wide awake without much further exchange of words at all. I tried to fall back into that heavenly sleep I had so violently been stripped from, but we had both reached the point of no return.
After several minutes, the sun still hiding its face, Darwin informed me, restless, “I’m gonna go milk the cows.” He got up, as he does in the wee hours of every morning, slipped on his black rubber boots along with an old pair of work clothes and headed out the door without another word.
Cows. Darwin went with the cows. Darwin’s brother had cows, and he tried to protect them from being stolen, and he was killed. Someday will they come for our cows too? Are those armed gunmen out there right now, waiting to strike?
Many years ago Darwin and I came to understand that our lives in and of themselves – our own desires, our control, our own goals and hopes – are worth nothing. United with God in His purposes, our lives become infinitely worthy, useful in His hands, rich beyond money. We lost our lives in order to find them, and – Oh! – how we have discovered such a satisfying, hidden life in Christ. But our kids? I cannot help but wonder… If someday our lives are taken, who will raise them? Did they come under our care only to one day become orphans again, abandoned to the harsh fate of parentless children in a world that knows no true justice? Lord, may You keep us alive so that we might finish the task You’ve given us…
Another hour passed and soon enough all the kids were up, everyone getting ready for our weekly Sunday trip out to spend the day with our faith community over an hour away. 8-year-old Gaby came bounding toward me as I shuffled about the house, still in my pijamas: “Ma! Mommy! I didn’t pee in my bed last night! Come! Come and see! My bed is dry!” She squealed with delight over her triumph as I let her little stubby hand grab mine, leading me through the bright teal curtain into her bedroom as she jumped up and down for joy, so proud of her own achievement. I swept my hand across the plastic mattress covering, allowing a big smile to spread across my face – it was dry!
The kids received the news of their uncle’s murder just about as we did: saddened by the devastating loss but not at all surprised. If we were to sit down with our kids and make a collective family list of all the murders that have skimmed close to our lives – all the family members, neighbors and local townspeople who have been murdered – we would need many sheets of paper.
So I wobbled over to our little cave-like bathroom, feeling the effects of the too-early wake-up call, and stared dumbly at the dark circles under my eyes as they reflected tiredly back at me in the little three-inch mirror hanging from a piece of bright yellow yarn that’s been duck-taped above our bathroom sink.
Unimpressed by the reflection of my exhausted face, I tried to prepare myself emotionally and physically to spend that day and the next by myself on combat duty as Darwin would be heading out to his parents’ home to accompany his family members during the funeral preparations.
Suddenly I heard Darwin’s easy footsteps enter our bedroom behind me. He was singing a hymn about God’s love as he began changing out of his cow-milking clothes and into the nicer attire he would be wearing out to his family’s property.
Shirt changed. Pants changed. Looking for the right pair of shoes.
He kept singing softly as he moved about our bedroom, probably oblivious that I was a couple yards behind him in the entryway of our bathroom.
About a half-hour later we all piled into our cab-and-a-half truck, a handful of the kids comfortably in the truckbed with the rest of us tucked in the cab. This time I would be driving as I would drop Darwin off at the main intersection for him to take public transportation out to his family’s home. As he left the vehicle, he gave me a quick kiss and said, “Pray for me.”
A little over an hour later we came barreling over the bumpy mountain roads and came to a screeching stop (our breaks are very touchy) in front of our mentors’ home as the kids and I unloaded. As we crossed the threshold of their small front gate, Josselyn, our 12-year-old daughter who is the only one of our kids to call us by our first names rather than ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ and who is a very successful third-grade student after having learned to read and write for the first time last year upon moving in with us in July 2015 – this same Josselyn whose uncombed short, black hair almost always resembles a rat’s nest – came up to me with wide, sincere eyes and said, “Darwin told us to pray for him.”
I smiled, patted her on the back and assured her, “Yes, I know. We’re going to.”
She seemed satisfied with my answer and darted off to help the others get the breakfast plates ready. Every Sunday we eat granola and cows’ milk at our mentors’ home before entering into the Discipleship Group.
Many breakfast dishes, spoons, cups of water and such in place on both sides of the long wooden table, I asked who would like to lead us in prayer.
That same Josselyn, who can tend to be timid when it comes to public prayer or participating in any kind of group setting, shot up her thin arm.
I smiled and nodded, we all clasped hands, eyes closed in unison and she began to pray:
“Thank you, God… For this day. And this food…We pray now for the man – who killed our uncle…. May You forgive him—“
She stopped there. We waited. It seemed she was searching for the right words, as she oftentimes does in prayer and in conversation. Her words tend to come out a bit haltingly, as if there were some loose socket in her mind caused by years of abuse and neglect, but God’s own heart has begun to shine through her in a way that surpasses the most elegant of words.
Many moments went by before she continued in that same abrupt fashion:
“We pray also for…Darwin. May you allow him – to give You thanks…even when things are difficult…Amen.”
This morning (Monday) my phone rang at 5:31am. Luckily, the majority of our household was already up and getting ready. Three of our kids were already in the kitchen eating breakfast as I ran from the living room to our bedroom nightstand (which is a plastic bucket turned over) to answer the call. I assumed it would be Darwin, because he knows we’re up early.
I answered and, sure enough, it was him. I asked how things were going out at his parents’ home with the preparations for his brother’s funeral, and he answered in an even tone: “My mom died.”
A void opened up in my chest, and all my words seemed to quickly fall into that void, disappear. What to say?
He explained: Having experienced a very emotional reaction to the death of her son the day prior, she had a heart attack and died shortly after arriving at the emergency room.
He continued: “Tomorrow morning will be the funeral, and I think you and the kids should come…”
So we made the plans via phone, and I hung up. Kids still shuffling about the house, getting ready in the wee hours of dawn. Gaby came hurdling toward me from her bedroom, ecstatic: “Ma! Mommy! I didn’t wet the bed last night! Come look! Come and smell my bed!”
I bent down to receive her love tackle with open arms, making a quick mental note that I would inform our kids of their grandmother’s passing that night over dinner. Now was not the time.
I took Josue to the bathroom, changed his diaper, brushed his teeth. Received a local single mom (the same mom whose home the gunmen had stormed a couple nights prior) at our front gate around 5:50am to show her the ropes of our kitchen and cleaning routines as she will be laboring alongside of us now two days a week. Got the clothes ready to haul out to the washing spicket, carried the bucket of cows’ milk to our kitchen. Fed the dogs, greeted our students as they come trickling through our front gate.
After assuring that everything was in place – students in their classrooms, breakfast plates put away – I began heading for our front gate. On the way, our night watchman’s wife came up to me, once again with wide eyes, and informed me that two more dead bodies have been found in our small rural town. According to what she heard, one of the bodies had a message taped to it: “16 more to go.”
I thanked her for the information, very intentionally refusing to fall prey to the fear trap, and threw my black Jansport backpack in our truck and began heading out along the bumpy gravel road toward town. I would be spending the day at a small local hideout that has internet access, because I hadn’t checked my email or done any computer work in the last 7 days.
As the car rumbled down the shady road lined with tall trees and bushy green plants on either side, I took my husband’s lead from the day prior and I began to sing. I sang alone in the car below the shadow of the tall trees about God’s justice – how I long for His justice, and the way to experience it is to live according to His will, receiving freely the redemption He’s offered us in Jesus – our escape from our own punishment, our own depravity.
My voice – pure in spirit but probably raspy and tired to the ears – filled our empty car as I allowed my heart and mind to be consumed with joy. Justice does exist, and He has a name. I know Him, and He’s my Father. With our small hands tenderly grasping that Hand that created the whole universe, we will triumph in the end. Justice is near.