A number of years ago, a wonderful art teacher came to HOPAC with his wife and four small sons. He was a talented teacher and he had committed to staying long-term. Just a few months after they arrived, the whole family went to a Swahili language school a few hours away. One day during this language school, their oldest son, who was about 9 years old, was outside playing hide and seek with his brothers. He jumped into a pit to hide, not knowing that the pit had been used to burn trash that morning and the burning embers were only covered with sand.
The boy received third degree burns on his legs and hands. He was medically evacuated to South Africa where he underwent multiple skin grafts. So, less than a year after they arrived, they had to go back home.
We've said more good-byes than we can count in these last years. But the hardest ones were when a family had to leave much sooner than they intended. It happened many times for many reasons: a sick child who just wasn't getting better, a teenager who needed counseling, conflict in a mission, trauma from a stillborn baby.
Which is why I recognize the blessing God has granted us in allowing us to finish well. The years were not always easy and were sometimes really hard. There were many times of darkness when we couldn't see God's ways. But we finished.
There's a story in the Old Testament (I Samuel 7) when God brought His people through a really difficult experience, and the prophet Samuel makes a memorial to remind the people of God's deliverance. He calls the memorial Ebenezer which means Thus far has the Lord helped us.
It's interesting how many times God has reminded us of this story of the Ebenezer in the past few weeks. It's obvious why: Thus far has the Lord helped us. His grace allowed us to finish what we set out to do, and to finish well.
I can't set up a physical memorial in my backyard, but I can make this year my memorial. We will be traveling all over the United States, testifying to God's gracious help. And Samuel knew that when we are able to remind ourselves of what He has already done for us, we are also able to trust Him for the future.