October 2008

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The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away,

and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.

Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death. (Isaiah 57:1-2)

The purists insist that reality should be explained by theology, and not the other way around. Theology, they tell us, should stand on its own two feet, autonomous from reality, the product of divine revelation. In the general scheme of things, we would concur. But what happens if we begin with the reality around us and work backwards to our theology? (Children, do not try this at home.)

Here is the reality around us: Barbara, a young missionary wife and her two young girls are waiting deep in the African bush for their husband and papa to come home. Instead, two African pastors come to visit. They are quieter than usual. They seem to know something. Shortly, the phone rings, and she understands why the pastors are there - her husband of 7 years, she hears, is dead.

A few hours later on another continent, a mission representative knocks on a door. Two parents, who had pled with their 19 year-old daughter not to go to Africa, learn that she too is dead - only 2 days after they had bid her farewell. A similar scene is repeated some hundreds of miles away as another family learns that their 46 year-old daughter and twin sister has been killed, ending 16 years of service in Chad.

All three of them – Rudy, Barbara’s husband, Sandra the 19 year-old, and Kathrin were killed senselessly – crushed to death in their vehicle by a speeding bus on a sharp curve in central Chad. Had they arrived at that curve half a second later, they would be alive. But, no, in a seemingly capricious twist of fate, they are dead. Rudy and Kathrin were our dear friends, and we grieve for them. We weep for Barbara and the little girls who will grow up never knowing Rudy. We weep for Kathrin and Sandra’s parents and siblings. This is the hard, tragic reality of the world. It is the reality of missionary service in Africa. And given half a chance, it is this hard reality which would accuse theology with the bitter taunt “What kind of God can allow this?”

The accusation is, of course, poorly put – the death of our friends is prejudiced as bad, and God is prejudiced as negligent. But what if we call reality’s bluff? What if we said “Ok, here’s reality – what kind of theology would it take to make sense of it?” Such a theology would call into question much that we take for granted. It would have to ask:

What if being dead really is better than being alive?

What if being dead really isn’t being dead at all but being alive in a different dimension of reality?

What if this other dimension of reality is really a lot better than this one?

What if God intends that we should not spend a minute longer than necessary in this tragic dimension? 

What if, in the hands of God, every tragedy in this dimension is turned to our everlasting benefit?

They may seem far-fetched, but these suppositions would make sense of the death of our friends. In fact, historic Judeo-Christian theology answers a resounding “yes” to each of them – at least for certain people.

After Rudy’s death, Barbara made a remark to the effect “We knew the risks when we came.” Indeed, we all know the risks of Africa, and yet we go. We go precisely because we DO answer these what-ifs with a Biblical “yes”. Quite simply, with such a theology, we can afford to put ourselves in harm’s way. We can afford to be reckless with a holy recklessness. We can afford to live in a place where insane bus drivers careen around curves and crush us; where our children die from appendicitis because the hospitals are too far away; where our wife dies from a disease no-one has ever heard of; and where a man can minister for 40 years and be stabbed to death only weeks before his retirement. All of this has happened to colleagues we knew personally in Chad.

The purists will be pleased to know that we did do our theology first, and decided to live with the dangers of Africa second. And with such a theology, we can look at the tragic death of our friends square-on, and then go back to Africa, as we shall, on the 20th of October.

For all the saints who from their labor rest,

who thee by faith

before the world confessed,

thy name, oh Jesus, be forever blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia. 

(William How, 1864)


The Flip Side

Home Assignment in the USA comes to an end

What a joy it has been these past six months to visit so many of you in your homes and at our churches. We couldn’t help but be amazed again at what a great bunch of people you are who stand behind us. As this letter goes to press, we are a mere 1 week from our departure for Chad and we are saying our final goodbyes – always one of the more difficult aspects of missionary life. We are anticipating a two year term in Chad.

The first order of business on our arrival in Chageen is to finish the construction of the medical clinic. When we left Chad in April, the building was finished to the level of the roof. On Christmas Day, a work team from First Baptist in Sycamore, Illinois is coming to help us put the roof on the building, and install the windows, doors, plumbing and electricity. As this team leaves on January 9th, Diane’s parents will arrive to help with the interior finishing work. Pray that the construction goes smoothly. The sooner we can finish this building, the sooner we can get back to Bible translation and teaching.

A sense of urgency

As we return, we feel more urgently than ever the need to finish our task among the Kwong and finish it well. As Chad becomes more and more unstable, we feel like our time may be running out. Having spent many years and considerable effort in discipleship and church development (including the construction of the radio station) we realize that finishing the translation of the Scriptures is the one really huge task which remains. We have already translated large portions of both the Old and New Testaments, but we still have a long way to go in our goal of finishing the entire NT, Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah. We estimate that it will take something like 7 to 10 years to achieve this goal.

We need a little more support…

We are grateful to each of you and to the Lord for the good support we have had this past term. We do, however, need a little bit more support as we return to Africa – something on the order of an additional $250 a month. This is due entirely to the fall in the value of the dollar against foreign currencies. If you would like to begin supporting us, you may send a check with a note designating it for us to TEAM, PO Box 969, Wheaton IL 60187, or you may go to www.teamworld.org/give (there is a discrete “Donate now” button at the top the page – the rest is intuitive.)

Send mail to The_Vanderkoois@yahoo.com with questions or comments about this web site.
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Last modified: December 20, 2010