We left San Francisco International Airport early in the morning, January 29, deep in thought - of the journey that lay ahead of us to Quito and then on to Shell, Ecuador, yes, but also of the journey on which God had already led us to bring us to this day and to this trip. As with many things of God, this trip was overlaid with many plots and subplots on personal as well as spiritual levels.
From the purely mechanistic, most simplistic ways of viewing this trip, we were headed to Shell to participate in the medical ministry that is ongoing at the HCJB Hospital Vozandes del Oriente and to work alongside the staff at the orphanage known as Casa de Fe. God had other plans, though, which could never have been planned by us or anyone else. We were being reminded of the old adage given to many as they have embarked upon a short term trip: "Just show up and watch what God will do!"
You see, in the summer of 1996 our middle daughter Missy had also traveled to Quito - her trip for a month long mission experience with Teen Mania Ministries. Then, tragically, in April, 1999, Missy lost her life in a car accident.
So our time in Quito - one full day prior to our car ride down to Shell - quickly became a very personal and emotional journey as we followed Missy's stops in and around Quito, reliving her travels and retracing her steps, imagining her in various places around the city. Over dinner that night we discussed the things we had seen and experienced through the day - thinking heavily of Missy - when a man walked in the front door, harp in tow. He very simply sat down, nodded in our direction, and began playing! What beauty! What a gift!
Even as we began work in the hospital and the orphanage, sadness and heartache remained close by and it was not until the end of the week that we were given some inkling as to what the Lord was doing with us there in Shell.
Then one evening we met a missionary couple who had just one month before lost a grandson in a drowning accident. We talked with them that night and arranged a meeting with their son and daughter-in-law, who continued to suffer greatly.
Two days later - Sunday afternoon and on into the evening - we met this young grieving couple and spent several hours with them, talking, crying, and sharing our hearts all together as fellow sojourners on the mourning bench. We were able to express thoughts, feelings, fears, frustrations and that overwhelming sense of loss and sadness, validating these same things that they were experiencing, and offering the hope of the God of the Bible, of the resurrected Christ, of the suffering servant that we do serve.
We shared our own faith struggles that were raised by our loss of Missy, acknowledging their struggles in this area, but also pointing them to the resolution and peace that only comes through faith in the risen Christ. Wanda was able to have a follow-up conversation later in our stay, reinforcing and expanding on the things we had spoken of in that first time together, painting the Biblical picture of seeing our loved ones again in heaven for those who have placed their faith in Christ. Our hope now is that we will be able to remain in touch with these young suffering parents, for the road of grief can be long and there are many potential landmines along the way.
We continued our respective works at the hospital and the orphanage as we completed our stay in Shell, but it seemed clear to us as we finished up and made our way home that our real purpose in being called to this particular place at this time was for these specific conversations with this young couple. For our part, there was an immediate lifting of our spirits as we spoke and shared that Sunday evening. It was as if the sadness and brokenness that we experienced afresh in Quito and on into that first week was given to us by God to prepare our hearts for what lay ahead - a conversation with a couple in which the loss was new and the pain fresh. We marveled and were humbled at God's miraculous use of us - broken vessels to be sure - in His ministry of comforting these who were hurting so.
May God through His Holy Spirit take the things that were said, the tears that were shed, and the pain that was shared, and through it all bring life and hope into the hearts of these dear ones.