Working Out of Despair

The nation of Sudan was ravaged by civil war from 1983-2005. For years, the Islamic government of the north instigated a reign of terror against the largely Christian and African traditionalist populations in southern Sudan. Over two million Sudanese died in the conflict (which is far from resolved). Millions more were displaced from their homes.

Among the refugees were over 20,000 orphaned boys, mostly of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups. Refugee aid workers began calling them, “The Lost Boys of Sudan.” One of these boys, John Bul Dau, was just twelve years old when mortar shells rained down upon his peaceful Dinka farming village. John fled for his life into the night. In one terrifying moment, everything John had known was stripped away. He walked over 1,000 miles across God-forsaken terrain in search of hope. Thousands of boys on the same journey died of starvation.

Through a series of events, John eventually found refuge in the United States. As an adult, he chronicled his ordeal in an acclaimed documentary film produced in 2006 and a book published in 2007. Both works bear the arresting title: “God Grew Tired of Us.”

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Tragedy and Repentance

Just over a week ago, an EF-5 tornado cut a mile-wide furrow through Oklahoma leaving death and devastation behind. Monday night, over 1100 miles away, I tucked my eight-year-old daughter into bed. As we normally do, we prayed together before she fell asleep. She wanted to continue to pray for “the tragedies in Boston and Connecticut” and then innocently asked if there were any more tragedies that we needed to pray for.

As I struggled to find words to tell her that, yes, in fact, there had been a tragedy just that afternoon, I realized how quickly she was losing her innocence. How quickly she would have to learn that tragedy is a recurring theme of this life; how quickly she would learn that some weeks you feel like you’re being pummeled again and again by the brokenness around you.

And yet, learning how to engage tragedy is one of the defining marks of maturity.

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Faith for the Dark Days

To see it on the calendar, this week appears all innocence and grace. Seven days lined up in a row, neatly strung together by mornings and evenings, full of expectation and promise. Little did I realize that it was a malevolent beast waiting to pounce and wreak havoc on my simple, easy life.

Not that I was completely unaware. I knew this week was going to be busy with organizing and executing a church dinner. I expected trips to Sam’s Club and late nights of baking and centerpieces. What I did not expect were missed writing deadlines, late nights of pastoral care, and the ache of being far from family when I most needed to be close. And what I certainly did not expect was my husband’s having to conduct a funeral for a mother whose children will grow up without her. Children the same ages as ours.

How deceptively simple that calendar looked last week. How benign.

On weeks like these, it’s easy to fall back on truisms—“You never know what the future holds” and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” and “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”—all in some half-hearted attempt to make sense of the chaos swirling around us. But I want to tell you that they are all lies. Dreadful, terrible, sugar-coated lies.

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The Fellowship of Suffering

Reprinted with permission from Baptist Bulletin July/August 2012. All rights reserved.

Chaplain Stan Beach was not supposed to be here, not climbing up the narrow trail toward Nui Cay Tri Ridge near Vietnam’s Demilitarized Zone.

Four months earlier, the Navy had given him orders to report to the South Pole. It would have been a cold, quiet way to spend 1966, a nice place to wait out the war. But after the chaplain from Cass City, Mich., received his papers, he had petitioned the Navy for a transfer—to Vietnam.

Now he was walking toward another no-name hill in the jungle, a place the Marines called “Mutter’s Ridge” in their radio call-signs. The southern boundary of the DMZ was marked by an east-west line of mountains, Razorbacks, named for crests that might only be 15 yards wide. Tough territory to defend. And the trail, the only way up, was an obvious target.

The Marines pass by a bloody fatigue jacket, then a skull impaled on a stake. Having fought for this real estate before, they were now challenged by reinfiltration. The North Vietnamese Army was somewhere, everywhere, dug in and hiding.

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