More Than Conquerors

Due to an upcoming visit to the clinic, CompassioNow founder Wendy Bjurstrom has been communicating with the Lily Medical Centre in South Africa. Eager to bring much needed supplies, Wendy has been asking about needs and desires, a sort of medical wish list. The response from Dr. Volker is telling. “We are getting less AIDS orphans and more children who are referred to Lily because of abuse and neglect. There is an epidemic of child abuse in South Africa and resources to deal with abuse are overloaded and not well developed, so we are thinking to rather concentrate on developing services for abused children. In addition, together with the TWO WEEKS teams we will start a screening program for children in community schools to address medical and social problems comprehensively.”

Fewer AIDS orphans is good news! The attempt to treat AIDS patients, to comprehensively teach them better hygiene, preventive care, and lifestyle changes is paying off. Government programs to provide AIDS medicines, though slow and tedious, are reaching greater numbers of AIDS patients.

But then there’s child abuse and neglect. I wish I could offer you a comprehensive list of studies detailing the statistics, the causes, the possible solutions for the rise in child abuse. But I can’t find anything regarding this… not even on the infallible and well-linked Google. I simply have Dr. Volker’s observation and her change of direction. Perhaps this is a response to greater awareness in South African culture. Like in our own country, people talk about the rise in the occurrence of certain diseases and pathologies while others simply attribute the rise to an increase in awareness and diagnosis from the medical community. Or perhaps this is a “natural” reaction to modernization, poverty, war, growing pains… fill in the blank. Perhaps it is something simple… cosmic. The enemy is on the run regarding AIDS. So, he fights back from another corner – child abuse.

Abrupt topic shift. But hold on. There’s a connection.

Recently, I began feeling joy driving over highway overpasses. True, free, uninhibited joy. There was a time in my recent history when driving over bridges, including interstate highway overpasses, created an irrational and overwhelming fear in my body. The mere thought of having to cross one of the many bridges leading from my city to the next felt like leaping into a black, frothing pit of doom. I’m playing light with this, trying to shrug it off, because that pit was so deep and so dark that a few months ago I had pretty much given up on ever climbing out of it. There are few things more depressing than hearing your kids ask to go somewhere simple like Target or the fish store or a favorite restaurant and feeling an all-too-familiar kick-in-the-gut wave of fear grip. Well, maybe, the more depressing part is the way I would try to wiggle my way out of it, fear and tension making me angry, bitter, and self-loathing.

But now, as I head across a familiar overpass that used to bring me to tears, I look at the sky and the mountains in the distance and realize that not only am I not crying, not praying out loud, not visibly shaking, but I am crossing an overpass with a kind of Thelma and Louise scream for joy welling up inside. What changed? Through an amazing counselor and God’s work in my heart, I’ve seen healing, closure, renewal of hope, and a letting go of major worries. The enemy has had to let go his grip on this aspect. Losing this battle, he’s moving on.

And now everything around me is breaking. Clara’s shower, my car, hubby’s car, the washing machine, a pudding cup, the pesticide barricade keeping ants at bay, plants and trees newly planted and long-standing warriors, the fencing keeping the blue jays out of the chicken coop…. Bits and pieces everywhere. The summer has been one big clean up. It’s not all bad. I was able to throw away 5 broken Barbies from Clara’s stash of 40. The ants necessitated a full-scale clean and reorganization of the pantry. I basically have a new car due to all the repairs, and the washing machine we can eek by with for a while longer if I just unplug it for an hour when it acts up. Nothing on this list is life-threatening or life-altering. Just tremendously inconvenient and time-consuming. My summer has been filled with towing cars, conversing with repairmen, and trouble-shooting through the next impending “disaster.” The enemy, who robbed my joy while driving, is trying his utmost to rob my joy in other ways.

I’d have to say, shamefacedly, that he is succeeding at times. Quick to find the dark instead of the silver-lining, I let him rob away. Just recently, I came across a story that Max Lucado learned while living in Brazil. Here is Lucado’s telling:

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before—such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.
People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.
One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”
The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”
The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”
The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”
The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”
The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?
“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”
“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.
The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.
“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”
The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”
It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.
“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Yours son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”
The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”
The old man was right. We only have a fragment. Life’s mishaps and horrors are only a page out of a grand book. We must be slow about drawing conclusions. We must reserve judgment on life’s storms until we know the whole story.
I don’t know where the woodcutter learned his patience. Perhaps from another woodcutter in Galilee. For it was the Carpenter who said it best:
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”3
He should know. He is the author of our story. And he has already written the final chapter.
1 Ecclesiastes 7:8
2 Romans 12:12
3 Matthew 6:34

Patience in the storm, not assuming to know more than God, understanding that while horrors happen around us and to us that there is so much more in the backstory, behind the scenes…. It may appear that the enemy is attacking, that he’s fighting from a different corner, that he is even winning sometimes. But he is not. I find myself going to Romans 8 here yet again: “35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. This He brought about the change in my driving, this He brought about the change in the AIDS crisis in South Africa. It is this He who is guarding every moment, guiding Dr. Volker as she and her clinic change tactics, as they seek to serve the people around them even more effectively. We can’t see beyond today. We can’t see whether something that looks like a curse truly is because God will take that situation and use it for good. Like a great artist, He can take our sloppy paintings and turn them into masterpieces, He can take our squawkings and screechings and compose a beautiful melody from them. He will take the attacks of the enemy and defeat them… He already has.

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  1. More Than Conquerors | compassiontea

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