Early in the morning, quietly and sacredly, already 35 years ago, a son was born. We named him Benjamin Paul. Benjamin: son of my right hand. Ben Paul: son of Paul. Unlike Rachel’s Benjamin, son of Jacob and of Isaac and of Abraham, this was our firstborn.
We had a commitment to the Lord that he was our God and the God of our family. We believed that he put in our heart that he alone would choose when to give us each child and we longed to trust him in this. Our loving Father lovingly planning the most intimate of details for his pleasure…
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11, KJV).
God’s pleasure—what a gripping daily prayer! That God might find pleasure in me, with all my weakness and, so often, faithlessness. Amazing. I know that he was pleased with every child he gave. And with every child came a greater sense of responsibility to him. These children of his in our care. They had a purpose and he had a plan. By grace, Paul and I are only the keepers of these treasures.
What I had felt to be a possible calling as a teen to missions lay dormant inside, waiting for the day. When at last Paul came home to say that he believed we were to go to a country where men could not afford theological education, we had five children. It is one thing to be a single missionary facing whatever may come, but taking children along was something I had not yet considered. To leave family, familiarity, safety as we knew it… that was a different picture on which to gaze. Shadows seemed deep. But God’s pleasure ran through it. It captivated me and created desire to trust him again.
And so, we “left all,” or so we thought, to follow Jesus. We wanted to go! Our children embraced the truth that they were very much a part of this calling. Yet, as we boarded the plane for language school, we left our firstborn behind for college… and at only 16 years of age. Though we were confident in God’s leading, I can still feel the wrenching separation of that day. But we realized—we saw—that our God and Father is also the Father of our son, and he is very close.
As one by one our children have left home, there have been crucial times in each of their lives when we felt intensely absent. Whether it was a surgery, a near-death accident, a grandchild born lifeless or simply behavior resulting from the sin which we passed on to them, we grieved from a distance while longing to be present. We were joyful at the announcement of each new birth but missed the sweetness of newborn skin. Even in recent years with the possibility of long-distance communication, still, we weren’t there.
But our Father was. I am grateful to have been in situations where we have needed to trust him to be where we could not be. In this way we have known… yes, the pain of separation, but so much greater… the joy of witnessing his faithfulness. What a very dear Father he has proven himself to be! It is a gracious gift when he allows us to return for a special occasion or need. But when he does not, we see our children learn to trust him and to love him more. He is Lord and all-wise. He really is.
Now, with ten of the twelve who have been born to us already gone from our home, our children and families live in the US, England, France and Chad. Since the birth of our youngest, our entire family had only been together three times… until this past October. Just when I thought that, spread out as we are, the next family reunion could very possibly be at our funeral, we found ourselves—thirty-six of us now—together for the double wedding of our two youngest daughters in France! What unexpected joy! Our two, new, godly sons-in-law have become ours because of the mission, our daughters having met them “in the way” of learning French. God does give great gifts.
What have we left behind that God has not multiplied? What future and joy do we have that is greater than that of seeing his face? Is there any “sacrifice” that is too great for that? Is my comfortable Christianity more precious to me than taking the gospel where it has never been heard? Can we really trust him? I do know—or rather, am learning—that what we give up is nothing compared to what he gives back.
There was one night, while living in the village of Gounou Gaya, when it looked as though we were losing Micah-Ambroise, our youngest, to a sudden illness. We were afraid and confused, but we saw God working through prayers and calls, giving us direction. I don’t know why we haven’t lost a child while others have. Why are we still here when other, more godly missionaries, have died through disease, in a car accident, or… were murdered? Why do we love living in Chad? I don’t understand. I don’t know why our hearts are here in this hot and dusty place. It must be our Father’s doing. He is, after all, God… and we are not. It is his mission that moves his Church and our lives according to his pleasure that works in us.
What an impossible thought that we, such sinful—yet forgiven—people, could give pleasure to God! Much like the children that he has given to us fill our lives with more love and more of him. We send them out into the world as he also sends us, generation after generation, until Christ returns.
Yes, come quickly, Lord Jesus. And may you find us faithful, by your grace, to be about your mission as it pleases you, wherever that may be.
Teresa and her husband Paul serve as missionaries for Lutheran Brethren International Mission in Chad, Africa.