That eerie cyber-ish ringtone of Skype broke the silence in my quiet bedroom at 2 AM Wednesday. “Should I just ignore it?” I drowsily thought.
Being connected with 160+ field ministry leaders in Africa, almost all of whom love to chat and connect, can sometimes mean startling calls in the middle of my futile attempts to get some sleep. My living in two different countries over the past 5 years remains somewhat befuddling to my brothers – and with good reason! They are not always sure what time zone I am in – so calls from West and East Africa can come at the strangest of times.
This time, though, I felt an urgency to get up and not hit the mute button on my phone.
I scrambled over and answered awkwardly, “Hello?”
My caller didn’t need to tell me who he was. It was Festus. And by the sound of his voice it sounded serious.
“Jeanne,” he said in his West-African French accent, “I’m in the hospital. Tomorrow is the day we are to decide if we go to Chad. Today all my family is very very very sick. I don’t even know what will happen. I need you to pray!”
His words pierced my heart in the middle of that dark room. I was awake and my heart was pounding profusely now.
“Festus, what happened? How? Everyone? Your wife and your little boy and precious tiny infant?”
“Jeanne, I don’t know. I don’t know how. We were all praying to make our decision to go to Chad. We were to tell you tomorrow our decision. But they all got sick very fast. It is very bad. The doctors don’t have answers. We just need to pray. . . . I have to go now. Please pray!”
“I will pray, Festus!” with those words still lingering, the connection dropped.
Like so many times before, all I could do was pray.
Long ago I would have thought prayer to be a pretty passive and anemic response. But it’s been a lesson for me over the years that prayer has power. Not just a little power – but power that can move mountains by His grace. God answers prayer in miraculous ways. And what He can do far more abundantly exceeds whatever we can muster in our own fragile and paltry ways.
I had to push the selfish feelings of anxiety and guilt aside. Here we had in unity agreed Festus would be the one to go to Chad, the most unreached country in Africa – with 56 completely unengaged people groups needing to hear the love and hope and grace of Jesus. It seemed no coincidence that all of his loved ones, now almost as precious to us as to him, were under serious attack.
What gave me some peace was to remember these dear ones were even more precious to Him!
So that quiet, dark morning, after putting down my phone, I went to my home office, where I daily pray, read and meditate on His Word, worship, and then work to serve CIC. And I just wept and begged the Lord, crying out to Him for His mercy and healing power over Festus’ family.
After some time, I got up off the floor, and stumbled back to bed. There was nothing more I could do. Though I needed sleep, God never sleeps. He is faithful.
When I woke up later that morning I couldn’t reach Festus by phone or by Skype. I just had to trust the Lord.
It was an agonizing day of waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
Later that day, he called again to let me know they were all still struggling and very ill, but they were still alive. Praise the Lord!
Friday came and went. None of us wanted to even mention Chad.
The weekend was full of prayer and begging the Lord for healing for all of his family. On Monday he called to give me the good news they were all well and finally were being sent back home. He promised to get in touch with me on Tuesday afternoon, once they had settled back into their little rented house which also served as a local office for CIC and a gathering for Club Children from all over the countryside near them.
On Tuesday I just couldn’t wait. I called Festus. And this is what he said to me. . . .
“Jeanne, you will not believe what has happened. But first, you need to know my littlest one is fine. But, oh, Jeanne! What happened – it was terrible. But we praise God. She is okay now.
You see, we all came home. And everyone was fine and better. We were doing normal things around the house and working and everything. We were planning to go ahead with Chad and start the idea of moving. And then, all the sudden, our little baby stopped breathing!
She was blue and the life had gone out of her. I started rushing around, calling the doctor, but my wife said to me, ‘Festus, we cannot take her back to that place, to the hospital. This is an enemy attack. If God chooses to take her, then it is His will. He will take her. I cannot send her back to that place again. If God wants her to live, He will heal her and deliver her from this. Let us just pray over her and ask the Lord to heal her!’
So, Jeanne, we just did that. We sat over her lifeless, non-breathing little body and we prayed and we prayed.
And – Jeanne – you will not believe! All the sudden her eyes – they OPENED and she coughed and she started breathing again. Jeanne, I do not know what to say, but oh, God is SO gracious. It is a miracle and we do not know how to thank Him.”
I was speechless. And still to this day I cannot process all that happened to this dear friend and his family. But God knows. And we are so very very thankful for His incredible mercy.
Wednesday morning, the cyber ringtone of Skype once again rang. This time it wasn’t in the middle of the night!
It was Festus.
He wanted to tell me something. “Jeanne, I want you to know. All of this – all that happened – we know it was attack because the enemy does not want the light of Christ to shine in the dark places of Chad. The enemy does not want it Jeanne. But the enemy will never prevail over God’s Kingdom. He calls us still and we must go. What has happened was not good, but it makes me and my wife even more resolved. We are going to Chad. We will not be shaken. God will go with us. We know this and we trust Him. He is faithful – no matter what happens.”
And so, after hearing Festus share their decision with me over a very crackly Skype connection, his voice resolute and clear despite the internet, I didn’t know what else to say, except wonder in amazement at God’s faithfulness, His call, and the way He gives His saints boldness and conviction that could never ever come from man. I trust that Festus’ labor will not be in vain, but he will be rewarded for his faithfulness and the sacrifices he continues to make, with a goal that everyone to the ends of the earth will hear the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.