Everyone in the crowded space was vulnerable.
People elbowed, jabbed, and shoved.
The receiving room was crammed with young and old, married and single, able and disabled, wise and ignorant, merciful and selfish, patient and troubled, and generous and calculating. No one sought this hard, grueling wait. Yet, here we all stood.
Squeezed on every side, uncomfortable, and off balance, it was unclear when our turn would finally come.
Just minutes before, our family stood among a restless crowd waiting for our opportunity to have our visas processed at a southern African border. We were stuck on one side. Hours had passed as our family and countless others stood in queue under the oppressive southern African sun. Our family was positioned mere steps away from the building entrance when the Home Affairs official sauntered away from his post. He had been directing people into the building. Alas, when this official moved, it was then that the crowd determined their opportunity had come. They rushed into the receiving room. Not only did the people in queue stream inside, but also those on the periphery who were waiting for their chance to jump the queue. Our family was in the middle of this melee. Crushed by the massive force of the crowd, we had little to no choice but to migrate with the stampeding throng.
It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.
I prayed like crazy.
In the midst of this charge, a woman fell to the ground. Gratefully, Micah and I held the people behind us so that the vulnerable woman could regain her feet. I also held onto Jake and Caleb – to keep them steady and assure them that I had them close.
I saw the distress in the fallen woman’s eyes. In fact, many women felt the panic of this moment. I looked to the woman to my left and asked if she was okay. The woman nodded in surprise as I continued to inquire of each of the women around me to ensure that they were okay, safe, and unhurt.
We needed help.
The oppressive strength of the crushing crowd overwhelmed us.
Where would our assistance come in this struggle?
Our family serves as missionaries in southern Africa. We’ve been at this mission deal for over twelve years. The crazy and outrageous situation we experienced at the border was an altogether new and discombobulating experience for our family. Discounted, disrespected, dishonored, and disvalued were some of my impressions of how all of us standing in the queue were treated that day. No official offered any assistance. Their disinterest alarmed me.
Eventually, we made it to the front of the queue to have our visas processed. Jake and I had our visas stamped first even as the frustrating and confusing time continued. It was during that period that I sent out Whatsapp and Facebook messages calling on people to pray for us. John, Micah, and Caleb were still inside that room and there was no way of knowing when their visas would be processed.
I asked people to pray for us and they did.
Over an hour later, John, Micah, and Caleb’s visas were finally processed as well.
The Bible is filled with stories of people who faced dangerous and precarious times. After our border experience, I read these words from the book of Nehemiah:
Therefore, I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.
New International Version, Nehemiah 4: 13 – 15
The Israelites were in the middle of a massive restoration project. Nehemiah directed the Israelites to rebuild the wall around the city of Jerusalem. Their homes and livelihoods stood defenseless and unprotected from enemy attack. As the Israelites set to work, their enemies mocked them – vowing to attack and destroy their restorative efforts.
Nehemiah responded with a plan of action.
He stationed people at the lowest points of the broken wall – at every exposed place – to stand ready with protection. The Hebrew transliterated word for station is amad. Amad means to take ones stand in attitude and posture. In the face of enemy attack, Nehemiah directed his people to stand upright, steadfast, persistent and sure in their position even as enemies approached.
The prayers of the people and the stationing of the Israelites at the weakest points of the wall were used by God Almighty to confound and frustrate the enemy. They turned away and the Israelites continued their rebuilding work.
As I reflect upon our situation at the border, and consider our effort in mission, I am grateful for those who have chosen to station themselves at our family’s side in prayer. Our family, our friends, our mission team, and our prayer supporters rallied to us. They prayed us through a significant fight of faith. Our family was exposed and vulnerable. Jake, especially, struggled with sensory overload as people pressed, pushed, and shoved their way into him. Jake felt helpless and lost. Actually, we all did at various levels.
Yet, where we felt the most exposed, vulnerable, and defenseless was the place we needed the greatest amount of steadfast, unrelenting care and faithful prayer.
I confess that I am at my most vulnerable when my children are under attack. My children were mocked, taunted, and jeered at the border. Why? A few reasons. First, the strain was unbearable. Second, our family refused to jump the queue. We could have used our white skin and monetary means to offer a bribe and propel us forward. We didn’t. The crowd taunted us by saying that we were foolish not to take advantage of our ‘position’ in life.
However, that is not the station we have in Christ.
In Christ, our station is to hold our ground, to be upright and honorable, and to present ourselves as His ambassadors. How would it look if a missionary family bribed their way out of a difficult situation – where others stood without support or defense?
We refuse to do that.
It wasn’t easy.
However, when we were exposed, in need, and vulnerable, we called on our friends and family to pray to our God who is faithful. In fact, did you know that the Hebrew word, Yahweh, refers to the One who is absolute in His faithfulness? Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites sought their God in full and sure confidence in the face of enemy attack, we sought our God in our time of distress and need as well.
Our God showed Himself to be near and ready to assist. He kept us safe in a dangerous and uncertain situation.
We could have prayed these words found in Psalm 86:
Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me.
New International Version, Psalm 86: 1 – 7
For those of you who pray for our family and have stationed yourselves beside us, thank you!
Your prayers made a significant difference to us in life that difficult day and continued to strengthen us as we ministered in the following weeks.