TITLE: A LONELY VIGIL
By Mary MacKinnon
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A LONELY VIGIL
My flashlight was no match for the jungle darkness as I hurried back to the house from my last trip of the night to our privada. The crickets and cicadas were trying to drown out each other. Across the valley a lonely owl screeched. The earth smelled moldy, saturated after days of rain.
As I started up the steps, a burning sting on my ankle startled me. Ants! The flashlight showed thousands of them swarming in disarray, but where they disappeared under the house they had marshaled themselves into a column six inches wide. In about half an hour they would be swarming through the whole house and even into bed with us. It had happened too often in the past six months since we came to Brazil as missionaries.
An ant raid meant sleepless hours fighting them with kerosene spray. We would be shaking ants out of our shoes, off our clothes, even out of our hair as they dropped from the ceiling to our bed.
I shuddered. I could fight them but my husband couldn’t. For ten days Gordy had been sick—flat in bed for the first time in 19 years of marriage. I prayed, ‘Please, Lord, don’t let the ants raid tonight.” In the natural course of events it was a hopeless prayer, but I repeated it as I got into bed.
Exhausted, I fell into a deep sleep and began feeling ants and brushing them off. They swarmed over the bed and their bites burned. We fought franticlaly—then I awoke and discovered the ant raid had been only a dream. The Lord had directed the ants elsewhere.
Coming to Brazil t almost 40 years of age with two teenage girls and a baby boy, we had expected problems. But there were so many! Culture shock – physical ailments – language barrier – and now Gordy’s sickness. But each time the Lord had showed us the way out. Now, as the morning sunlight streamed in our window, I was given courage to trust.
But the light also showed what I had feared during Gordy’s ten days of illness. As he opened his eyes, their usual soft brown was dulled by ugly yellow. Hepatitis! Until now he had fooled the doctor. We had to get Gordy to the hospital, two hours away through the jungle.
We climbed into the cab of our five-ton truck with a Brazilian driver. Gordy was very sick as we bumped over the dirt road on our way to the dingy frontier hospital. Each kilometer brought us nearer to help, but neither of us had much confidence in the kind of help it would be.
Even so, when the burly male nurse helped Gordy onto the high wooden bed I gasped when I saw a small file of maggots crawling from the feather pillow. I communicated in sign language. I did not want him in that bed! Smiling at my whim, the nurse laid him on another bed.
It was customary for a member of the family to provide nursing care for the patient. I was left alone with Gordy, and soon a pregnant nurse came in and hooked up Gordy for the first of 16 long, weary bottles of intravenous feeding. All I could do was watch and pray. I had to remember that God had allowed this situation and was in control of it, no matter how unlikely it seemed. The little that the doctor told me was in Portuguese and I groped to understand. I sensed that Gordy’s life was in danger.
There was no privacy; our door was open much of the time. One morning we heard shouting and running at the other end of the wooden building. A pig had escaped and was poking his head into patients’rooms.
Later a teen-ager breezed in and started cleaning. First she emptied the wastebasket in the middle of the floor, then swept everything together. She had sleek long hair, snapping brown eyes, and a lithe grace as she worked. Like every other visitor who came into our room, she was pleased to get the colorful Gospel of Mark in Portuguese that we gave her.
I discovered that the hospital provided the sole source of free neighborhood entertainment. Stranger after stranger would poke his head in the doorway and ask,”Are you forte? [strong]. Just at dusk our teenage friend came in with a glass of water. A thin film of oil topped the water and a small button wick floated on that. With a flick of a match she lit the wick. We were thankful for the comfort of its soft glow—until its light showed us the room’s other occupant: a mouse. He scurried over the empty bed to the table where our supper tray rested and munched on the crumbs that remained. I buried my head in my lumpy cotton comforter and reminded myself, “Even this the Lord knows about.”
An accidental overdose of sleeping pills knocked Gordy into a 24-hour sleep. As I stepped into the hall, a toothless old woman spoke to me. Puzzling through her Portuguese, I realized she was asking if I was afraid. The thought surfaced from my subconscious: Gordy was probably going to die! I fled back to our room in tears and found Gordy still comatose.
For 14 years we had prayed to be overseas missionaries. Then the Lord supplied this opportunity to work with other Christians in Brazil in developing a coffee farm whose profits were used to help many missionary projects, orphanages and Bible schools.
In spite of all the problems and adjustments, we were sure of being in the Lord’s will. Now, in an instant, the future seemed threatened. What would I do if Gordy didn’t make it? There would be the gruesome prospect of repacking our household goods and returning to the States.
A soft whisper came, “Returning? But I called you here to Brazil.”
So began a dialogue with the Lord, not too different, I suspect, from the one Abraham had on a night long ago when he talked to God about Isaac. How long my argument lasted I don’t know. Finally it ended. I laid all—my husband and my future—at God’s feet. Difficult as it seemed, even if widowed with three children, I would stay. After all, He gave His life for me. If he wanted me to stay, stay I would.
Numb with the intensity of the emotional struggle, my steps were heavy as I trudged back from the porch to our room at the end of the hall. I plopped down on the comforter without undressing. The long, silent night dragged on; it was the third one, and each had seemed longer than the last. Loneliness flooded me.
Finally morning came. I tiptoed to Gordy’s bed and stroked his forehead. It was cool! His eyelids flickered and he opened his eyes. The dull glaze was gone!
“Hi, honey,” he said as he reached for my hand.
My “Isaac” was given back, too.
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