“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This well known phrase, penned by Charles Dickens in his classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, speaks of 18th Century London, but could as easily describe the life of my missionary family in 1952, India.
The Best of Times
If you could look in the dictionary for a definition of the phrase “best of times,” you would find the word “together”. Our missionary family was together in the closest possible way - alone, together; an isolated togetherness; the only ones at the party who don’t know anyone else so stick close to each other for security.
We were together in a way few families have the opportunity to be - together without distraction:
• no TV or movie theatre, bowling alley or skating rink to steal our evenings,
• no phone to interrupt conversation,
• no shopping malls to draw us away and make us discontent with what we had,
• no McDonalds to make meals quick and easy, but conversation unnecessary.
Some might think us deprived because there was no opportunity for music lessons or sports teams, but our home was always filled with music and our hours were filled with games we created - climbing trees, shooting sling-shots, playing monkey tag, shooting marbles. We had no neighbor kids to play with and call best friends; we were our own best friends. We faced everything together: whatever we needed we provided for each other, from whatever threatened or frightened we shielded each other, and our greatest strength - whatever came we laughed with each other. When we were together, we were completely together.
Indeed this was the best of times.
The Worst of Times
If you could look in the dictionary for a definition of the phrase “worst of times,” you would find the word “apart”. Our missionary family was apart in the deepest sense of the word.
• Apart from the love and presence of family and friends.
There were no other parents close by for my parents to turn to for advice. No family home to go visit for the holidays. No siblings to share secrets and the latest gossip with. No Grandparents to spoil the kids, or Aunts and Uncles to help baby sit.
• Apart from community.
There were no friends to share time and laughter with; no one to go out with or stay in with. No church for worship and fellowship.
• Apart from the comfort and security of technology. No phone for emergencies or even the simple pleasure of hearing a familiar voice. No radio, TV or newspaper for updates on world events. No sparkling clean medical centers with experienced doctors and nurses. No washer or dryer, no electricity, no refrigerator, no shower, not even running water.
• Apart from one another. Without a doubt this was the darkest part of our definition of the worst of times. What is closer than the love of a parent for a child or a child for a parent? To separate the two is an agony all it’s own. A father and mother look through the back window of the car as they drive out the gate of the boarding school, leaving behind their 6 year old daughter and 7 year old son. The children hold hands tightly, not completely understanding, but trying to be brave because Daddy and Mommy said they needed to be. Their little hands move in a tentative wave as tears stream down their little faces. Through the blur of their tears they can still see Mommy’s face looking back at them. They can’t see her tears though, or those of Daddy as he drives the car through the gate, down the road and out of sight.
Indeed, this was the worst of times.
Binding together the best of times and the worst of times is the deep love of God. His presence made the times together so much more complete and beautiful. His comfort and peace made the sometimes excruciatingly difficult times apart, bearable. The best of times/the worst of times, joy in sorrow, peace in pain, tears into laughter: all great dichotomies brought together in Him. Regardless of the best of times or the worst of times, through Him my parent’s theme always remained:
“I am happy in the service of the King.
I am happy, Oh so happy.
I have peace and joy that nothing else can bring,
In the service of the King.”
A.H.Ackley, Church Hymnal, 1953
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