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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Missionary (10/19/06)

TITLE: The Death of a Missionary
By Steve Uppendahl


Life takes place in a series of minutes. One minute I’m standing hesitantly outside a church, the next I’m the youth pastor. One minute I’m reading about the jungles of Costa Rica, the next I’m there as a missionary. One minute it’s dry as a bone, the next it’s raining. For weeks. One minute I’m helping the natives gather water at the rain-swollen river, the next I’m being swept away. One minute I’m praying desperately for one last chance, the next I’ve taken my last breath. Life takes place in a series of minutes, death just takes one.

After my third mouthful of water, I’m sinking into the depths of the river. I begin to pray to God, asking to watch over my family, asking for forgiveness, waiting for Salvation. It comes; it’s just a bit delayed.

Waking up in darkness frightens me initially, until I see him. Actually, I see his golden wings first. They seem to shimmer, like the setting sun reflecting off a peaceful lake. He wears a brilliant white tunic with a golden belt, a bronze sword slaps against his leg as he walks toward me. His face is ruddy, with a dark beard and fierce blue eyes that exude strength and compassion.

He beckons me, “Be not afraid, Gabriel. I am
Tobias, your guide and protector. Walk with me.”

Without hesitation I follow. I expect to see the golden gates. A low chuckle bounces through me.

“No, Gabriel. We aren’t going through the gates just yet. We have one stop to make first.”

Puzzled, “What stop? Why? Have I done something wrong?”

He stops short and faces me. His brilliance is almost too much to take. As if reading my thoughts, his aura dims slightly.

“You are being given a gift, Gabriel, as all who leave a life of service do. Don’t bother to ask, you will understand soon enough.”
In the blink of an eye we are somewhere else. My senses begin to awaken. I see dark walnut pews, mint green carpeting, vibrant ceiling murals; the smell of fresh cut flowers waft through my nostrils. The sounds of low conversations and sobbing fill my ears. Suddenly, the voices begin to sound familiar. My surroundings become clear, St. Michael’s, my second home.

The realization of what is happening dawns on me. I look around in desperation and horror, looking for confirmation. I find it. There they are. My wife, Shannon, is hugging our kids, Beth, Timothy and Katie. Beth is sobbing uncontrollably. Sharon, though struggling herself, along with Katie, do their best to console our oldest. Tim is staring out the window through tear stained cheeks. His eyes are distant and unfocused. He seems lost.

Seeing my family in such pain causes me to cry out. No one notices. I run to them, my arms open wide. Suddenly, I’m in the outer vestibule. I’ve run right through them.

In an instant, I’m back. Stroking Beth’s long red hair, “Shhhh, Sweetie. I’m right here. I’m fine. Daddy’s here.”

No response.

Desperately, “Shannon! I’m okay. You and the kids will be fine, you always will be. I’ll make sure of that.”

No response. I can’t take it anymore.

Yelling to the rafters, “Tobias! You said this was a gift! This is torture!”

From the corner of the room, “Disconnect, Gabriel. Think. What was your greatest fear once you became a father? What did you ask God for each night?”

I take a deep breath, “That I wouldn’t be taken until my family was old enough to handle my passing. That I wouldn’t die when they were too young.”

Instantly, Tobias is at my side, “All of your children are in their twenties. Beth and Tim are happily married to solid, God-fearing spouses. Kate is an independent woman and an exceptional grade school teacher. Your wife is a successful businesswoman. You were wise with your money. There will be no financial burden for any of them.”

Nodding my head, “So, you’re saying I get to see first hand that I’ll be missed, but my family will persevere and strive?”

Sly smile, “Partially. Watch your service, Gabriel. Listen to what your family and friends say about you. Witness what you meant to those you care the most about. This is your gift. Treasure it.”

I do.

When Salvation comes, I fall to my knees.

A voice booms, “Come, Gabriel. Your service is still needed.”

With a heart full of worship and gratitude, I walk into the light…

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Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 10/27/06
This is an unusual approach, and though I kind of doubt any of us will actually have the experience of a detour on the way to heaven, the message touched me, "Watch your service, Gabriel. Listen to what your family and friends say about you. Witness what you meant to those you care the most about. This is your gift. Treasure it.” Those "minutes" that we thought weren't that important, are our gift to others.
Donna Haug10/28/06
Interesting story. I would consider using a different name for the character - Gabriel made me think HE was the angel at first. A series of moments - life passes so quickly. Good thoughts.
Gregory Kane10/29/06
Certainly an unusual approach but I liked it. I have heard comedians joke that some eulogies are so exaggerated that even the deceased wouldn’t recognise himself. But it is nice to think that a faithful husband, father and missionary might have this opportunity to hear himself honoured by his peers.