Lois awoke with a start to the sound of a small animal scurrying across the center of the hut. In the dim gray light of early dawn she sensed more than saw its movement until it stopped to raise up on its haunches. Lois felt its feral eyes boring right into her. Her heart caught in her throat, stifling her scream of horror, turning it into a strangled gasping gurgle.
It was enough. Her husband sat up, instantly awake, surveyed the scene quickly, and coolly grabbing one of his boots, hurled it in the direction of the intruder. David’s aim was true and as he retrieved his boot he looked on amazed at the carcass of a rat as big as the cats that patrolled the barns on the Iowa farm where he grew up.
“I can’t believe I killed that huge rat with a simple toss of a boot,” he said, astonished. “I guess being in a strange place, outside its comfort zone, simply made it more vulnerable.”
Lois ruminated on that thought as David tossed the dead rodent outside into the brush away from the hut, surprised at the sudden sympathy she felt with the creature that had just terrified her so. She was way outside of her comfort zone here in the New Guinea jungle, bringing the gospel to people who had been headhunters and cannibals within present memory. Menace and evil clung to the place like the stifling, swirling morning mists. The perception of demonic presences weighed on her with the same force as the oppressive heat and humidity.
Lois longed for the reassuring routines of the small Midwestern church David had pastored for five years. Her memories seemed to preserve that time as if pressed between the pages of a perennial late spring day, the kind with puffy white clouds in a blue sky and gaily checked curtains flapping in open windows.
Lois stepped outside to meet the morning with her irritatingly always cheerful husband and shuddered as she drew her nightgown tightly around her in an unconscious gesture to ward off the chill she felt as she saw the old woman staring at her. Once again she was transfixed in horror by a set of feral boring eyes. This time there would be no thrown boot to rescue her.
So far Lois had managed to keep her fear to herself. The people of the village weren’t overtly hostile. But they seemed clearly in the thrall of the brooding malevolent presence she sensed everywhere, and she believed it was only their curiosity and fear of the missionaries’ technical prowess that provided the thinnest layer of protection against the undercurrent of violence that swirled through the daily life of these tribal people.
Had Lois been hopelessly and naively wrong in sensing that she and David were called to share the love of Christ with these people? That burning sense of purpose had flickered to a barely smoldering ember, so inadequate did she feel in her dread of this place. If she had managed to keep the lid on her overwhelming horror, the small shocks of everyday life, a swift movement perceived in the corner of her eye, the sudden cry of a child, the impenetrable mysterious forest, kept her always on edge. Sleep eluded her, or, with it came no rest, just disturbing images of roasting flesh and shrunken heads on shelves in the elder’s huts.
“How can I minister Your love to these people?” Lois prayed silently, looking again at the toothless old woman with the sinister eyes.
Fear not! For I am with you always, even to the remotest parts of the earth.
“How could I have forgotten your promises, O Lord?” Her entire body vibrated to a sudden cleansing thrill. Doing His will, she was always in a place of comfort, no matter the outward situation. “Let me see with your eyes and heart, Lord,” she begged.
The old woman before her was transformed. No longer hardened by evil and filled with venomous hatred, from inside was revealed the tender and unsullied little girl she once had been, radiant with joy and expectation. Her eyes were fearful not feral, as that young girl burrowed deep inside in a desperate search for safety.
“Let me tell you about God’s Peace Child,” Lois began, first haltingly in the unfamiliar tongue, then with growing confidence. She saw the conflict between panic and hope waged in the woman’s eyes and as she prayed, saw hope winning out.
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