Spiritual lessons are best learned in the crucible of life and many if not most are painful and difficult. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church told them the contentment and joy he experienced while incarcerated in the Roman prison was learned by having a lot (of stuff) and then having nothing. In a culture which today measures success and happiness by the amount of stuff one has Paul’s formula for contentment is often rejected as foolish (Phil. 4: 11-13). During the time Cathy and I were dealing with plans for retirement and thoughts related to how much money we might need I met an unusual person with a serious medical problem. I was about to learn a wonderful lesson on peace and contentment.
A lady who was in her 80’s was brought by her daughter to the Wound Care Clinic seeking advice and treatment for problems with her lower extremities. Both ladies were very polite in their demeanor and pleasant in their personalities. They spoke with considerable accents, but their English was excellent. My first question to most people whom I meet in Branson is, “Where did you come from?” Their answer was, “We moved from California.” I didn’t doubt their truthfulness but asked, “Are you originally from California?” knowing their accents were not Californian! “No, we lived most of our lives in Zimbabwe.” I had never met anyone in the states from Zimbabwe, but I had conversations with a few pastors from that south African country while on two separate mission trips to South Africa in 1999 and 2003.
My next question to them was, “What caused you to move from Zimbabwe to California?” thinking perhaps they had children living there and wanted to be closer. What they told me shocked and deeply saddened me.
In the early 1980’s the nation of Zimbabwe was undergoing tremendous political upheaval. There was a revolution for control to take back farmland owned and controlled by whites for many years. The leader of the revolution was Robert Mugabe, a fierce guerrilla fighter. When his forces prevailed and he became president he began a massive land reform by which the beautiful and productive farms owned by whites were nationalized and turned over to native Zimbabweans. In previous years the farms were so bountiful the country was known as “the breadbasket of Africa.”
One fateful morning with no warning an armed militant group appeared at the door of their farm and also the door of their daughter and son-in-law’s adjacent farm. They demanded both families immediately evacuate their homes and farms by order of the new government of Zimbabwe, and each were presented some official looking papers which seemed to validate their demands. They were told they could take the clothes they were wearing and a few valuable possessions they could individually carry. The shock and horror of such news caused such immediate emotional reactions the son-in-law of my patient suffered a heart attack and died the same afternoon.
In recounting the events of that painful day I could tell it was still difficult for them to relive those experiences, so I stopped asking questions. Despite their great losses I did not discern lingering bitterness or hatred in either of them. They had both seen their lives rebuilt and re-directed through God’s power. Following their move to California my patient’s husband lived another ten years and died when he was in his late 70’s from a chronic medical problem. The daughter had re-married a few years prior to her father’s death. Her husband was originally from the southwest Missouri area, and the family decided to move here to build a new life. They were both active in a strong local evangelical church and were sharing the love of Christ through the church’s ministries and in their personal walk.
Since the day I heard their story I have often wondered how I would handle similar circumstances. None of us are immune to sudden cataclysmic life changes upon receiving bad news, but no one really knows how they will respond. The unexpected appearance of a law enforcement officer at your front door at 3 A.M. to tell of the fatal car accident, the phone call from the doctor’s nurse telling you the doctor needs to see you immediately for your biopsy results, or the early morning appearance of armed government officials on your farm banging on your front door. While there is still calm weather with clear skies I must be refreshed and reassured by God’s unchanging Word to know He alone is sovereign and nothing catches Him by surprise. He has promised that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with me; His rod and staff will comfort me (Psalm 23). In the midst of any storm He has said; “I will give you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness that you might be called a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that He might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)
That morning in my medical clinic I met two trees of righteousness who witnessed to me the reality of God’s promises to them, and in my hearing and observing God was greatly glorified.
PS: Tragically for the country of Zimbabwe, many of those lush farms which were nationalized during the 1980’s were poorly managed and maintained by inexperienced and ill-trained farmers. A large number are no longer productive and have been abandoned.