Whenever we insist on God’s will, rather than our own, we will experience moments where it becomes obvious to us and to others that our lives are in sync with His will. A great example of this can be seen in a story I read in Guidepost Magazine years ago. It told of a story of five young missionaries who were killed at the hands of a primitive tribe in Ecuador back in 1956:
For years, Stephen Saint thought Timbuktu was just a made-up name for “the ends of the earth.” When he found out it was a real place in Africa, he developed an inexplicable fascination for it. In 1986, he was on a fact-finding trip to West Africa for Mission Aviation Fellowship when this fascination became an irresistible urge. Timbuktu wasn’t on his itinerary, but he knew he had to go there. Once he arrived, however, he discovered he was in trouble. Here is his story:
I’d hitched a ride from Bamako, Mali, five-hundred miles away, on the only seat left on a Navajo six-seater airplane chartered by UNICEF. Two of their doctors were in Timbuktu and might fly back on the return flight, which meant I’d be bumped, but I decided to take the chance.
Now here I was, standing by the plane in the 110-degree heat, trying to make out the mud-walled buildings of the village of about twenty-thousand people. Then the pilot reported that the doctors were on their way and I’d have to find another ride to back Bamako. “Try the marketplace. Someone there might have a truck. But be careful,” he said. “Westerners don’t last long in the desert if the truck breaks down, which often happens.”
I didn’t relish the thought of being stranded, but perhaps it was fitting that I should wind up like this, surrounded by the Sahara. The open-air marketplace in the center of town was crowded. Men and women wore flowing robes and turbans as protection against the sun. I went from person to person trying to find someone who spoke English, until I finally came across a local gendarme who understood my broken French.
“I need a truck,” I said. “I need to go to Bamako.”
Eyes widened in his shaded face. “No truck,” he shrugged. Then he added, “No road. Only sand.”
By now, my presence was causing a sensation in the marketplace. I was surrounded by at least a dozen small children, jumping and dancing, begging for coins and souvenirs. The situation was extreme, I knew. I tried to think calmly. What am I to do?
Suddenly I had a powerful desire to talk to my father. Certainly, he had known what it was like to be a foreigner in a strange land. But my father, Nate Saint, was dead. He was one of five missionary men killed by Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956. I was a month shy of my fifth birthday at the time, and my memories of him were almost like movie clips: a lanky, intense man with a serious goal and a quick wit. He was a dedicated jungle pilot, flying missionaries and medical personnel in his Piper Family Cruiser. Even after his death he was a presence in my life.
I’d felt the need to talk with my father before, especially since I’d married and become a father myself. But in recent weeks this need had become urgent. For one thing, I was new to relief work. But it was more than that. I needed Dad to help answer my new questions of faith.
I had a question that lingered in my mind: Did my father have to die?
All my life, people had spoken of Dad with respect; he was a man willing to die for his faith. But at the time I couldn’t help but think the murders were capricious, an accident of bad timing. Dad and his colleagues landed just as a small band of Auca men were in a bad mood for reasons that had nothing to do with faith or Americans. If Dad’s plane had landed one day later, the massacre might not have happened.
Couldn’t there have been another way? It made little impact on the Aucas that I could see. To them it was just one more killing in a history of killings.
Thirty years later it still had an impact on me. And now, for the first time, I felt threatened because of who I was and what I believed. “God,” I found myself praying as I looked around the marketplace, “I’m in trouble here. Please keep me safe and show me a way to get back. Please reveal Yourself and Your love to me the way you did to my father.”
The sun was crossing toward the horizon. If I didn’t have arrangements made by nightfall, what would happen to me? This was truly the last outpost of the world. More than a few Westerners had disappeared in the desert without a trace. Then I remembered that just before I’d started for Timbuktu, a fellow worker had said, “There’s a tiny Christian church there, which virtually no one visits. Look it up if you get the chance.”
I asked the children, “Where is l’église Évangelique Chrétienne?” The youngsters were willing to help, though they were obviously confused about what I was looking for. Several times elderly men and women scolded them harshly as we passed, but they persisted. Finally, we arrived, not at the church, but at the open doorway of a tiny mud-brick house. No one was home, but on the wall opposite the door was a poster showing a cross covered by wounded hands. The French subscript said, “and by His stripes we are healed.”
Within minutes, my army of waifs pointed out a young man approaching us in the dirt alleyway. Then the children melted back into the labyrinth of the walled alleys and compounds of Timbuktu.
The young man introduced himself as Nouh. He was handsome, with dark skin and flowing robes. But there was something inexplicably different about him. Nouh signaled he knew a missionary who could translate for us. From the moment I’d seen him I’d had the feeling that we shared something in common. Once the missionary arrived to translate for us, I asked Nouh, “How did you come to have faith?” He told me the story of how he had come to know the Lord as a child through the love and kindness of a missionary. The decision to become a follower of Christ cost him everything as he became ostracized by his family.
I asked him the question that only hours earlier I’d wanted to ask my father: “Why is your faith so important to you that you’re willing to give your life?”
“I know God loves me and I’ll live with Him forever. I know it! Now I have peace where I used to be full of fear and uncertainty. Who wouldn’t give up everything for this peace and security?”
“It can’t have been easy for you as a teenager to take a stand that made you despised by the whole community,” I said. “Where did your courage come from?”
“The missionary gave me some books about other Christians who had suffered for their faith. My favorite was about five young men who willingly risked their lives to take God’s good news to stone age Indians in the jungles of South America.” His eyes widened, “I’ve lived all my life in the desert. How frightening the jungle must be! The book said these men let themselves be speared to death, even though they had guns and could have killed their attackers!”
The missionary said, “I remember the story. As a matter of fact, one of those men had your last name.”
“Yes,” I said quietly, “the pilot was my father.”
“Your father?” he cried. “The story is true!”
“Yes,” I said, “it’s true.”
When they accompanied me back to the airfield that night, we found that the doctors weren’t able to leave Timbuktu after all, and there was room for me on the UNICEF plane.
As we hugged each other, it seemed incredible that God loved us so much that He’d arranged for us to meet “at the ends of the earth.” Nouh and I had gifts for each other that no one else could give. I gave him the assurance that the story that had given him courage was true. He gave me the assurance that God had used Dad’s death for good. Dad, by dying, had helped give Nouh a faith worth dying for. And Nouh, in return had helped give Dad’s faith back to me.
As I read this story above, I thought of the many times in my own life where I didn’t understand why certain things had to happen to me, but I knew that in the end God would make all things work together for my benefit and the benefit of others. There are plenty of times when I don’t understand what is happening to me, or why, but I rest in the fact that He knows and that He can use my suffering and hardships if I stay the course, submitting to His will.
(To the Ends of the Earth by Steve Saint This article originally appeared in Guideposts, January 1991 and was condensed for this book) https://www.epm.org/resources/1991/Jan/11/ends-earth/