How a Christian Marriage Was Saved by a Wise Guerilla Leader

I woke up to texts that several of the exiled political party/guerrilla bases in our area had been bombed. One main base was hit with a devastating rocket attack. I scanned the updates, wondering if any of the teenage guards or kind officials that we had interacted with there had been killed. I was struck again by the sad security realities of our area of Central Asia. Things could seem so stable and safe, then all of the sudden, the veneer of security gets shattered as someone you interacted with gets disappeared, assassinated, or targeted by a neighboring country’s rockets or drones. It hadn’t been very long since I myself had been at that same base that now had a smoking rocket crater in its central building. Though in general we tried to stay away from sensitive locations like these, it was a crisis among local believers that had brought me there. In fact, the leadership of this guerrilla base had even helped to save the marriage of two local believers.

Two months earlier, things had reached a breaking point in Pauline* and Karim’s* marriage. Their daily arguments about money and respect had escalated, household items had been smashed, and they were at risk of falling back into their pre-conversion violent outbursts toward one another. We asked Karim to come and stay with us for a few days until things could cool off. After initially protesting at how shameful this would be for a Central Asian man to be “kicked out” of his home by his wife, he eventually relented. I was grateful for that humility that won out over cultural pride.

The following weeks were full of crisis counseling, and that in another language. It is one thing to have technically achieved advanced language. It is another thing altogether to keep up with conflict conversation, when accusations and insults you’ve never heard before are flying. Somehow we muddled through it. After a few days, Karim moved back in with his wife and daughter, but things were still not great. Sixteen years of tumultuous marriage as unbelievers had left some mighty deep scars. And in spite of the tremendous growth in knowledge they had achieved in their several years of being believers, both husband and wife accused the other of failing to put their Christian beliefs into practice when it actually counted – in the home.

Karim was willing to work on things, and while truly at fault for a great many things, was willing to take some initial steps of repentance. Pauline was done. Day after day she insisted they get an official divorce. To do this, they would have to visit the headquarters of their political party, an ethnic organization and paramilitary group that had been exiled from one of the neighboring countries and was now based out of our area. The unique way our regional government handles groups like this is to require them to have a separate legal infrastructure for all their party members who live as asylum seekers or freedom fighters in the region. The party is thereby able to grant some measure of legality and protection to it members, who are not granted many of the basic rights that local citizens enjoy. To get a certificate of divorce, Pauline couldn’t go to the local courts. She’d need to work through this parallel system, she’d have to make her case to her party leadership.

Continued pleading and counseling with Pauline had little effect. We asked specifically for a month’s time for her to think over the huge decision she was about to make. But it seemed she had run out of hope entirely that she and her husband could change. She insisted that they go and request an official divorce, and, being without transportation, she asked that I drive them. After weighing the risks with the team, I decided to go with them, hoping that the hour and a half drive might provide some opportunity to talk further.

When we began the drive, I realized how unrealistic my hopes for vehicular counseling had been. Pauline and Karim could barely look at one another, and had no interest in talking. Their teenage daughter merely stared out the window and sometimes cried quietly. The atmosphere in the car was tense and silent. I decided to turn on my playlist of English worship songs. In happier times, Pauline and Karim regularly made jokes about how bad their English was, so there was little chance that songs by City Alight, Josh Garrels, and Poor Bishop Hooper were going to have much effect on them. Still, they might pump some faith into my heart. And it was better than driving in the heavy silence. Maybe they’d pick up on the Hallelujahs and the name of Jesus as the songs played.

I stewed on our depressing situation. Pauline, a member of our church, was stubbornly pursuing an unbiblical divorce against all the counsel she was receiving. Karim was acting like a punk as well, taking angry jabs at Pauline that only made things worse. We were driving to a guerilla base that a neighboring country counted as a terrorist hub, and one they periodically bombed. But the worst part of it all was the horrible witness this whole adventure would likely be to the unbelieving party members that we interacted with. How were they supposed to see the difference Jesus makes if their only comrades claiming to be Christians have a marriage that is falling apart? I shook my head, imaging the kind of bickering they might get into once each was asked to make their case to the judge. Maybe, just maybe, my presence there as their pastor could serve to do some good in all the mess. In all likelihood, their party leadership, influenced primarily by Marxism and ethnic pride, would give them worldly advice, and issue a certificate of divorce. Even if they leaned on their Islamic background, supporting a divorce was the most likely outcome.

I drove and prayed. We had tried everything, and it hadn’t been enough. If Pauline proceeded, we’d need to shift into a church discipline process as our final option. What else could be done? Some moments in ministry we feel only too keenly the powerlessness of our words to effect change upon hardened hearts.

After an hour and a half we passed the last local government checkpoint and drove down the desert road toward the area where the exiles had built a neighborhood and their political party and paramilitary facilities. Eucalyptus trees swayed in the spring wind. Rain clouds teased the thirsty orange soil with small sprinklings here and there. It was a beautiful day, the kind likely to produce a rainbow or two over the distant foothills. It was too bad our excursion to this small desert outpost had to be for such a sobering reason.

We pulled up to the base’s checkpoint and were approached by a gate guard who looked like he was seventeen. He and the other young female guard with him were dressed in dark solid green fatigues and had checkered black and white scarfs around their necks. I remembered how idealistic I was at seventeen and wondered if these kids were true believers in the guerrilla cause or if this was simply what one does growing up in this kind of community of political exiles – a high school job of sorts. After checking Karim’s papers, they waved us through and we found a place to park in a small gravel lot.

A party official with a large mustache soon arrived in his vehicle and parked next to us. He recognized Karim and was familiar with their situation. Having been responsible for some of their official processes in the past, he felt some responsibility for their family and quickly shifted from respectful greetings to an almost fatherly demeanor. He put his hand on Pauline’s shoulder and began warmly but earnestly entreating them to do whatever it took to save their marriage. This was when I began to realize that some of my assumptions about the day might not be correct. This man was talking sense, sound wisdom that backed up the counsel they had been getting from their church. I looked at Pauline to see if it was having any effect. Negative. Her respectful nods were accompanied by a steely gaze.

We soon transitioned into a nearby trailer office, a sort of triage room for those with appointments with party officials. Here we sat on reception couches as the younger official behind the desk ordered tea for us and began to confirm the details of the visit with Karim and Pauline. Once again, this official bore a look of kind concern. He also began reasoning with Pauline, asking her to reconsider her decision to divorce, if only for the sake of their daughter. But Pauline held firm, quietly insisting to see the judge. The official then asked who I was, and Karim shared how I was one of the pastors of their church, and an American. Both of these things surprised the official, who seemed both confused and intrigued at my presence. While they couldn’t have interacted with many Christians, or that many Westerners for that matter, I was encouraged that the hospitable responses so far seemed to indicate my presence at least wasn’t going to make things worse.

We finished up our tea and walked back out to the gravel lot, where were met again by the first mustachioed official. He now learned who I was, and as he walked us into the main building to see the judge, he dropped back to walk beside me.

“If we work together, I bet we can change her mind,” he told me under his breath. “She’s not as set on divorce as she appears. I can tell.”

I found this interpretation encouraging, though Pauline sure seemed hell-bent on divorce to me. Hopefully he was right. As we walked through the corridors, multiple energetic and respectful greetings were exchanged with each person that we passed. I was struck by how well this paramilitary context fit with the formal, honorable tendencies of our local culture. The militaristic structure seemed to bring out some of the best aspects of the culture, and to dampen some of the negative aspects that Islam reinforces, such as the demeaning of women. In fact, there was an easy respect among the men and women on this guerilla base that was downright refreshing. I also noticed that the female soldiers were still very feminine, sporting long black braids for example, and everyone seemed fine with that. This, and the fact that many joined up because all their brothers had already been killed presented a more nuanced picture than is usually present in evangelical discussions about women in the military.

At last we were ushered into the large room where we would do the interview for the certificate of divorce. It was carpeted, stiff high-backed couches lined the walls, and portraits of party leaders were prominently displayed. A large, very official looking desk sat in front of the windows. We sat on the couches facing the desk, and were served a second round of tea.

Two women then entered. Like all of those who worked at this base, they were dressed in simple green fatigues. The younger woman was a lawyer. The short woman in her fifties was a high ranking official, and would serve as judge for Pauline and Karim’s case. She had a mature – though tired – look in her eyes and a no-nonsense bearing that called for a respectful hearing. Yet she also seemed kind and approachable. I instinctively trusted her to see through any of the nonsense that might emerge in the following conversation.

After confirming the details of the visit one more time, she proceeded to ask some basic questions. This led to the only funny thing that would come out of the day.

“You are Karim and Pauline, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve been married how many years?”

“Twenty one.”

“And these two are your children?”

“This is our daughter, and… uh, this is our, um, pastor,” Karim managed to say with only a hint of a smile.

I shot the family a quick glance and could tell they got a kick out of the judge thinking I was their son. That Karim and Pauline are my “dear mother and father” would become a story often told and an inside joke that continues to the present day. But the welcome moment of levity was over all too soon.

“So you are here to request a divorce. Pauline, please explain your situation.”

Pauline proceeded to lay out her complaints for the next ten minutes or so while the judge took careful notes by hand and the lawyer leaned in to listen. After this, the judge allowed Karim to respond and explain his desire to remain married. So far, everything remained calm and orderly. I found myself envying the gravitas this older woman brought, and wondering how I could learn to do likewise in my conflict-mediation conversations with locals that tended to explode.

After hearing both sides and effectively shutting down some bickering, the judge began to reason with Pauline.

“My dear, none of these problems that you are describing are abnormal for a marriage. These are not massive issues. They are the everyday frustrations of a husband and wife that must be navigated and worked through. You are not describing anything to me that seems to warrant a divorce. Think of the great costs you and your daughter will incur if you do this. Think of the regret. Pay attention to your husband’s openness to making change. Why should you give up at this point? Be wise and careful, my dear. This is a very serious thing you are requesting.”

The judge continued on this vein for some time, patiently and wisely attempting to help Pauline see reason. For my part, I was thrilled that the judge was taking this position. Over and over again, these unbelieving freedom fighters were dropping wise and sober counsel. Eventually, the judge turned to me and asked what our church’s advice had been regarding the marriage. I was surprised at this invitation to speak, but grateful.

“Jesus teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman for life, and that a situation like this does not call for a divorce, but reconciliation. We have counseled them to stay married, to commit to regular counseling, and to follow Jesus in this way.”

The judge nodded respectfully and took more notes. A middle aged man with a red mustache came into the room with some files for the judge to sign. He knew Karim and proceeded to make efficient greetings to all present. He seemed very kind.* Following this, the judge rose and excused herself to deal with another situation that had arisen, promising to return soon with her verdict.

We sat in the room for the next fifteen minutes. The lawyer decided now was a good time to wax eloquent about her views on marriage and feminism. It was the first counsel of the day that was less than helpful. But I could tell that neither Karim nor Pauline seemed to like her. The lawyer continued her spiel, seeming not to notice.

At last the judge returned, sinking into her seat with the look of a woman who has to deal with multiple crises every day.

“Having reviewed everything in your case and heard all of your answers, we have decided to give you a month to think things over.”

This same period of waiting was what the church had asked for as well. I smiled, since the judge hadn’t heard that part. She continued.

“We will not be issuing you a certificate of divorce today. Go home. Think it over for a month. If after a month you still desire a divorce, then come back and we’ll give you the certificate. But dear, do you think carefully and wisely about what you really want.”

Karim, his daughter, and myself were relieved. Pauline was furious. The verbal outbursts that followed confirmed for the judge even more that she had made the right call and that Pauline was in no condition to be making this kind of life-altering decision that day. The guerilla leader saw a chance to save the marriage, and she took it, believing that Pauline might come to her senses and stick with her flawed, but loyal husband. And she was right, this is exactly what would happen. God would use the legal decision taken by this party official to buy time for repentance to begin. I had been very concerned that this leftist group of freedom fighters would only help to undermine Karim and Pauline’s marriage. Instead, we had surprisingly found ourselves to be allies, pleading for the goodness and sanctity of marriage together. God uses all kinds of means – apparently even Marxist-leaning paramilitaries and “terrorists.”

It was early afternoon by the time we left, and we were all starving. We stopped by a hole in the wall restaurant to eat some chicken before the drive home. Karim stepped outside to take a call and I seized the opportunity to draw out Pauline without him present.

“Dearest mother,” I started, alluding to judge’s humorous mistake. “How are you doing? Will you not take this month to reconsider your decision?”

Pauline smiled and chuckled, “Oh my dear son, I’m still getting divorced, believe me! We’ll be back in a month, you’ll see. Now pass me some of that chicken.”

But already there was a new softness in her eyes. And she continued smiling. Somehow I knew we wouldn’t be back at that base after a month. She had tried very hard to go her own way. And God had kindly placed obstacle after obstacle in her path.

Today, Pauline and Karim are still married, and doing better than ever.

*Names changed for security

*Sadly, this man would be assassinated in a hotel room two days later.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

An Encouragement to Young Husbands

A good friend recently got married and I was invited to his bachelor party, which in true Kentucky style consisted of shooting clay pigeons with shotguns (“shootin’ skeet”), grilling meat, and a very large bonfire. While eating our steak and porkchops, the rest of us there – all married – were asked to share some marital wisdom with the groom-to-be.

Now in my second decade of marriage, I thought back to my days as a newlywed, a sweet time which was also full of a lot of youthful idealism and pressure. As a young husband, I wanted to do this Christian marriage thing right. As a couple who felt called to missions among the unreached, I wanted us to discipline and focus everything about our lifestyle toward that end. I desired for us to be an example of a sacrificial, Jesus-centered marriage. These desires were not bad. In fact, I would say they were God-given. However, they were also paired with a rushed time-line, anxiety, and pressure. During this newlywed period I was missing what should have been a major emphasis of that time – helping my new bride to simply rest securely in my love for her.

Like many young believing husbands, I felt that shepherding my wife meant noticing weaknesses, projecting their supposed impact on our future, and offering correction and leadership accordingly. What I didn’t realize was just how much pressure on herself and anxiety my bride had brought into the marriage on her own – questions deep down in her soul such as, “Am I really a good enough wife?”, “Is he going to keep on loving me even when he knows my quirks and weaknesses?”, and “Does he enjoy ministry more than he enjoys spending time with me?”

Meanwhile, I was over here shooting down my wife’s desires to get some more clarity on her health issues by cutting bread out of her diet because I was worried about how that would impact our ability to show or receive hospitality from Muslims. Or concerned that her disappointment that most nights were spent on ministry relationships meant that we might not be very effective missionaries someday. I very much felt that we needed to get things like this right – and pronto – so that we could effectively minister together in the path to which God had called us.

I remember getting counsel from one of our pastors during our second year of marriage, talking about our frequent disagreements about how many nights per week should be reserved to simply spend time together vs. ministering to others. “It’s been like this our whole marriage,” I lamented at one point. “Brother,” he responded, “you’ve been married for a year and a half. Don’t say whole marriage like that. You’re still very much in the early days.” This comment began to wake me up to the arbitrary timeline for achieving “optimal marriage” that I was operating by.

Another moment of clarity took place that same year during a work trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The organization I worked for had put us up in a grungy extended stay hotel. We didn’t know a soul in Chattanooga. So, for the next two weeks when I wasn’t out canvassing the city, my wife, myself, and our newborn son were in the hotel room together, hanging out, eating snacks, and watching Downton Abbey. I was caught off guard at the end of the two weeks when my wife expressed her surprise at how happy I had seemed to just spend time with her and our son. “Of course,” I responded, “I’d always rather spend time with you than with anyone else.” “You really mean that, don’t you?” was her earnest, hopeful response. Though I thought I’d expressed this to her before, I realized that she had not really felt that this was true until we were cooped up together for those weeks in that small and gnarly hotel room.

Situations like these made me progressively more aware of shepherding emphasis I should have been embracing as a new husband – that of helping my wife simply rest securely in my love for her. There were deep fears and anxieties that she was wrestling with as a new wife, wondering if my love for her was works-oriented, dependent on her performance. Instead, I needed to model covenant love for her, the kind that not only told her but also showed her that my love was steady and not going anywhere – regardless of performance, conflict, or weakness.

In this season I began to visualize a beautiful, though small, flowering plant. The wrong kind of focused messing with the plant would eventually kill it. Instead, it needed stability, dependable sunlight, regular watering, and it would blossom. My nit-picking and projecting on the future were preventing the kind of relational safety that would actually lead to growth. The gospel logic of “accepted, therefore free to grow” was beginning to work its way into how I sought to shepherd my wife.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25). I knew these words well, and swore by them. Yet my approach early on was overly focused on “fixing” my wife, rather than letting her bask in the warmth and rest of covenant love. I was skipping over the foundation of true covenant, the kind of steadfast love that constitutes Christ-like shepherding and eventually makes for the deepest change and unity.

All of this, in summarized form, is what I shared with my friend during his bachelor party. For any soon-to-be or new husbands out there, this would be my counsel to you as well. Take it slow when it comes to attempting to lead your wife by addressing sins and weaknesses. You have lots of time. And it takes time to wisely discern which things are worth addressing and which concerns are actually a reflection of your own immaturities. Release the pressure you are both likely feeling and instead lead by helping your wife to simply rest in Christ’s love and your love for her. Help her to know in her very bones that this love for her is steadfast, no matter what. As Christ has welcomed you into his rest, so welcome her. Do this, trusting God with your futures – and then sit back and watch her bloom.

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

Lean Toward the Radical

Two weeks ago we celebrated another wedding anniversary. I’ve now been married to my lovely bride for almost one third of my life. And I marvel at God’s kindness to me that I get to be married to this wonderful woman.

During our anniversary I was reminded of some marriage advice from my first year of college. I had joined a one-year program for freshman at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, where John Piper was the preaching pastor at the time. Our year of study focused heavily on history, theology, and missions. We read authors like Ralph Winter, Rodney Stark, Thomas Cahill, Jonathan Edwards, and dozens of others. And we focused on important figures in missions history, like William Carey. It was a small group of students in our cohort, only eleven of us – a very good way to reenter life in the US for this MK fresh from Melanesia.

Occasionally we would have one of the pastors at Bethlehem be our guest lecturer or come in for a Q&A session. One day John Piper was fielding questions. We had recently finished studying the life of Carey and there was one question that was bugging me.

“Pastor John, William Carey was an amazing man and did some incredible things. But his wife didn’t want to go to India and she lost her mind on the mission field – then she died. He might not have done what he should have to take care of her. Some of us are wrestling with a call to the nations, but also with a call to be godly husbands as well. How can we balance these two callings that sometimes seem in tension?”

Piper furrowed his brow and answered in three parts.

First, he encouraged me to make sure that as I pursued a woman to marry, that I made sure that she shared a similar calling to the unreached. That would prevent many of the issues in the Carey situation.

Second, he warned me against the contemporary Western tendency to idolize the family. The larger danger for our generation, according to Piper, was to love family and safety so much that we fail to sacrifice for the nations as we should. We are unlikely to fall into the same pitfalls of Carey’s era.

Finally, he leaned forward and squinted his eyes at me, giving one last exhortation, “And.. lean toward the radical!”

It was sound and stirring advice for my eighteen-year-old self. The following fall I ended up taking a gap year in Central Asia, where I found my calling to the nations confirmed. The year after that I met my bride-to-be, who also shared a burden for Central Asia. We would joke while dating about her excitement to live among camels and tents. That common love and calling has meant that we have not lost our minds (yet) in the costly seasons and places of ministering among the unreached.

And what of leaning toward the radical? How has that gone for us? Well, we certainly have our scars and our particular brokenness that has come from walking this path. I don’t feel nearly as bold or as strong as I used to. By this point we know well the sting of great risks taken that have ultimately failed. Yet the unreached peoples and places of this world are that way for a reason. They are hard to access, and hard to reach with the gospel once accessed. Our focus culture, for example, seems exquisitely designed to implode church plants before they even get off the ground. Church planting here is like lobbing watermelons into a minefield. Sure, melons will eventually grow in that field, but there’s gonna be whole lot of noise and mess for quite some time.

But oh the difference it makes to have a good woman by your side, one who would have come here even without you. To have agreed to the risks and the costs – together – is something remarkable and gracious. It’s not a simple thing, balancing biblical manhood with the needs of the unreached. But Piper was right. The right woman, a counter-cultural posture, a bent toward the radical – these things have been vital to maintaining a faithful posture in the midst of the tension.

Photo by Prasanth Dasari on Unsplash

Should I Date Someone Who Isn’t Called to Missions?

I appreciated John Piper’s recent answer to this tough question. His last couple paragraphs sum up his argument.

Look, he’s God. He’s God! It is just like God to bless his mission-minded followers with the desires of their heart. God knows what we need. God is good. God is wise. God is sovereign. God is able to do what seems impossible for man to do.

So, I return to my wife’s first thought: How serious and how deep and how confident is this sense of calling in this young woman? Because if it is serious and deep, then probably she should set her face, her heart, to pursue it and trust God that, on that path, she will find her greatest joy and do the world the greatest good and bring Christ the greatest honor.

We simply don’t know what God has in store. If God has been clear and given a calling to go to the nations, and then along comes a potential spouse who is not interested in that kind of life of service, then wisdom would seem to suggest either converting them to missions (as my mom did to my dad), or leaving that potential spouse behind. When God has been clear, we need to move on that clarity – and trust him with the fallout. When we do, we will often find the desires of our hearts met in unexpected ways.

This is a bigger risk for single women than it is for single men. Single men are outnumbered overseas by single women by a scandalous ratio something like of ten to one. For any godly ministry-minded man who is wondering where all the amazing women of God are – get thee to the mission field! Wonderful single missionary ladies are out here, serving faithfully and risking much. But even for single ladies who feel called to both missions and marriage, many faithful brothers are out here too. For both men and women, let us also not discount the goodness of cross-cultural marriages. Some of our closest friends in the US are a formerly single missionary who fell in love with a godly Middle Eastern brother. And let us also not discount the goodness of godly celibacy. Our evangelical culture still tends to not celebrate this as much as the Scriptures do.

We cannot promise one another anything – only God knows the future. Some find spouses on the mission field. Some live lives of devoted singleness. Some lose their spouses on the mission field. My parents went to the mission field together, only for my mom to become a widow three and a half years later. She later continued on the field as a single mom for 7 years.

The key is walking in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Has he unmistakably called you to the nations? Then go. And trust God with the consequences. He is worthy of this. Those who risk their deepest desires for him are never put to shame. Somehow, in some unexpected way, he will give them back better things than those sacrificed – even a hundredfold – and in the age to come, will give eternal life.

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

A Song on the Wonder of Marriage

Take my hand 
I won’t let go 
We’ve waited so long 
And all my life 
I walked alone 
To you, my heart, my home 

Like the first man 
I was cut so deep by heaven’s knife 
When I awoke from my sleep 
Oh my Lord, she’s beautiful 
She’s a part of me 
She’s my wife 

Bound by love 
One flesh to be 
An unbroken ring 
And I lay down 
My life for thee 
In love we are free 

Like the first man 
I was cut so deep by heaven’s knife 
When I awoke from my sleep 
Oh my Lord, she’s beautiful 
Walking up to me 
Oh she’s wonderful, standing next to me 
Oh she’s all 
All that I could need, yeah 
She’s beautiful, she’s a part of me 
She’s my wife

“Heaven’s Knife” by Josh Garrels

But What Would Happen to my Family if I Died?

Photo by Kenny Orr on Unsplash

This is a common question Christian men wrestle with when considering cross-cultural missions. It’s not a bad question. God has called us men to protect and provide for our families. Yet might provision and protection look differently for those upon whom the end of the ages has come?

[3] Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, [4] who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. [5] Greet also the church in their house. -Romans 16:3-5 ESV

Come on, Aquila, you risked your own life and the life of your wife for the sake of Paul? What would have become of Prisca had you died, a widow from a persecuted minority in a pagan society? Is this not a failure of biblical manhood? What about your priorities as one called to be a husband?

Wait a second, Paul is commending these actions… and calling for the global church to give thanks for what Aquila and Prisca have done. Apparently, there is something deeper going on here that makes risking one’s life (and the life of one’s spouse) worth it, if done for the sake of the gospel.

This question hits close to home. My own father died on the mission field when I was a four-year-old, leaving my mom a widow and me and my siblings to be raised without a dad. Was this incredibly hard at times? Yes. A core part of grieving seems to come from the bereaved imagining life without their loved one. I was young enough that I was not able to do much of this at the time of my dad’s death. Instead, the grieving happened slowly over time, one quiet blow after another as the realization landed yet again: this is what it means to not have a dad.

But that was not the only realization that sunk deep into my soul. The other was this: this is how God keeps his promises and takes care of the fatherless. Over and over again I saw God’s faithfulness to take care of my family. It was unmistakeable. His hand to bless us through the suffering and to help us was apparent everywhere. Friends even came to faith because my dad died. Because of this, I was raised with the truth of God’s sovereignty in suffering deeply rooted in my experience and also staring up at me from the pages of Scripture. So when I first stumbled onto Piper sermons in high school, I leaned in. This man preached the God I knew. A God big enough to turn even death for good.

My wife and I now serve in a part of Central Asia that has some serious security concerns. We have three small children. The recurring conversations about whether or not to evacuate our area has led us to joke that our team’s theme song should be The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go. For now, however, our local area continues to be a pocket of remarkable stability in a very volatile region. Still, there are rumors of terrorist sleeper cells around and I have the same health condition that took my dad’s life. What would happen to my family if I were to die? The very same thing that happened to my mom, my siblings, and myself – God would keep his promises and take care of them.

I’m not advocating any glib risk-taking here. I know all too well the painful cost. Any risk for the sake of the gospel needs to be exactly that – risk for the sake of the gospel. Total unity between spouses is also key in deciding what risks to take. Yet I am wanting to exhort my peers, dads of young families, who might struggle with fear as they wrestle with a call to the nations. Surprisingly, and by the grace of God, it is because my dad died that I was freed to take my family to risky places.

Perhaps your death, or merely your willingness to risk for the sake of Jesus, will be what frees your children to also serve Jesus in risky places.

[24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. [25] Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. -John 12:24-25 ESV