Sitting here in a house in the middle of Britain; world events can, at times, seem a million miles away. But the coup d’etat in Mali back in March this year was something I prayed about and paid close attention to; because we had friends caught up in it.
There were two things on my heart to write about today, but in the end, it was what my friend Lois shared at a meeting this week, that had to take precedence over either of them. I can’t stop thinking about it and it illustrates just what Christians mean when they can’t explain a sequence of events or coincidences. At the time, it might be hard to see the big picture; but, looking back, they can only conclude that God had his hand on that situation.
Week beginning Monday 19th March started off like any other in the school Lois worked in, in Bamako, the capital of Mali. It’s a Christian school and Lois had written the memory verse for the week on the board. It wasn’t a particular one she felt led to share, it was simply the one in the curriculum. Here it is:
On Wednesday of that week there was a coup in the country and other than a quick visit to gather a few bits and pieces and to take a photo of this verse that had somehow become so pertinent; Lois didn’t go back into her class again. That was the start of a very worrying couple of weeks. Of course for family and friends back here, but mostly for Rob and Lois and their colleagues; suddenly being faced with an unstable situation and potentially having to leave Mali very quickly.
The family have been working in Africa for Wycliffe Bible Translators for most of the last 10 years and for the first four they were in Benin. They came and spent a year back in the UK before heading off to Mali four years ago. After that length of time in a place, being able to say a proper goodbye is important, especially for children. But in the end there really wasn’t time to say even a quick goodbye to everyone and for the children especially; it must have felt like being ripped away. Everyone in the UK views them as ‘coming home,’ but when you’re a child who’s spent most of your life in the warm sun of Benin or Mali; a cold and rainy Bedfordshire is going to feel as much like home as the moon would. It’s going to take time for them to start to feel ‘at home’ here and there’s a lot of work to be done by Wycliffe to help the children make the transition and to help them process their early unscheduled exit from Mali.
But look again at the verse on the board. “The Lord himself will go ahead of you.” What Lois shared last night was an astonishing catalogue of coincidences which hearing about them now, two months later, made tingles go down my spine. Plunged into a situation that was very much outside of their control, they were faced with having to cram all the packing and wrapping up of their lives in Africa, not into 12 weeks, but into essentially 12 days. And it was touch and go. Malian borders were closed, there were protests at the airport, but Lois and the children were on a flight to the UK in early April. Rob had a prior work commitment in Senegal, so he flew there a day later.
It’s not possible to list all the ways the very rocky time was smoothed out, even prior to the coup, when travel plans were thwarted, meaning the family would all be together in Mali for that week. Not being together as a family when the Malian borders closed doesn’t bear thinking about. Back here too, difficult situations with housing and schools had been subtly eased at exactly at the right time and not in June as was originally expected. Suddenly everything dropped into place and they had a home to come back to.
Hearing it all last night was testament to what a great God we have. We can trust in him, these verses of the Bible bear witness to what he did back then and what he’s done again for Rob and Lois and their family. God’s word is trustworthy and true – It does what it says on the tin – ’nuff said.
For Rob too, the verse on the board sparked something. As well as being an ethnomusicologist, Rob is a songwriter and once safely in Senegal, he composed a song based on this verse. Here’s the link to his blog post about it and there you can have the opportunity to hear the song he composed.
For Rob and Lois it happened on a big scale, but I see it happening in smaller ways: The person who arrives exactly when I need them, the email that brings encouragement when I’m down and the break in the clouds that occurs when you feel like there’s never-ending rain. The more you look, the more you realise that God is going before you and is with you, in whatever situation you find yourself.