One of the very few Christian Kwakum died tonight. He was in a terrible accident which involved at least two children, one of whom died. I played a very small part in helping with the situation as some of our World Team colleagues took the survivors to a hospital in a city about 40 mins from where we live. But as I went to help, I was stopped by some police officers. In spite of my pleas of emergency, they demanded a bribe. They kept me at the police stop for 20 precious minutes. And now that it is over, and the family (I assume) is safely at the hospital, I still can’t sleep.
As we come closer to the Christmas and New Years holidays many of our neighbors descend into a drunken stupor. It is as though they know we are to celebrate Christmas, but without Christ they celebrate with nothing but sin. A few weeks back I went out to the village after hearing one of our new believer’s sisters fighting in the streets. I spent an hour wrestling this drunk woman back to her house as she cut at people with a machete and begged me to let her go. She hurt me, knocked me to the ground and I bled. My neighbors expected me to be mad, but I wasn’t. I was just so sad.
This isn’t supposed to be what Christmas looks like. Shouldn’t there be angels singing? Shouldn’t there be peace on Earth, and goodwill to men?
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
These words come from a poem from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a man who knew so much more grief than I do. I read earlier this week an article called: The True Story of Pain and Hope Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It is a story of dissonance: a poet hearing the Christmas bells declaring “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men!” while looking in the mirror at the scars he acquired while failing to extinguish the flames consuming his own wife; while still reeling from the news that his son had been seriously wounded in war. As I think of his story, and especially his conclusion (which I will get to) I want deeply to hug the man, or rather be hugged by him.
In America I saw flaws in Christmas. I worked in the malls and saw people trying to purchase happiness for themselves and their kids. I saw people trying to celebrate Christmas without a thought of Christ. But here, it is so much worse. Here it is not that people know why they should be celebrating, but they ignore it. Here is a place where most people spend the holiday (and all holidays) without any hope. Here is a place where violence is common, children are abandoned to pick up empty alcohol packets in the street, and many have no idea who Jesus really is. And I am tempted to despair.
However, like HWL, I know my thoughts cannot remain there. Here is how he ends his poem:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
The man who died tonight, Popo, had not been a believer for long. In fact, I knew of him for years only by reputation. He was the Kwakum man that married a Baka woman and treated her like a slave. He was the one who paid young men in alcohol so they would forget that he owed them money. But then, about a year ago I heard something amazing: Popo became a believer! He admitted and recognized that he had sinned in the way he treated his wife. He repented. It was an unlikely story, but through my interactions with him, and those of other missionaries, I believe wholeheartedly that it was true.
It is desperately sad that we lost one of the few Kwakum believers tonight. Sad for us. But it is not sad for Popo. Popo is now in a place where he is experiencing only peace. And the fact that he is there proves that God is not dead, and that he does not sleep. And one day, here on Earth, the wrong shall fail and the right prevail. Every corrupt police officer will be held to account. All violence will be done away with. One day we will know that peace on Earth. I believe it not only because the Bible tells me so, but because I know that if God can change Popo, he can do everything that he has promised. And so tonight, though I cannot sleep, I will pray for peace on Earth. And I will pray with faith.