Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Voice Like Thunder Brought Peace to My Soul

A voice like thunder brought peace to my soul

          Life is filled with abrupt changes. Boredom is not a permanent condition. The humdrum can be swiftly overturned by the unexpected. For months we wondered if the suffering of our young son would ever end. It did one day in May.
We buried our boy. I lost my job. Two weeks later we moved from Tennessee back to Alabama. Like so many Alabama summers the heat made us seek refuge in the coolness of the mountains. We made our way to Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, a favorite Methodist vacation site.  The popular evangelist Billy Graham was preaching that week.   
          Though our hearts were broken over the death of our son we had not lost our faith. But it had, honestly, been wounded. Hopefully the preaching of Graham would comfort us in our grief.  Our young souls needed a time of healing.
          Graham was as stirring as we had expected. The huge auditorium was packed morning and night as hundreds of people flocked to hear him. We stood in a long line one day and finally got to shake his hand. Like others we were awed by Graham’s persuasive preaching.
          However, Graham shared the pulpit with another preacher, W. E. Sangster from England. And it was Sangster whom God used that week to bring healing to my wounded heart. The man floored me from the moment he began to speak. He spoke with unusual authority, intensity, and conviction.
          Every word he spoke had the ring of truth about it. It was as if God was speaking directly to me and answering questions I had not even asked. Never had I been more convinced that God himself was speaking to me. And I listened intently, eager to drink in what sounded to me like eternal truth.
          I had many questions. Why had God, if he is love, allowed our son to die? Why had he not healed him in answer to our prayers? Why should a little child have to suffer when he had done no wrong? Why had God given him to us if he was going to take him from us before he could grow up? Was his death punishment for my own sins? Is God really “out there” and if he is, why doesn’t he say something when I beg him for help? Why won’t he tell me why the innocent must suffer?
          Finally God did reply. He was silent when David was suffering. Now, two months after our son’s burial, God spoke. He spoke through Sangster. How do I know? I know. I was there. Though it happened 55 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. God answered me through the voice of his servant, W. E. Sangster.
          At first I felt pity for Sangster. He would be no match for Billy Graham as a presence in the pulpit. But I was wrong. Sangster was older and wiser than Graham. And though his style was quite different, the man could preach. As the week went on, many of us realized we were listening to two of the world’s greatest preachers.
          What did I hear from God? Not what I wanted to hear, believe me. I wanted something soothing; what I got was shocking.
          Sangster said, “You must stop dealing with your problems. You must deal with God! You get nowhere by grappling with cancer or some tragedy.  You must wrestle with God for God is the sovereign God of the universe and he allows whatever happens to you. He does not will evil but he allows it. The world is not out of control; God is in control and he allows bad things to happen.”
          He went on to insist that God has a purpose in allowing tragedy even though we may never understand why he allows it. We can find peace only by accepting God’s sovereignty in our lives and believing that in all things he is always working for our good. God is not accountable to us for his actions; on the contrary, we are accountable to God for our actions and reactions. And God loves us even when he allows bad things to happen in our lives.
          As much as I was able I surrendered my stubborn, agnostic questioning to God that week. I began to rethink our son’s death in a new way, a way that helped me see suffering in a new light. Slowly I tried to embrace the message God gave me through an English preacher I would never hear again. After 55 years I am still embracing his message for it is strong medicine.
          A few years later word came from England that Sangster was dying, having lost his voice to a muscular disease that was paralyzing his nervous system. The great pulpit voice would soon be silent in the grave. But before his death, he wrote a simple message to his new friend Billy Graham: “Tell people that the gospel works when a man is dying.”
Since that memorable summer I have journeyed to Lake Junaluska many times, heard many inspiring speakers, and enjoyed the beauty of those North Carolina hills. But seldom have I been as deeply moved by the words of a preacher.  
On a clear day I can close my eyes and still hear the thundering voice of Sangster reverberating within the walls of Stuart Auditorium bringing peace to my troubled soul. God spoke through the voice of a man and I heard him. I have never been the same.  + + +

Friday, August 5, 2011

You decide: Has this young man lost his mind?

Would you invest in this young man's vision?
       The deadline nears. A small group of friends and I are trying to raise thirty thousand dollars to help a young man spend a year in Africa. You may wonder if the poor fellow has lost his mind.
          He has quit a good job with a television station in Montgomery. Why? He says God has given him a vision. To fulfill that vision he must use his skill as a videographer to link 50 churches to 50 villages in Zambia that have no source of clean water. Each church would have its own village and assume responsibility for drilling a well in their village. Each well costs about $7,500.
          Ambitious? Yes, and truthfully quite overwhelming. So far he has two pastors and two churches committed to help. He needs only 48 more churches to reach his goal.
          Had the young man saved up enough money to pay his way to Africa? No, he is like most of us; he has very little money in savings. But our little group of his friends decided to help him anyway. A month or so ago we set out to raise thirty thousand dollars to fund the cost of cameras, video equipment, airline tickets and living expenses.
          How are we doing? So far we have raised about $19,000, so we need only $11,000 more. We don’t have much time left. The young man has secured airline reservations to fly out of Atlanta on September 21.
So how do you raise $11,000 in a month? You trust God and pray hard. And you ask your friends to consider helping. That is what I am doing by writing this piece. Fortunately our church has agreed to accept donations to fund this ministry. The address of Saint James UMC is 9045 Vaughn Road, Montgomery, AL 36117.
I see it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to partner with a young man who has a remarkable vision. I will understand if by now you decide to stop reading. You may be thinking, “The last thing I need is one more bleeding-heart appeal for charitable giving!” If so, move on and have a great day.
If you are still interested, you could check out the young man’s website. It is  His name is Jacob Eubanks. Jacob describes his mission very simply:
Water282 is tackling the world's leading health problem one well at a time, by connecting a local church to an African village in extreme poverty to supply clean drinking water and overflowing joy from the living water of the Gospel.
Jacob gets the “282” from the Bible – 2 Corinthians 8:2 – “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”
          Jacob has been to Zambia once, journeying their last fall with his pastor and others.  This is how he describes what happened:
In November 2010 a small team from our church (Saint James United Methodist in Montgomery) went to Zambia to do some scouting to see what our church could do to help the church there.  Little did we know that what we saw would change our lives forever.  
“We knew that there was a need for clean, safe water wells, but we had no clue what the scope of the need was.  We saw people getting water from the most unimaginable sources, from the filthiest, opaque water from hand dug wells, to crocodile-infested rivers or holes beside a Black Mamba den where every bucket is a gamble, to water sources miles away from people’s huts that they retrieved 5 gallons at a time.  And we knew that this was just the start of the problem, as the water they spent so much time getting and often risked their lives to get, was full of bacteria, parasites, and diseases.  You can hear about it all day, but when you see it first-hand, it messes with your world.
“On the plane ride back from Zambia, I heard God’s call more clearly than I ever have and probably ever will, telling me that He had placed everything I needed to do something about this problem in my hands already, and all I would have to do to make it happen is sell everything I own and pack up and move to Zambia.  Well, since you put it like that….. I’ll go.”
Well, there you have it. Has the young man lost his mind? I don’t think so. Every time I turn on the water in my home I think about the children in Zambia who are dying from waterborn diseases. That’s why I am doing what I can to help a young man with a vision provide clean water for thousands of poor people in those African villages. Thank you for listening to an old man’s appeal. + + +