The first time I met Robert*, he sat quietly with shoulders hunched, looking like he wanted to melt into the white plastic chair we’d offered him. His gaze fell to the floor, eyes telling a story devoid of hope or joy. Most men his age would have traveled alone, but Robert came with his father, who now spoke on his behalf. The reason was clear – a massive tumor protruded from Robert’s jaw, hindering his ability to eat or speak, and bringing him ridicule or rejection from most of society.
The two had traveled several days from their village to reach our hospital, in hopes that Robert could receive surgery and leave his tumor behind. For the next few days as he awaited surgery, shame and fear kept Robert secluded in his room, hidden away from everyone else in our center.
But when the morning of his surgery finally came, Robert was nowhere to be found. He’d heard the fearful rumors of his village louder than the reassurances of his father. He ran away at the last minute, terrified of the one place offering free relief from his burden.
When Robert disappeared, his father spent every minute trying to find him. After about a week, Robert returned in spite of the fear and had a successful surgery. Not only that, but a few months later he returned with 4 friends from his village to see if they could also receive help for their medical needs! Once crippled by fear, he now wanted others to know the freedom he’d found. I hardly recognized the young man in front of me who now stood tall and confident, grinning ear to ear.
The details of Robert’s experience go far beyond my ability to understand or relate to – so I want to be sure I don’t minimize that in any way when I say this – but on some level, there’s something about his story that resonates. The voices of our culture, people close to us, and our own doubts and fears speak loudly at times, telling us what to value and how to live; clamoring for us to cling to the security we think we can see, even in times when God is calling us to embrace risk and make decisions that require complete trust in him. Whose voice will we hear louder?
When I look at fear through the lens of this story, it becomes powerless. I see the reflection of the One who is worthy of my love and trust. While we may not always understand what he asks of us and it may be a long and windy road before we see the purpose in some of it, he is good and his ways ultimately lead to freedom. May we set aside our own village rumors and trust fully in the reassurances of our Father.
Rachel Olson recently moved back to the United States after making Africa home for 2 years. She hopes to live there again someday soon, where she enjoyed sharing life with hospital patients, learning (and eating!) new things and seeing God offer hope in life’s hard places. Here in the US, she loves a good street taco, card game or deep conversation with friends and family. She longs to see Jesus at work in all of life’s changes, joys, and struggles, and writing helps her make a little more sense of it all. You can find more from Rachel on her blog and Instagram.