Friday, January 12, 2007

A Life Hidden

Many years ago I visited Mali, West Africa. Mali is one of those countries in the world that gets little notice. It’s poor, hot and insignificant. It’s greatest claim to fame is that there is a city in the north called Timbuktu, and though many have heard of it, few know that it is really a city and that it is in this non-descript country.

In a village called Keniba, there is a hospital built by a missionary by the name of Robert Correll. Correll was the son of the founder of a mission agency called United World Mission and he had a tragic death. One night, in the mid-60’s, Correll was trying to siphon gas into his Land Rover by the light of a kerosene lantern. As the story was told to me, he sucked too much gas into this mouth and instinctively spit the petrol out in the direction of the lantern. Immediately engulfed in flames his body was so badly burned that he only lived a couple of days. When I visited Keniba in 1992 I saw where he was buried, in the tall grass in an abandoned compound. The hospital was, for the most part, also abandoned, used primarily for storage of grain.

As I think of this missionary I never knew and few have heard of, it causes me to pause and ask questions of life and legacy. In today’s world where success is measured by the size of the project, its effectiveness, it’s “bang for the buck,” what good was Correll's life? There seemingly is no lasting fruit from Correll's existence on earth…no thriving church, no ongoing presence of a medical mission to help the disadvantaged. It’s as if his life didn’t matter and in the end, his death was a cruel reward for his sacrifice to a thankless people.

Correll did live; he did exist. And though the efforts of his life are not seen today it is because of our, my, inability to see God’s eternal handiwork. Correll lived for his day, not necessarily for legacy. All the education he accumulated in becoming a medical doctor, the money raised for his support and building of hospital was for a brief snapshot in time. Wasted? If that is my conclusion then I will have to take it up with the One who orchestrated Correll’s life, work and death. Harnessed with the limits of time, I do not now see those who were influenced by Correll’s life. Did his brief existence bring one or two people to know the love of Christ through his humanitarian efforts? Though the church in Keniba is small, are they not enough to justify the life of a young doctor whose remains are hidden in an African field?

Correll’s story is sobering. What is mission effectiveness? How is success measured? Perhaps we have it all wrong. Life is for what we accomplish for the moment, not a legacy to build. The ongoing results of a life well lived will continue, though as hidden as unmarked grave, until it all is revealed in eternity.