Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reflections: Respect for a Fallen Comrade

Yesterday I read about a colleague who passed away in Ethiopia of malaria.  Though I didn’t personally know him I had heard of him, first, as a missionary in South Africa and more recently his plans to serve in South Sudan.  His death hits close to home as we share similar experiences.

Malaria is one of those viruses that have consequences like having a bad flu.  A mild case makes you feel terribly uncomfortable, burning up with high fever yet with chills, or, as in this case, can kill you.  I’ve known several East African missionaries who have contacted malaria and many of my Kenyan friends have died of complications of malaria.   I have been hospitalized twice with the bacterial virus caused by mosquitoes.   When I heard this morning that he was very ill I could empathize. 

This colleague was one of those guys who, evidently, weren’t content with status quo, and adventure, which is common among many of missionaries who work on the African continent.  With an open door of working in the newly formed country of South Sudan, this brother was looking for new frontiers.  One can only admire such a spirit.  In an age when career missionaries from the West are fewer than anytime in modern missions, we all feel a loss of great magnitude. 

Rex was 61 years old, just a few years younger than myself.  At that age one thinks, not about retirement, but how many more years you have left before the inevitability of a decaying body can withstand the rigors of working overseas.  The end of Rex’s journey came sooner than he expected, and causes those still in the trenches if we will finish the race in old age or go out while still actively doing the things we love for the One whom we love. 

My heart goes out to Rex’s wife and family.  The loss is only tempered with the assurance that the God he served, for whatever reason, took him in according to His purpose.  For those who serve our Lord on a foreign field there is a bit of admiration for guys like Rex.  We all know the dangers of disease, conflict and persecution, and we know, too, that risk management is a thing we should pay attention to but there are neither guarantees nor avoidance of danger.

Words of consolation are futile at this point.  But my respect for Rex and many more just like him is immeasurable.