Archives for July 31, 2012

Flying Home from Africa

Woodcutter in Mozambique

In the next few posts I would like to return to the end of my trip to Africa, and update you as well on events since then.

The long trek home began in the back end of a large, bouncy truck, included a quick stop at a souvenir shop, where we watched three men carve figurines from beautiful, dark wood. They will spend an entire day on one piece and then be grateful to sell it for $5. The average full-time employee in Mozambique earns $4 a day or about $110 a month. Most of the shops are owned not by local people, but by the Chinese and other nationalities. You can imagine this may create some tensions.

Nampula has 400,000 people but no malls and no large stores. They did have a Shoprite Store for a few years, which was great, as the local people could then get almost everything they needed at one stop. But its owners in South Africa became suspicious that embezzlement was taking place, and before they could investigate the whole building burned to the ground.

On the flight from Nampula to Johannesburg I sat next to a white woman who grew up in Zimbabwe. She looked much older than she was. She and her husband, who are Christians, have tried to start several businesses throughout their lifetime, but all to no avail. Customers often don’t pay for services rendered. Moreover, each time they acquired a few earthly possessions, thugs broke into their home and stole it all—even down to food from the cupboard and drinks from the fridge. They have been left “penniless many times,” she said. Now they are in dire straits and pray daily for God’s provision.

To go from the poverty of Nampula to the luxury of the Johannesburg airport is a bit of a culture shock. The 17-hour overnight flight from South Africa to Washington, D.C. (with one drop down in Senegal), went well despite my exhaustion. I enjoyed editing Dr. Andrew Woolsey’s doctoral dissertation on the development of covenant theology. What a ground-breaking book this is! I am so glad that Reformation Heritage Books is going to publish it.

My flight landed three hours late in Washington D.C., so I missed my flight to Chicago. That was the beginning of a strange 10-hour saga in which I tried to get tickets to Chicago and on to GR—first, successfully; then, unsuccessfully, as my boarding passes didn’t register after all. Meanwhile, Mary called me and told me that my dear mother was dying, which made getting home all the more urgent. Finally, I got on standby to Chicago. Because the plane stayed at the gate for an extra hour to take on additional customers, I then missed my Grand Rapids connection.

All the Chicago-Grand Rapids flights were full for the remainder of the day and evening, but in God’s kindness, I managed again to get on by standby. The fact that my mother was dying did not help at all, but having “Silver Elite” status as a “frequent flyer” did, as I was put at the head of the standby list on both occasions. Had that not been the case, I would not have been able to make it home at all that day. As it was, I didn’t arrive home until 8:00 p.m. It took me 39 hours to get from Mozambique to Grand Rapids—the longest airport trek of my life. One could fly around the world in that amount of time!

Our family went straight from the airport to Kalamazoo to see my dying mother. After praying, singing, and talking, we said a second tearful goodbye, telling her that we would meet her on the other side, God willing, to spend an eternity together praising Christ. We then drove up to Grand Rapids to see Johanna Mast, who was in the same condition as my mother. After visiting with them, and working our way through pre-arrangements for a potential funeral, I finally arrived home just before midnight.


Tribute to a Praying Mother

This month was bittersweet; it ended with the loss of our dear mother, Johanna Beeke, at the ripe age of 92, after a lengthy illness and many tearful goodbyes. As a family, we experienced in the loss of our dear mother that “man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets” (Eccl. 12:5). A huge empty place has been left behind in our family.

Our mother died in faith, with dignity, in Christ. We lost a praying mother, but we have not lost her prayers. Matthew Henry said of parents that they could far better leave behind for their children a treasury of prayers than a treasury of gold and silver. We have been blessed in this way as children more than almost anyone else we know on this earth. What a treasury is laid up in store for us in the prayers of our dear mother and father! And what responsibility is now ours! The legacy, the heritage, the mantle is now passed on to us.

The testimonies of many who came to the visiting hours the evening of July 27 and the following day about my mother were humbling, encouraging, and sometimes tear-producing all at once. On Saturday, I conducted the funeral for my dear mother, preaching on John 14:1–3, the first text that the Lord made very special to her after he had begun to work savingly in her soul. It was difficult at the beginning to contain my emotions, but as the text unfolded before me, the Lord gave an increasing measure of liberty. How bittersweet that hour was!

Before the funeral, my brother Jim spoke to the family. My mother, who had been an only child, had five children, thirty-five grandchildren, ninety-two great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild—133 in all! Though a number of the great-grandchildren were not able to be present, the family gathering was still sizable. I spoke at the graveside from Revelation 21:5, followed by my oldest brother John, who also thanked various people, and closed with prayer, after which we sang Psalter 203 (Ps. 73), and then fellowshipped at the NRC Christian School in Kalamazoo.

The following morning I preached at Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Hudsonville, and in the evening at our own church, on Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”

Throughout the month of July—perhaps the busiest month of my life—I have felt the sustaining hand of God in an unusual way. He enabled me to preach thirty times on three continents, with about 25,000 in attendance in all. To Him be all the praise and the glory! May eternity reveal the fruit.  I now look forward to a much more calm and restful August in Grand Rapids, the Lord willing.

We’ll miss our dear mother’s sweet smile, her kindness, her godliness. We’ll miss caring for her. Dad used to often say to us, “You will never be able to repay all that your mother has done for you.” By God’s grace, we count it an honor as a family that we could repay a little, so that through 24/7 care in recent years she could stay in her own home until the end, which was always her desire. But now, how shall we begrudge her her place at our dear father’s side singing praise to the Triune God without any infirmity? She is now in the church triumphant forever! Soli Deo Gloria!

May God prepare us all to meet Him clothed in the white-robe righteousness of Immanuel. Dear friend, if Christ were to send His angel of death to harvest you today, would it be eternally well with your soul? Are you resting for this life and a better in Christ’s righteousness alone?