He swatted the mosquito hovering over his arm. Sweat dripped off his elbows as he paced. The jungle heat was overwhelming this evening as Matu waited outside his house at the edge of the village. Hana, his six year old daughter, was not getting better. Not again. His anger grew, and tears ran down his face. He had lost two other children. But they were in the jungle, away from the missionaries. This time, he had done it right. He had brought Hana to the missionaries, Ed and Valerie. They had given Hanna medicine. They had prayed for her. Yet, here he was, in the middle of the night, pacing, as his daughter’s fever rose.
In a house across the river, Ed woke up to his midnight alarm and prepared to walk over and give Hana her medicine. But before he could get out the door he heard it. The wailing had started. Hana had died. Valerie rolled over in bed and looked at him. What were they going to say to Matu? They had poured out their hearts in prayer to the Lord, pleading with Him to save this precious girl, with full confidence that He would use this moment to display His glory to this remote tribe. Now, she was dead.
Rage and grief were swallowing him as Matu cradled Hana, willing life to return to her body. Hot tears blurred his vision, as he sat with her. The women surrounding the house were caked in proper mourning attire– mud. The wailing grew louder as other villagers joined in the cultural grief process. The cloud of grief and fear in the village was almost as stagnant as the still morning air. Someone was to blame. Their culture demanded that. Nothing happened as a standalone coincidence. Everything in life was impacted by the spiritual realm. Someone had done wrong or, worse, cursed Matu’s family.
As tension in the village thickened, Matu left his house. Taking deep breaths, he regained some composure. Collecting the bucket and towel used to help keep Hana cool, he strode down the path to the river. He would let the grievers make the arrangements in the house as he returned these items to the missionaries.
Valerie walked out to the porch to meet Matu, her heart heavy. She met his gaze, the hurt written all over his face. Her prayers mirrored the questions he asked. “I don’t understand. This wasn’t supposed to happen. God was supposed to heal Hana. Why didn’t He? Why did she die?”
Valerie didn’t have the answers. As the tears rolled down her cheeks, she replied, “I don’t know, Matu. But I know that He is worthy of our trust.” He looked away, and then back at her, his eyes pleading for a different answer. When none came, he turned and slowly walked back towards his house. Valerie, heart aching, continued praying.
It didn’t make sense. Matu stopped, standing knee-deep in the river. He looked up, hoping the heavens would provide an answer. Nothing. He looked down at his feet, the river rushing by, and let the rage wash over him. If this God the missionaries talked about wouldn’t answer him, then he could make sense of this heartache alone. Someone must have cursed his family. He stepped out of the water and headed down the path. His stride quickened, his eyes narrowing. He would take care of this. Someone would receive the wrath for what had been done to his family, his precious Hana.
Marching into the village, he grabbed the spear leaning against his house. The wailers paused, watching Matu. His wife yelled at Matu to stop, to return and hold Hana’s lifeless form. But he continued. He began shouting, letting his rage take words, growing louder with each house he passed. He finally stopped in the middle of some houses at the other end of the village. He paced back and forth, shaking the spear, making it clear that whoever was to blame would have to pay.
Valerie could hear the shouting as she entered the village. She knew immediately what was happening. She had witnessed this scene many times over the years and knew that the only way this usually ended was with blood drawn as villagers took sides in battle. She quickened her step and continued praying, “Lord, give me words. Give me the words to give to Matu, to help, to heal, and to point him to You.”
“Matu.” She put her hand on his shoulder, and he stilled out of respect for her. She met his eyes and saw there the hurt and the steel rage.
“The Lord declares that vengeance is His, Matu. If someone has done something wrong, the Lord will take care of it.” Valerie paused, searching his face to see if he understood. Matu was taking it in so she continued. “But now, you need to lead your family. You need to point them to the Lord. And this isn’t leading well. Starting this fight won’t help you or your family. You need to take care of your children who are still here.”
Valerie watched Matu in the silence, praying all the while that God would be at work. Matu was in turmoil, the grief overwhelming. He stared at the spear in his hands, thinking of all the other times he had been in this same place. He processed what Valerie had said. He knew some of the Scriptures and knew that God was said to be faithful and trustworthy. This fight had never helped the situation before. He thought of all the times this rant turned to a battle, which ended up with a friend wounded on the ground. This wouldn’t bring his Hana back. It would just bring more pain and heartache.
Valerie watched as Matu’s shoulders dropped. He put down the spear, and as the tears rolled down his cheeks, he walked back towards his family. The villagers watched in shock and silence. Rebuttals to his verbal attacks had gone unspoken and no one had been required to pick up weapons and fight. The physical battle was over before it began. But Valerie knew the emotional and cultural battle had just begun for Matu. He had made a countercultural stand, which some might see as weak. But Valerie saw it as the answer to her prayers. God was at work in this heart wrenching situation and He is trustworthy. Matu had embraced that truth.