Building Bridges

Tsidiky (Smile) needed help. Her daughter had just given birth and was not doing well. They had been in the hospital and, overwhelmed by patient upon patient with fever, the hospital sent them home immediately. Smile’s daughter was still very weak and unable to feed her baby; she was scared.

Smile cooks and cleans for some of our friends here, missionaries themselves from England. These friends speak French but Smile speaks the local Malagasy dialect. Since we see these English friends a good bit, I often translate bits of things for them (things that aren’t clear between them in French). So recently, our friends asked me to query Smile about her daughter. As soon as I asked Smile, the story poured out of her. She had wanted to ask off from work to tend to her daughter because no one else would care for her (the baby daddy was out of the picture), but she hadn’t known how or had the confidence to ask through the language barrier.

In the end, as I translated for both sides, our friends arranged for a French doctor to come by and check on Smile’s daughter. Smile had the rest of the day off and they gave her some money to take care of her little girl. That night, I could hear her smile over the phone as she profusely thanked me for enabling her to cross the language barrier. “Without you, nothing could have happened,” she said.

It has been said that missionaries are essential workers during this crisis. It’s true, the good news of how to be transformed in the midst of this crazy world is always essential, in times of global crisis or no. But I’ll be honest, sitting here at home today, distancing myself from others, while for the most part the world goes on around us, I do not feel essential.

In one sense, I’m clearly not an essential worker. I am not a nurse working an ICU shift, nobly caring for others at perhaps the highest personal risk. I am not, like a few friends in essential construction, working as normal everyday to make sure life can carry on. What I can do, what we are doing, is what we do best: we’re building bridges across cultures.

Missionaries do more than just tell people about Jesus

If you have truly grasped the story of how God became man to rescue us from evil and restore the world to perfect harmony, it transforms you. It compels you to tell everyone you can. That is what we call a Christian. A missionary is different. I would argue that even moving to another country and another culture doesn’t make you a missionary. Missionaries are Christians sent with the goal of communicating the good news in another language and culture. That one goal splinters off into thousands in real life as language and culture comprise so much (i.e. What words do you use to speak about Jesus? What should a Christian look like in this culture? What even is this culture? What do they hold most valuable? What mistakes has my culture made in the past with this culture? What even is my culture?).

Suffice it to say, being a missionary doesn’t mean I just tell people the story of Jesus in Madagascar. There are actually a lot of people already doing that (which I’ll get to in a moment). I do that because I’m a Christian, and I have just as much ability to do that working construction as I do as a missionary. I’m a missionary because I have devoted my life to adopting a way of life and way of speaking that acts as a bridge across cultures—a bridge upon which, I believe, Jesus’ scarred feet can walk into a Malagasy person’s life. And even that, I don’t do alone.

Missionaries don’t work alone

Jesus didn’t save us to just be his friends; we are invited into his family. One of the blessings of being a missionary is discovering hundreds upon thousands of brothers and sisters you never knew you had! Please remember, Christians like these are busy telling people the story of Jesus everyday. There were already hundreds of churches here before we came. It’s the same for a lot of the world. Are all the churches healthy? Loving people and telling the right story? Of course not. Just like our churches in America! I can say with confidence, however, if all the missionaries in Madagascar suddenly left, as they say here, sanatria (“heaven forbid”), there would still be people telling the story of Jesus.

In fact, as pertains to our work here, often the greatest gospel gains in our area have occurred while the missionaries were not here (visiting family, for instance). God started 6 churches here through missionaries (and all of those we had Malagasy brothers and sisters helping us). The other 194+ that we have now were planted solely by Malagasy believers, without missionary help. God is not restricted to American missionaries to reach the world.

Why are we here?

It’s scary being here. We’re locked down on an island with closed borders and limited medical care in the middle of a pandemic with two young kids. We’ve absolutely had thoughts of trying to get back. But God has us right here, right now. Why? I’m not exactly sure to be honest. I don’t think you should call me an essential worker. Just call me a missionary. Call me a bridge-builder.

Because in the end, I know Tsidiky (Smile) is right. Our friends were the ones who helped her—provided care. We just got to be the bridge, from one culture to the other and back with the love of Jesus. And I think it’s for things like this that God has us here. As things progress, pray with us that our presence here might continue to be a bridge for hope, help, and the Gospel here in Madagascar.

You do you

To sum up, the command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous.

John Stott, The message of the Sermon on the mount , 177.

This week, while at our local market, I gave some cash to some of the beggars there. Among them were some boys who divvied up the money and then followed me to another stop. When I came out, they started again, insisting they were different boys and I hadn’t given them anything. I didn’t berate them. In fact, I told them it’s fine to ask for money. But I also told them they didn’t need to lie. Lying is only going to hurt their relationship with God and others in the long run. We don’t have to be blind to be generous.

Matthew 7:1-12 is all about discernment. Living in the kingdom means seeing things as they are–not more, not less. We need to know God as he really is. We need to approach others as human beings. And we need to see ourselves as we really are.

This is not, “You do you.” In fact, Jesus followers are called to more responsibility: for ourselves and others. Jesus’ words are complicated by the fact that “judge” has negative connotations for us. Yet, even in English we still have “sound judgment” or a “good judge of character.” It may be help us understand what Jesus is saying if we pull apart the different senses of the word and translate 7:1-2a as, “Don’t condemn so that you will not be condemned. For in the way you evaluate, you will be evaluated.

And this carries the theme of discernment to 7:6. What’s up with the pigs and dogs? John Stott, from the quote above, goes on to say that rather we should be reasonable toward fellow humans instead of tearing them apart. That’s what separates us from animals. Interestingly, that’s what Jesus calls those who are unreasonable, who don’t know the difference between pearls and slop.

This seems to come from Proverbs 9:8, “Do not correct a cynic, or he will hate you; correct a wise man, and he will love you.”

Jesus wants those who follow him to be discerning enough to know when to help someone and when someone doesn’t want our help. Some people take this weird turn of phrase about pigs and dogs to mean we shouldn’t tell the good news to others. That’s ridiculous. The book of Matthew ends with the Great Commission (28:19-20). Jesus clarifies what he means here: “with the measure you use you will be measured,” (7:2). Later he clarifies again, “Do to others what you would have them do to you,” sums up the goal of all ethics (7:12).

Do we want others condemn us when they stand equally condemned? No. Do we want others to make snap judgments, call us pigs and not share the gospel with us? No. Again, this is not “You do you,” or “My truth.” This is living in a way that is deeply in tune with reality. We have to really get to know people: ourselves and others.


  • This Atlantic article describes a non-discerning, judgmental kind of “Christianity” some are noticing amid COVID-19.
  • As both D. A. Carson and Thabiti Anyabwile have preached from Matthew 7:1-12, the kingdom life is a life of perfect balance (though not necessarily perfect obedience . . . yet). We are to be equally understanding and yet discerning, forgiving and yet willing to confront, sharing the good news and yet making the most of our opportunities. 

“It is a wise Christian who first assesses the condition of a person’s heart before sharing the precious pearls.”

Warren Wiersbe

One of Two Different Options

Is our ambition for God or for success? Are our sights set on doing what God wants or doing what we want?

Jesus is constantly drawing a dichotomy seen not only in his teaching but throughout the biblical story. In a lot of ways, the biblical story can be reduced to a story of choice: a choice between one of two different options: store up treasures on earth or with God, be committed to God or a slave Mammon. fall-of-rome

Years ago, a bishop named Augustine spoke into moment similar to the one we’re in. The centuries-old Roman Empire had fallen. Chaos ensued. People were scared because they didn’t know what was coming next. Rome had been around for a long time. But also people were angry. Where was the God of the Christians, and why hadn’t he done anything?

Among many other things, Augustine argued that God was using the crisis of his day to strengthen the godly and smoke out evil (just like fire is used to purify gold and eliminate impurities). As he said it “the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked . . . So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them.”

He painted a picture of two realities, two cities or communities, to which every person belonged, either to the City of God or the City of Man. The City of God is a community of self-giving love, the City of Man is defined by twisted self-love. Just like its Founder and its citizens, the City of God would stand the test of time. The City of Man, no matter how much more attractive it was, would fall . . . just like Rome.

Rome fell, but the City of God and its citizens live on.

Thanks to Augustine, we’re reminded, we are all choosing everyday which kind of human we will be. What kind of people has COVID-19 shown us to be? Who is leading us, which community are we living in?

But as for the good things of this life, and its ills, God has willed that these should be common to both; that we might not too eagerly covet the things which wicked men are seen equally to enjoy, nor shrink with an unseemly fear from the ills which even good men often suffer. There is, too, a very great difference in the purpose served both by those events which we call adverse and those called prosperous. For the good man is neither uplifted with the good things of time, nor broken by its ills; but the wicked man, because he is corrupted by this world’s happiness, feels himself punished by its unhappiness.

Augustine of Hippo, City of God


  • Check out my video on Two Communities gospel tool. The goal is to learn to make your own sketch to share with others. Let us know when you make and share your own (video or in-person)!
  • Bible Project does a great job illustrating this idea in their video on biblical story
  • City of God is a massive tome, but so good. If you find yourself with a love for classics and a lot of time, check it out!

Not a loophole, not a platform


There’s a noticeable shift at Matthew 6:1 – 8 and beyond in Jesus’ most famous sermon.

He’s been addressing the ways people have created loopholes. For example, those saying, “God clearly said to love him and others . . . but certainly he didn’t mean THOSE people” (5:43). Instead, Jesus calls people back to true love for all people, no loopholes.

Now, he moves on to address hypocrisy . . . or what we might call platform. The word hypocrite comes from theatre. But think of it less as wearing a mask (i.e. saying one thing, doing another). That’s part of it, but if you think about a person who treats everything and everyone one else as part of their stage on which they perform, you’re getting closer. Jesus reminds us not everyone needs to know what you’re doing.

When I give is it to be seen as a generous person? Or is it to help those who need it? Are we doing good for a better platform, cultivating a persona, or are we only doing good to make our Father happy? He sees our secrets and our hearts (6:1 and 4).

True religion, love for God and others, is not a loophole, not a platform.


Recommended Resources:


Resisting vs. Retaliation

I need to go for a run.

For those of you who haven’t yet heard (I know that will be few), people in America are running 2.23 miles in honor of a young man named Ahmaud Arbery. On February 23 this year, he was ambushed and blasted with a shotgun in Georgia, U.S.A.

Why? He was jogging in the wrong neighborhood. (I would recommend Russell Moore’s summation of the situation).

Martin Luther King Jr. (like Ghandi in India or Mandela in South Africa) is one of those people who brought the Sermon on the Mount alive to a generation in America. His memory still looms large, especially given actions like these in our world, especially when we all have just been reading about non-retaliation in Jesus’ sermon on the mount.

MLK’s civil rights movement was predicated on the non-violent, non-retaliation taught in Matthew 5:38-48 . But MLK also understood that this was a strong, active love for neighbor and enemy alike; it was not a passive acceptance of evil. We are all called, like Jesus, then MLK, taught, to loving resistance, not hateful retaliation. The meek will inherit the earth. They are strong enough to absorb its insults, and shoulder the weight of injustice thrust upon them. But they are also blessed by their hunger and thirst for justice, for righteousness.

MLK proclaimed in a sermon, “But it is not enough for us to talk about love. There is another side called justice. And justice is love in calculation. Justice is love working against anything that stands against love. Standing beside love is always justice.”

A run is not going to change anything. But it is a start.

Recommended Resources:

It’s not the crisis . . . it’s me


One of the many cool scenes in the original Avengers movie was when Bruce Banner instantaneously transforms into Hulk. He doesn’t have to get worked up into a rage . . . he’s always angry.

It was so cool in the movie. But it sure ain’t when you’re a dad blowing up at your 3 year-old daughter.

I’ve been reintroduced to my anger since all this happened. I honestly don’t know what exactly it is. Is it the constant low-level stress of all this? Is it because we’re spending more time around each other? Honestly, it doesn’t matter why. I have been reminded that no matter how I like to think of myself, there is a hidden current of anger right below my surface. I’ve seen it surface it Chyella too, and I know exactly where she got it!

As I read Matthew 5:21-26, I was also reminded of this Mere Christianity passage:

“And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is? Sure what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am . . .”

What C. S. Lewis reminded me of is I am angry. It has nothing to do with the corona crisis . .  it’s just me. As our pastor illustrated recently, when you put pressure on a lemon by squeezing it, what’s inside comes out. We’re all being squeezed right now and anger is what is coming out of me.

Have you all found yourselves making excuses, anger or other things? I have to take my anger (and whatever else comes dripping out of me) to Jesus. As Lewis continues . . .

“And if (as I said before) what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about” (155).

What I primarily need is Jesus to do what I cannot and fill me with rivers of living water that overflow the banks of my hidden anger.

Realizing Jesus


Jesus’ words in today’s reading (Matthew 5:17-20) help us understand something about the whole Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says he isn’t destroying the law but fulfilling it (fuller explanation here on the law). I would say it like this: Jesus “realized” God’s vision for humanity. To “realize” is to “bring into concrete existence.” In financial terms, realized assets have been converted from intangible stocks into real cash money! Jesus is not reconfiguring God’s ideal but making it a reality in himself. As we continue, remember, these are not just rules for an ideal society—all impossible to follow. These are all rules for an ideal society made real and alive in our King Jesus, and we too are called to realize this in our own lives, through him. By ourselves, yes, these ideals are impossible to follow—but our King who lived them out is not. He will make these truths alive and real in our own lives as well.

For those of you following the Pentecostal Devotional with us, you’ve already received this in email. We wanted to give people a way to interact with one another and be able to share with each other what we’re learning.

We got the idea from one of our sisters in South Africa, Donné. She shared with us last night over email:

“Thank you for this opportunity to read, pray and listen to God together. I’m so very thankful to God for you initiating this.

I’m thankful for the reminder today, that Jesus has fulfilled the law and that through Him, His grace and guidance by His Holy Spirit I can strive to keep the law, to glorify God in response to His sacrifice for me. I must admit when I caught up day 1s reading of the Beatitudes, my heart was overwhelmed. I honestly don’t even remember them all, nevermind try do them all. I did ask God to guide me if there’s one specifically I need to focus on. I realise again, that my heart attitude is what matters. The Bible project clip you sent also helped me see that God is at work to change my heart as naturally it opposes God. I’m thankful for His work in me and that Jesus is my righteousness. This encourages my heart deeply today. “All praise to you Lord Jesus.”

In response to day 2, our reading about salt and light… The imagery where God asks/commands us “not be hidden”.  Salt and light (and lack thereof) is noticed in our daily lives. I’ve noticed in the lockdown that I’ve struggled emotionally and then naturally want to withdraw. I’ve given up because it’s difficult to be salt and light. John 16:33 reminded me that there will be trouble in this world, Jesus has overcome that. I also realized that if I give up and withdraw, I cease to be a witness for God, His might and power. So when I feel like withdrawing I turn to God to strengthen and nourish me, and ask, Lord, how can I bear witness of you now? I understand that others need to hear about Jesus and His love and me withdrawing/giving up impacts the Kingdom of God. Coming back to salt and light, God is calling us to be noticed, not for our glory, but for His glory, such it states in verse 16.

I’m humbled by all that God is teaching me.

If this would help others, I don’t mind if it’s shared.”

We were so grateful for Doneé’s honesty and thoughtful encouragement. Everyone feel free to follow suit and share what you’re learning and being challenged with here in this space. Let’s learn together.

A few other helpful resources for these chapters:good crisis

  • This article a brief, helpful overview as we read through the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Our Good Crisisoffers some cultural analysis through the lens of the Beatitudes, which we’ve just read. Full disclaimer, I haven’t read the book, but I have found the author insightful in other books.
  • Here’s a Bible Project video about the Law (tagged above).

Praying in Pentecost

During this Easter, as we read to Chyella from our Jesus Storybook Bible,  we were struck by the length of time between Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. How many questions the disciples must have had!

After celebrating Easter morning, and hanging around for a while, Jesus left. Much like us now, the disciples sheltered in-place, waiting on something to change—waiting on God to move at Pentecost. It struck us how we have, in many ways globally, been brought back to such a moment.

So why don’t we, like them, focus on prayer? Until this year’s Pentecost on May 31, let’s return to what makes us a community together in Jesus, and ask to be empowered, waiting and listening. Who knows what may happen?

We’ve created a devotional for the month of May leading up to Pentecost (May 31). If you’d like to join us in reading, praying and listening together, please take our Pentecost Devotional.

For those of you who have already joined us through our April Update, follow us here to post your own insights and challenges. We’ve already been encouraged by your responses and would love to use this space to interact with and encourage one another during this month.

Love to you all!

COVID 19 and the Least of These

WHO map of plague in 2017

In 2017, it was the Black Plague in Madagascar. The end of 2018 saw Madagascar brave another epidemic—this time measles. It’s no surprise then that most Malagasy are jumpy at the thought of another viral wave. They’re more than accustomed to sickness and death.

It’s always easy to get absorbed in our own everyday. How much more so now?

We all have a lot of anxiety, questions, and—if social media is any indication—lots of opinions about how everybody else should be handling this crisis. Yet, the reality is, this pandemic affects different communities to different lengths. Africa in general is affected differently than America. Cameroon, Zimbabwe, India and Bangladesh all have similar (but also different) stories in the news that should summon our empathy. Let me also give you a window into the COVID-19 crisis here in Madagascar:

I went around to our different church communities in town as word spread that corona virus had officially arrived in Madagascar. Everyone was scared. With more speculation than information. Everyone assumed that it was either a hoax or it would kill us all (and they don’t even have a 24/7 news cycle here!)

As one alarmist summarized, “First, it was cholera, then bubonic, then our babies died from measles. Now, corona virus will finish us off!” I was passing out soap and explaining how washing your hands was a good idea—all the time, not just now, but especially now. But even as I sat there and explained about basic principles (i.e. wash your hands, drink lots of water, stay a meter apart, etc.), I got sad.

Washing hands from a cup

We were sitting in a 5 foot by 5 foot tin building. About fifteen people sat shoulder to shoulder, then did their best to move a meter apart as did my corona spiel. Even then, young kids were constantly running in and out, most of them stopping to caress my arm before they reach into the communal food dish.

Most of us cannot even comprehend—unless you’ve spent significant time in these communities—how pointless all of the corona best practices are to them. The people who live here are not stupid or disgusting. Most of them would love to wash their hands several times a day, drink more water, eat plenty, and be further apart. But they can’t!


You can’t wash your hands or drink more water when there is no water. You can’t eat food that’s not there. And you can’t maintain distance when your houses are not even a meter apart and you live on a 20 by 20 plot with your extended family of 50. And if you think those things are easy to fix—as we ourselves have thought at times—then consider . . .

  • Communities share a centrally located pump that is some distance away. Every family can only collect so much water each day, usually between 5 to 10 gallons per household.
  • You can only build houses where you have land. Most land is already owned in town. So the little plot your grand-dad bought way back when is now the only spot his kids and grandkids have.
  • You can only get more food in one of two ways: farming or buying. To farm you need land, which most people don’t have here in town. If you have land it’s far away, making it logistically difficult. But right now that’s a moot point when we’re past rainy season. Otherwise, you have to buy your food. Which is a problem if you’re being told to stop working and stay home.

One of the guys there asked me what people were doing in America. I told him many people were staying home to keep the virus from spreading as quickly. He nodded and said he had seen pictures of people bringing food to Americans in their houses. “But here,” he said, “No one’s bringing food to us if we stay home!” Then I nodded. He’s exactly right.

“Look,” I said, “It’s true. The best way to stop the virus from spreading is for everyone to stay home. But that’s impossible for you all here. Do you all have food stored at home?” They almost spat. Of course they didn’t! “Well then, you have to go work and buy food or you’ll just starve at home, right?” They all agreed. This is the reality facing many, many people around the world right now.

I don’t know how Madagascar will weather the COVID storm. Most people don’t live over 60 anyway, yet most of our friends have underlying conditions (tuberculosis, asthma, cancer, auto-immune disorders, etc.) They say the heat will change things, yet we already have confirmed cases. Just about everyone in the world is facing some kind of economic difficulty, yet, here in Madagascar, as in the rest of the majority world, there is far less buffer against uncertainty and suffering.

What I know is God is kind and just. So please, as some missionaries in Cameroon put it, consider how God has blessed you in your quarantine (and other measures against the virus). Meanwhile, please pray for the vulnerable near and far. The churches here took the soap I gave them that day and split it to share with the most vulnerable around them—especially those who they know are eternally vulnerable without Christ. The most poignant thing they shared was the gospel—always a practical, timely message. Hearing that made me glad.

People in the community showing the soaps they received

I truly believe God is using the shock of this virus to wake us up. I believe that is true for Madagascar as well. But please, remember your brothers and sisters around the world who do not have the same options many of us (including my family!) have. Lift them up to the Father. He knows what he is doing, but that doesn’t mean we should forget to intercede, especially, for those more vulnerable than us.


Here again are links on how the virus is affecting different countries and communities around the world:

Africa in general 





Roger: The End

Jesus’ body, the church, revealed God to Roger. It gave him a family. And at the end, it revealed itself again to others—this time through the life of the man it had saved so many years ago.

20180127_105931 2

The End

We had noticed Roger was sleeping more and snoring very loudly. Honestly, everyone was relieved he was sleeping. It meant he was at peace and we weren’t having to move him or feed him or bathe him. He had always been a big snorer, so no one really thought anything of it. But when the nurse came to check up on him, she called us all into the room. “He’s actively dying,” she said. The weight that had been looming over all of us finally settled. She explained how to position him for comfort, how to administer the morphine, and what we would be looking for as he grew weaker. This sweet nurse was also a Christian, we discovered. As she explained how this time was for the person to make their peace with God, we all responded, “Oh, he’s been at peace with God for a while. He made the decision to follow Jesus years ago.”

Throughout those few days of Roger “actively dying,” and watching as he slowly passed away, we were each struck by the palpable peace in it all. Had God not revealed himself and Jesus not changed Roger’s life all those years ago, the scene would have been much different. Can you imagine sitting there willing for the person with a diseased brain to suddenly become coherent enough to make the most important decision of their life? Instead, we all sat there in shifts, knowing that God had prepared Roger for the journey well in advance. Nothing was dependent on Roger. Everything, including Roger, was safely in Jesus’ hands.

Tessa and I had struggled with the decision to return to America from our work in Madagascar. There is no standard timeline with Alzheimer’s, and we were at a loss to know when the right time to return would be. A year after we left, Tessa and I had independently prayed and felt right about coming back for a couple of weeks to visit her family. It was on that trip that God solidified for Tessa the desire to come back and take care of Roger when things got really tough. When he fell in November the following year, none of us really knew if that time had come yet. It was certainly not a positive development but it could still be years before he needed full time care. With a lot of prayer and inner turmoil, we made the decision to send Tessa home for a month to assess the situation. About a week after she arrived, he fell again. He appeared to have been making progress with his physical therapy, but something was still not right. We then planned for me to return as well and transition away from Madagascar to helping to provide full-time care for Roger.

After Tessa and our daughter, Chyella, picked me up from the airport, we stopped by Roger and Karen’s for me to say hello. Roger greeted me with a smile and pat on the back. He had obviously deteriorated physically (he spent most of the day sitting in a recliner at that point) but he was still alert and recognized me. As I sat there with him he put his hand on my shoulder and gazed meaningfully at me as he teared up. I responded to what I assume he was trying to tell me and assured him I was here to take care of him and his family, as his son-in-law. It was a moment I will never forget.

The next morning, as our family began breakfast after a month apart, we got a call. Roger had fallen again. This time Roger could not help at all to stand himself back up. Thankfully, I had just arrived and could lift him myself and get him back to his chair—something the women would have struggled to do themselves. Even in this, God’s timing was perfect.

The next few weeks, Roger deteriorated rapidly. With Roger’s every new low we were so grateful to God that he had led us to come when we did. There was no way we could have known. Only because of God’s kindness were we right where we needed to be at the exact right time. He had prepared us for this a year ago by prompting us to visit and showing Tessa what needed to happen. And now here we were, Roger now officially dying on the day in April we had originally planned to leave from Madagascar. We would have been too late.

The night before he died, we all sat beside Roger: Karen, Tessa, Molly, and me. We were listening to his rhythmic breathing (made less painful by the morphine) as the pallor of death grew. I think we all cherished the opportunity to sit, sing, and talk to him one last time—sharing our final thoughts in the reverie of his room. Those last few hours were surreal as we seemed to sit there still beside him while, in some unseen way, Roger made his way through the valley shrouded in death and ascended that final mountain. There at the top, he slowly pulled his knees up and cocooned himself, waiting not for the end but rather a new beginning. There was a whispered calm that night. Truly, though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, we feared no evil, for Jesus was with us, comforting us like the Good Shepherd he is.

We had sat in shifts throughout the night, never all sitting in there at the same time. Later the next morning we all assembled and ate breakfast together, then slowly trickled back into Roger’s room. It seems Roger sensed everyone was back together—and he was ready. With his wife and daughters in the room with him, Roger let go of this life and stepped into the next, running to the One who had always loved him and adopted him into his eternal family.

It wasn’t until later my own father and mother reminded me. Roger had died two years to the day that we left for Madagascar in 2017. Only God could have done what he did in our lives over those two years and yet simultaneously arranged for us to come back at the exact right time to be with Roger.

The cold chill in my soul was warmed by the kind warm sun in the Spring air as I walked outside. I had just watched Roger step into the afterlife. A friend from church had just arrived with lunch, reaffirming one last time for Roger that God was with him in all seen and unseen ways. In the wake of death, I think everything grows a little lighter and less stable. It felt as if that soft breeze might carry me away with all that I knew. Underneath that shaken certainty, however, and past the unstoppable force of mortality, was something more real than me or the cars zipping along the road beside the house. It was more real than the chirping birds, the swaying maples or the brightly shining sun. Past all this was the bedrock-solid reality of a personality of powerful love: aware of all that was going on, conducting it all, and reaching out in affectionate care. When everything else was exposed as fleeting and fickle, Jesus stood taller and more real. He was with us.

Roger was a draftsmen. He loved the calculations and sketch work for building new structures. Roger will not be remembered for the buildings he helped build, or for any great achievements. He will also not be remembered as a poor slug of a man who limped through the end of his life as another whitewashed victim of Alzheimer’s. Roger will be remembered by his family—his wife and daughters, his son-in-law and granddaughter, and his spiritual family in the church—as a man in whose life Jesus made all the difference. Roger’s life had been torn down and then rebuilt on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. And although Alzheimer’s leveled all the terrible weight and fury of its malevolence on him, it could never separate Roger from the One who loved him.