Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. Psalm 27:7-10 (KJV)
No ringing bells or wailing sirens directed me to jump up and trudge to the next scheduled event. I was on holiday. In the relaxing days following Christmas at our mission station in southwestern Nigeria, I settled into home life, happy to be back from my first semester at boarding school.
While Mom and Dad worked in the mornings, I played cars with my younger brother Mark and served tap water in toy teacups to my dollies. And now that I was six years old, I could read The Little Red Caboose and other stories to baby Grant.
Enjoying Life at Home
my imagination soaring on flights of fancy, enjoying life with families who lived with their kids at home.
Every afternoon Mom took a break from her mission work and rested on her bed. Larry, Mark, and I played quietly or read books while she and the baby napped. Over and over, I read the Lady Bird series, my imagination soaring on flights of fancy, enjoying life with families who lived with their kids at home.
“We were too busy at KA,” I said to Larry, my older brother who had been at boarding school with me. “I’m so glad we’re home so I can read as much as I want.”
He smiled and gave me a quick hug. “Me too, Sis.”
When rest hour ended, Mom served us tasty snacks. She knew my favorites and often made brownies, fudge, or chocolate cupcakes with white icing, filling our house with the sweet smell of cocoa, sugar, and vanilla.
In the evening after dinner, we gathered in the living room for my favorite part of the day: family devotions.
If Mom had extra minutes, she sat in the tiny seat at my children’s table on the front porch and drank milky tea with me. In the warm, tropical air, we sipped from dainty cups and giggled as she shifted around to balance in her chair. Then she walked down the hill to finish her afternoon job at Titcombe College.
In the evening after dinner, we gathered in the living room for my favorite part of the day: family devotions. With the six of us together—Mom and Dad seated in the white wicker chairs and us four kids on the old couch—we read our special children’s books about Jesus.
A low chuckle from baby Grant when I tickled his toes to get his attention made me laugh out loud. The sweet, halting voice of five-year-old Mark as he prayed for the family told me he had grown up while I was away at school.
Bad News Bursts My Bubble
The sweet scent of hibiscus flowers in the hedge along our driveway lulled me into a peaceful, dreamy state of all’s right with the world
A week later, the bright sun warmed my shoulders as I knelt in the soft sand to play Matchbox cars with my brothers, driving along a network of carefully built roads in our dirt driveway. Above my head, a lazy blue-green dragonfly flitted left, then right, then back again. The sweet scent of hibiscus flowers in the hedge along our driveway lulled me into a peaceful, dreamy state of all’s right with the world.
Larry sat quietly beside me. When I glanced at him, his lips turned down in a frown.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
His reply crashed through my cozy cocoon. “Our Christmas Holiday is almost over. In seven days, we go back to KA.”
My stomach clenched with fear. “No! I’m never going back.”
Mom heard through the kitchen window, and she let out a long sigh. “Yes, honey. I’m afraid it’s true. The flight schedule just came this morning on the radio. You fly back next week.”
I stood up, crossed my arms over my chest, and turned a defiant face toward her. “I hate that place. You can’t make me go back!”
“That’s where all the mission kids go, and you need a good education. Think of your friends here who will be at KA. With them gone, Egbe would be boring for you.”
“No Mommy, I won’t ever be bored here! But if I go, I’ll miss you terribly.” My chin wobbled, and my voice rose an octave. “You and Daddy are teachers at Titcombe College! Why can’t you teach me here?”
Please Don’t Make Me Go
“Dad and I teach high school and college classes on the British system. We couldn’t possibly tutor our children, too.” Mom walked down the cement steps, drying her hands on a faded dish towel, and she put one arm across my shoulders. I stiffened and turned away.
“Besides, I have some good news for you,” she said. “In April, I’m going to have another baby. Dad and I will fly to KA, so the baby can be born at Jos Hospital, and we’ll bring Mark and Grant, of course. You’ll see all of us then.”
I’m not sure I want a new baby, I thought. Oh, I have an idea!
“Can I stay home and help take care of it? Please, please, please!”
Mom shook her head and her eyes looked sad. She said, “I’m so sorry, Debbie. That just won’t work.”
Drama at the Airstrip
No! I’m not going back! Put me down
The next week, when we arrived at the airstrip, the tangy smell of aviation fuel stung my nose.
“Don’t make me go,” I said to Mom, as I stood stiff-legged beside our blue Volkswagen.
The pilot called for the kids to get in the plane, but I planted my heels into the loose, red, African dirt. Mom scooped me up.
“No! I’m not going back! Put me down,” I said and let out an angry scream in her ear. Struggling to get out of her arms, I kicked and elbowed her middle, but she gripped tighter and climbed the steps onto the plane.
Holding the door open, the pilot helped my mom climb over the front passenger seat. Mom pressed my bottom into the back seat and snapped the seat belt in place. I grabbed her arms, burrowed my face into her chest and took a deep choking breath of her familiar, fresh-laundry scent.
The older girl next to me tried to cheer me up. “KA’s so much fun, Debbie! Think of all your friends. We’ll help you get settled again.”
My throat burned. I dug my fists into my eyes to stop the flow of tears and said, “I want my mommy to come with me!”
Standing on the wing, Mom ducked her head inside. “Remember, Sweetie. We’ll come to see you in April, with a new brother or sister.” Her voice sounded cheery, but her light-brown eyes looked watery.
Another flood of tears spilled down my cheeks, and I croaked out, “Good-bye, Mommy. I love you! Please hurry and come to KA.”
The engine sputtered, the propeller spun, and plane took off, circling once above the airstrip. I waved in my window as Mom got smaller and smaller. Finally, the wings rose, and she was gone.
When I first announced I wouldn’t return, my parents thought I’d gradually get over the idea. They soon realized I was serious, but the mission didn’t offer any other options. After hearing how the previous era of missionaries left their children in the U.S. with care-givers for four years at a stretch, Mom and Dad understood that having their kids home for summers and Christmas vacation was a much better option.
This month, Mom and I have found healing together as we discussed and cried over this memory. She reminded me that the next year, Mark turned six and was due to go to KA, but he was too young and his spirit too tender, so she kept him home an extra year. I think she knew her heart would break if she had to put another child on an airplane so soon.
Although I lived at school eight months of the year, I never felt like the girls’ dorm was my home, and I counted the days until I could go back to Egbe where I felt safe in God’s loving care. I didn’t know how I would bear leaving home again, and it seemed as though no one was listening to me or hearing my needs.
Link it to Your Life
Was there a time in your life when something you desperately wanted was just out of reach? When the people you loved most were not available or didn’t notice you? How did you try to get your needs met? Perhaps you’ve felt like no one is listening or understanding your pain. Have you experienced God reaching out and lifting you up?
Father, thank you that you always hear the cry of my heart. You care for me more deeply than I could ever know. When I’m hurting, please help me to sense your arms of mercy around me, even though I may not hear you answer at the time.