On the Front Line

Fred Coker

November 1st, 2018 @ 1:24 pm

Many things happen to missionaries in the field, some good and some bad. Sometimes we are tempted to tell our readers only the good things. However, you are members of our team, so it is reasonable for us to share with you the bad times as well as the good. That way we can work together as we fight to carry the banner of salvation around the globe.

Our home has been a Hebron, a place of worship for many people including our family members. Sometimes our home looks like an orphanage. We have served as parents, mentors, teachers and doctors to many people. In our ministry, we have tried to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, putting others first. This is a difficult task, but the result has been overwhelmingly positive. No method of evangelism has been more productive for us here in Guinea than that of Christ Himself. “The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143). However, when the Spirit brings success, it attracts the ire of our enemy, Satan, and he works to bring catastrophe. As we were planning more aggressive evangelism, our enemy was planning more ferocious attacks.

We trained five Bible workers and sent them to survey three towns for potential church plants. The Holy Spirit directed us to start in Tanènè, a town about 68 kilometers from Fria. By God’s grace, we were able to send two families and a young man there. Here in Fria we have another two families working with us. We organized several strategic planning meetings to find ways to support our Bible workers wherever we send them. In one of these meetings, we concluded that Bible conferences should be held wherever our Bible workers are present. We also looked at ways we could reach out to the students in our school, work with the different families in our little group and involve the entire church in reaching out to their neighbors. We were also planning leadership training programs for our young members. We were very busy. In our home, we were also having deep Bible studies with our kids about forgiveness as taught by Christ.

At the same time, we were ministering to a pastor from another denomination whose wife was demon-possessed. We had an all-night deliverance prayer meeting for her, and we took their month-old baby into our home until she recovered.

I believe that God orchestrated all these ministry endeavors, which made the devil angry and caused him to attack. First, he attacked the school using the weaknesses of our former director. Suddenly, our director’s bad behavior was all over local media, and parents and teachers were raising an outcry. For a whole week, the good name of our school and our church was under fire. Many parents took their students out of our school. Within a week, our enrollment dropped from 467 students down to 180.

As is our practice when under attack, we immediately organizing a week of prayer and fasting. We confessed our sins and asked God to intervene in the best way possible to glorify His name. Led by the Holy Spirit, we decided to replace the entire school leadership team. In place of the old administration, we hired competent, God-fearing church members. Now 90 percent of our school administrators are women. This move was a radical one in this culture where women are not highly respected.

As this process was taking place, the enemy decided to attack my daughters through a young man, my wife’s cousin, whom we had taken into our home and treated like a son. When the truth was uncovered, the young man immediately ran away from our home and began spreading his own false version of events.

The impact of this attack from someone so close—a young man I considered a son—was such a blow to me that I forgot all about my Christian ethics, and my mind was filled with a demonic yearning for vengeance. I wanted to take justice into my hands and beat him to death. Then I imagined paying some bandits to attack and beat him without mercy. Finally, I began thinking about having him arrested and locked away for a long time. I quickly felt ashamed of these thoughts and repented. But in my rage, I couldn’t bring myself even to pray for him. My wife was going through the same struggle I was, but my cherished anger drove a wedge between us. For a full week, our marriage was very shaky.

At about the same time, I received a call from my nephew in Sierra Leone. “Uncle,” he said, “my mother is dying. She is vomiting blood and passing blood in the toilet. I don’t know what to do. Uncle, you have to come!” I promised him I would be there in a day or two.

As I was planning this emergency trip, I received a call from my son in Thailand telling me that he’d had an accident on his motorbike. He was hit by a lady who made an illegal turn.

All of these attacks I have listed took place in the span of only 10 days. My wife and I were devastated. I asked God why this was happening to us. I was bewildered and thrown off balance. The blows from the enemy were too heavy for me. I lost sight of Jesus and began to question Him. Three times I attempted to resign my missionary calling and just go home. I was not thinking straight.
On one of many sleepless nights, I was sitting on our front porch in the darkness, crying bitterly and pouring out my heart to God as if He were sitting there beside me. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t rise from my chair. Drifting off to sleep for perhaps 20 minutes, I had a strange dream. It was a vision of a single word, APPROVE, printed boldly in uppercase letters.

The ringing of my phone woke me up. The caller ID told me it was Pastor Marc Coleman, AFM’s international field director. I hesitated. Was this yet another piece of bad news? Reluctantly, I accepted the call, but for a few seconds I couldn’t even speak. “Hello, hello? Uncle Fred, are you there?” Marc asked.

I cleared my throat. “Yes Uncle Marc, I am here.”

“Listen,” he said, “I just want to talk to you for second and then pray with you. I want you to know that the AFM office is praying for you and your family. My wife and I will be coming to visit you soon.”

Words failed me again, and I listened without reply.

“God is happy with your ministry,” Marc continued. “He approves of everything you are doing out there.”

APPROVE. The word hit my ear like thunder. My mind reeled, and I felt goosebumps all over my body as I sat in stunned silence.
“Let me pray with you,” Marc offered, and he proceeded to lift me and my family up earnestly to our Lord. “Get some sleep my friend!” he urged.

As the call ended, I finally found my voice. Feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit all around me, I began to laugh aloud in amazement and wonder. I took out my tablet and began reading in Prophets and Kings. On page 162, my eyes went to a passage I had previously highlighted: “Into the experience of all there come times of keen disappointment and utter discouragement—days when sorrow is the portion, and it is hard to believe that God is still the kind benefactor of His earthborn children; days when troubles harass the soul, till death seems preferable to life. It is then that many lose their hold on God and are brought into the slavery of doubt, the bondage of unbelief. Could we at such times discern with spiritual insight the meaning of God’s providences we should see angels seeking to save us from ourselves, striving to plant our feet upon a foundation firmer than the everlasting hills, and new faith, new life, would spring into being.”

A spring of fresh joy overflowed my heart. In repentance, I threw myself onto the porch floor and wept bitterly. Begging God’s forgiveness and surrendering all to Him, I asked Him to give me the strength to carry on His work.

For two weeks, I prayed for God to make clear to me the spiritual lessons I needed to learn from these devastating attacks. Exactly at the end of the two weeks, I received a call from my mother-in-law. She began by apologizing for the behavior of my wife’s cousin and asking me to forgive him. Fighting back an urge to respond in anger, I began to ask God to help me understand what He was doing.

In Sierra Leone, my home country, and here in Guinea as well, the cultural understanding of forgiveness is that the wrong is completely absolved, and there will be no consequences. I struggled with this. I knew God was calling me to forgive the young man, but I also felt strongly that justice should not be short-circuited.

In my culture and that of Guinea, the short-circuiting of justice is a way of life. When someone gets into trouble, there is usually a family member, relative or friend who steps in to advocate for them and remove the penalty. I remember benefitting from this many times as a child when I did wrong. However, this kind of interference and cancelling of penalties teaches children unfortunate moral lessons that can negatively impact their lives.

In our Susu language, this type of penalty-cancelling advocate is called a sababu. But the word has both good and bad connotations. A good sababu is someone who is instrumental in helping a needy person. A bad sababu is someone instrumental in their downfall.

As my conversation with my mother-in-law continued, I began to think about when I was a child and all the times I went free because a sababu pleaded for me. I began to ponder her desire to serve as a good sababu for both her nephew and for me—bringing reconciliation, preventing me from acting in anger and saving the young man from punishment.

After our conversation, I opened my Bible to Ruth and found new insight. Boaz became the good sababu for Naomi and Ruth so they could recover their inheritance. The Hebrew word used in this chapter is gâ’al, which has similar connotations to our word sababu.

In the plan of salvation, we see God creating a path for all humanity to escape our just penalty. Like His great, great, grandfather Boaz, Jesus became our gâ’al—our good sababu. He bore our griefs and sorrows, He was chastised so that we can be healed, and He took our shame on Himself so that we can be free.

Friends, even in the worst of situations, God has important lessons for us to learn that will greatly bless our lives. Let’s not dwell on the pain we incur during difficult moments. Always ask God, “What lesson do You have for me to learn?” In His faithfulness, He will surely open His mysterious lesson book of grace to you.

Please do not cease to pray for the Susu Project, for our family, for our church and school, and, yes, even for our wayward young cousin. God isn’t finished with any of us yet.