We hiked into the village at dusk and it was the first time in a week we didn’t have a service scheduled. We were all so tired we went to bed pretty quickly. After going non-stop for what seemed like 24 hours a day 7 days in a row I slept like a rock. Even with the giant next to me snoring loud enough to keep the rest of the village up. But I awoke to a sound I’d never heard before and one I’ll never forget.
A mother wailing is an unmistakable sound. It’s a noise so distinct you need not ask what happened to cause a woman to cry in such a way. It’s a sound that transcends culture and language. And it still gives me chills twelve years later.
A woman in the village lost her three year-old son overnight and woke up to the grim discovery. Very quickly every friend in the village knew what happened and was attending the family. All of us on our short-term mission team were at a loss for what to do. Very quickly, though, my teammates decided we should take up a collection to help pay for a funeral. I was livid.
We were in Guatemala to share Jesus’ love with the Ixil people. We were there to testify to all the things Jesus had done and what He’d done for us in our lives. I don’t remember Jesus ever paying for a funeral. In fact, I remember distinctly that He wrecked more than one by raising a person from the dead. We weren’t in Guatemala to pay for funerals. We were there to stop them!
My indignation quickly turned to boldness as I approached the long-term missionary and asked him if we could go pray for the boy. I think he thought I meant to ask if we could go pray for the family and he told me he thought it would be appropriate. He talked to the family and they agreed to let us in the house. The wailing hadn’t let up for a minute when I realized the missionary hadn’t understood what I meant. I walked straight past the wailing mother and went over to the boy. The missionary stopped dead in his tracks at the door next to the mother.
Undaunted, I approached the boy and kneeled down next to the bed he was laid out on. Covered by a burlap cloth, I never saw his face. The wailing stopped. The room was completely silent. I could see some of the team through the slats in the flimsy wooden wall, but I immediately focused on the boy. I was in a dilemma now, though.
Before we entered the room, I was filled with a confidence and boldness I’d never experienced before in my life. I was not about to let a boy die while we were there when we could ask God to give him back. I knew God well enough to know that we should at least ask. And before I walked into the room I had a feeling He might just give me what I asked for. Then I walked into the room and all confidence vanished.
I was left with myself and a dead boy. No confidence. No clue what I was doing. I felt all alone in that silent room–the loneliest I’ve ever felt in my life.
But I couldn’t retreat now. Alone or not, I still served a God who answers prayers and raises the dead. I laid my hand on the boy’s chest and began to pray softly.
“God, give this boy back to his family. Raise this boy, please, I ask.”
I went on like that for maybe five or ten minutes. I’m not exactly sure because it seemed like an eternity but I know it wasn’t that long. I think it was just long enough for the missionary to get over his shock of what happened when we walked in and gather himself enough to come put his hand on my shoulder.
“It’s time to go,” he whispered into my ear.
I hesitantly got up and followed him out past the teary-eyed mother and a host of family and friends. The boy was still dead and I wanted more time, but I obeyed the missionary and we walked out. Looking back on it I wish I had told him to go on and I’d stay. I wished I’d stayed for another 8 hours or longer–maybe God would have answered my prayers if I’d stayed longer. But in the moment I decided the missionary knew better about what would be culturally appropriate. My folly, only later did I realize, was that there is never a culturally appropriate way or time to raise a person from the dead. Never. Nowhere.
I came out of that house a broken spirit. I felt betrayed and let down by God. Where was He? Why did He leave me alone in that room? Why didn’t He answer my prayer? As I begrudgingly pitched in for funeral expenses I wondered what would it have taken to raise that boy from the dead? Did I lack faith? Did I need more time? Was God willing?
Those questions haunted me for the remainder of my time in Guatemala. I felt like I didn’t know what was up or down anymore. I wasn’t sure if I had greatly failed God or if God had greatly failed me. One thing was for sure, though; I became known as the guy who’d pray for anything. Anything.
The Guy Who Prays
Every village we entered from that point on there was always some dying cow or failing crop that needed prayer. I suppose the news that I was willing to ask God for anything spread through the remote mountaintops as I was the one praying for every person’s smallest needs over the next two weeks.
By the time I got back to Texas my heart felt at an all-time low. I reckoned the trip to be a complete and utter failure. I figured I was not missionary material because I couldn’t handle the emotional turmoil of it.
My parents picked me up from the airport and they were visibly disappointed by my utter sense of shock. I was in a fog and they were expecting their same boy back. I wasn’t the same boy, though. I never would be again. I was deeply wounded in a way I’d never felt or expected before. I felt like God had completely forgotten and abandoned me when I needed Him the most.
As we drove along the highway from the airport my mother said something very curious to me. “Loretta wants to talk to you when you get home. She’s got some things she wants to share.”
Loretta was a fellow church member and friend of the family who had agreed to pray for me while I was gone.
“She said one night you were sweating and being attacked by little demons that looked like gnats, but I told her that was just silly because it was cold where you were because you were so high up in altitude,” my mother continued. “I told her that wasn’t possible.”
“What did she say?” I quickly snapped back. I was instantly out of the fog. I was instantly awake.
“What did she say? She said I was sweating and being attacked by gnats?” I persisted.
“Well, yeah. Does that mean something?” mom said, puzzled.
“I want to talk to her today,” I said. “Not tomorrow. Today.”
Mom didn’t balk at my insistence. I wouldn’t say another word about it so she got Loretta over to the house that afternoon.
Loretta read from a prayer journal she kept. She told me the very day and hour she wrote down her experience. She’d gone to sleep early that night and quickly awoke from a dream. She saw me sweating profusely, wrapped like a mummy and being attacked by little demons she could only describe as gnats. She said I was in agony and then I cried out to God to rescue me. That’s when she woke up and prayed for me. She wrote it down that night and went back to bed.
I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I couldn’t utter a word. My parents concern over my strange state turned to an intense curiosity as they examined my dumbfounded face. I managed to collect my thoughts and I told them the story.
Three weeks before we had hiked into a remote mountain village to show the Jesus film and share our testimonies. Unfortunately for everyone, the village was infested with gnats. I’ve never encountered a biting gnat before, but we were all being accosted by thousands of gnats that bit. It got really bad when we went to bed.
The rain started coming down so hard and the eves of their houses are open, so the gnats took refuge in our shelter. I was in a 20 degree “mummy” sleeping bag and to keep the gnats off of me I would close it up and seal myself inside. My breath caused me to overheat and even though it was 50 degrees outside, I was sweating profusely. After several hours of sweating and then opening up long enough for a breath of fresh air that brought on a thousand more bites, I cried out to God.
“God, you’ve got to do something about this! I’m miserable.”
A minute later, our host came into our little room with the answer. A smoking corn cob in a coffee can. The thousands of gnats in our room left immediately. To me at that moment, it was one of the greatest miracles I’d ever encountered. That may seem silly to be so happy to be free of biting gnats, but I was covered on every square inch of my body with welts from their bites. And a month later I was still covered with the healing wounds of their bites.
Loretta had no way of knowing what happened that night, but she showed me the time she woke up at and it was the exact time I had cried out to God. I remember because I thought I’d made it through most of the night fighting off the gnats without sleep and I was just ready to get up and leave the village. I decided to brave the gnats long enough to see my watch and I realized it was only 11:30pm; the exact time Loretta had written down that she woke up from her dream.
The God Who Sees is The God Who Cares
I was amazed that she had seen me. She described the situation like she’d been there. God showed another person, 1,500 miles away, countries apart, exactly what had happened to me. It turned out that five different times I’d cried out for help on that trip and five different times Loretta had a dream. Ever single time she was able to tell me where I was, what the people I was with looked like and the exact words I said because she’d written her dreams down immediately.
That was the most amazing day of my life. I thought God had forgotten me. I thought I was alone. The whole time, God saw me and cared enough about me to show someone else. He wanted me to know that He cared about every moment of my life.
That day hearing Loretta tell me about what God had showed her changed my life. And I’m continually thankful that since then I’ve had many other times where God would speak directly and very personally to me.
Experiencing God speak directly to you changes you forever. And He wants all of us to experience that.
I encourage you to ask God to speak to you. Ask Him that every day for years until He does.
It’s so worth it.