Too Late For Some

One of the most poignant stories I have ever heard comes from the life of the famous missionary to China, J. Hudson Taylor. The first man to come to faith through Taylor’s preaching was a leader of a Buddhist sect, and it was a sweet moment when he testified that after years of searching for truth and rest, he had found them at last in Jesus. But the experience turned bittersweet when he inquired just how long this life-giving news had been known in England. “‘What!’ said he, amazed. ‘Is it possible that for hundreds of years you have had the knowledge of these glad tidings in your possession, and yet have only now come to preach it to us? My father sought truth for more than twenty years, and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?’”

How easy it is for us, even those of us living among ‘unreached’ people, to lose track of how quickly the time is passing, and how many people all around us are literally dying to hear the ‘glad tidings’ which brought us life. Demanding jobs wear us down, the daily pressures of life consume our energy, ‘political correctness’ or even fear of reprisal may sap our boldness… all conspire to numb us to the awful reality that people we know, and millions we don’t, are racing towards an everlasting separation from God.

Paul implored the saints in Ephesus to walk wisely, ‘redeeming the time (literally, ‘buying the opportunity’) because the days are evil.’ Sometimes ‘the opportunity’ is obvious. Several months ago we first met ‘Sarah,’ who was staying in the slum with her brother’s family, and had come to the city in search of medical treatment. A quick examination revealed that she had come much too late. The cancer which had begun in her mouth had completely eaten away her tongue, and had spread into her neck and jaw. She was in terrific pain, and pleaded with us to help her. With heavy hearts we explained to her and her family that there was no medical solution, but that our God is able to heal, and so we prayed for her in Jesus’ name. And so began the journey.

Sarah often cried and kissed our hands when we brought her pain medicine or ‘milkshakes,’ or gave a little massage that helped to relax her frail and withered body a little. We also found that Sarah listened eagerly to our stories about the man named Jesus, who touched and healed people, and who willingly sacrificed himself for sinners. She dreamed one night that Jesus came to her and said, ‘God heals you.’ Sometimes she called out his name when the pain was too much. I saw her a couple of days before she died, very agitated and in a lot of pain. I prayed with her for God’s mercy, and she said ‘amen’ with me, and then calmed down and went to sleep. I know that she was touched by God’s love through our care for her. God knows if she is with Him now in glory, yet we are grateful for the precious opportunity we had to tell her of the Redeemer.

But often the opportunity is gone before we know it. I knew that ‘Matthew’ was special from the first day I met him. Unlike many of the other men from this poor community, Matthew went out of his way to help me, often escorting me around the slum until I got into my car to leave. His very humble shack was nevertheless neatly organized and clean… the tiny ‘kitchen’ he had set up for his wife even had shelves! He worked hard, seven days a week, as a garbage collector, in order to provide for his family, and would never have allowed his wife to beg on the street, as so many women do. We were encouraging him to organize other like-minded men to work together on improving their community. We had occasion to share with him that we were followers of Jesus, and that we ourselves had new life because of him. And we looked forward to telling him more. That is, until the day he was killed. One day a charitable organization showed up to distribute food and blankets in the community, and things got out of control. Everyone was grabbing, and tempers flared when Matthew and another woman reached for the same blanket. In the blink of an eye, the woman’s husband exploded in anger and stabbed Matthew in the chest. Witnesses later told us that he threw his arms around a young girl who was standing there and cried out for forgiveness before he collapsed and died. And the opportunity was gone. We learned last week that the man who killed him has been executed. Another opportunity.

I recently visited the family of an eight-year-old girl who was raped by a neighbour with a wife and children of his own. As I write this, I am convicted that I keep meaning to seek out his family, and maybe even the man himself, before it is too late. But life is so busy…

Hudson Taylor’s reflections on that first convert, written more than a century ago, still speak to us: “A whole generation has passed away since that mournful inquiry was made; but how many, alas, might repeat the same question today? More than two hundred millions in the meanwhile have been swept into eternity, without an offer of salvation. How long shall this continue, and the Master’s words, ‘to every creature,’ remain unheeded?” Can we not find the time to share that offer? Can we not pray?