Restless and sweating, we woke to the screeching cry of our local cow man as he took his turn ‘calling’ from the mosque situated just 50 metres from our house. It was the day of the annual feast of sacrifice and, although we had no electricity, the generator at the mosque was obviously in fine form. It was going to be a big day of celebration in our 99% Muslim city, so we were up and awake before first light, as were most of the people in our city.
Many people who live in Muslim countries have told us that they enjoy hearing the calls to prayer and we can also occasionally listen without distress to music or plaintive, earnest calls to prayer. However, over the past two years our mosque had changed, as had many in the city. ‘Plaintive’ had insidiously turned to screeching and often the cries were angry and hostile. On occasions we (foreign women) were also ordered out of our beds at 3.30am to cook breakfast for our husbands during the fasting month. This is normal for Muslim women but is totally not normal for foreign non-Muslim women and, in fact, was a breach of local Sharia law.
Eventually this exposure to noise of up to 80–85 decibels (the levels of a hairdryer and sometimes a jackhammer) took its toll. Two months before home leave, we and one of our neighbours ‘hit a wall’, finding it difficult to concentrate and suffering sleep deprivation.
For months I had been living two lives. Three months earlier my father, who was normally active and well, was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic disorder (leukaemia) and his life expectancy was weeks rather than months. I flew back to Australia and had three weeks with my dad before he suddenly developed pneumonia and septicaemia and died just five days later. My husband joined me at short notice. We had just seven days to help organise the funeral and pack up my dad’s property, situated on 3.5 hectares of land, prepare it for sale and place it on the market.
When we returned to the field, our reliable internet access, which we loved, became a source of great stress as the journey of problem solving from overseas for the sale of my dad’s house by auction began. At this time activities in our field role were at peak level with impending annual leaders’ retreats and visiting teams coming from three countries for various events. Between managing local logistics in our host country and organising survey reports and dealing with solicitors, agents and estate matters in Australia, my emotional and physical health began to suffer. A younger brother was slowly dying from cancer in Australia; he had been a recluse for decades, but he had finally let me close. Bridging both worlds, I was contacting him weekly to walk alongside him in this difficult journey.
Somewhere, in all of this, I had ‘lost my song’. While not a good singer (I sometimes declare I can sing in one key only), it had been common for many years for me to sing – whether preparing food, driving in the car or reflecting. Singing came readily from a heart of worship, but somewhere, somehow I had stopped singing and I knew that a great healing needed to take place to restore my soul.
Can you believe that during the time mentioned at the beginning of this story, with no electricity and in the midst of loud, screeching noise from the mosque, I found myself singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord’? Tears came to my eyes as I realised that my ‘lost song’ had been restored, and this had happened in the most unlikely of situations. How often such surprises of joy come to us when we make choices, such as to praise when everything is uncomfortable or distressing. This was my choice that early morning and God’s Spirit began to restore my soul. This healing has continued, despite the death in July of my brother and also a close member of my husband’s family.
May I encourage you also, as the Scriptures say, to know that sorrow endures for a night (or a season) but joy will come in the morning for those who are faithful. If we have learned one thing from the past decade of our lives, it is this: that a full life consists not of an abundance of possessions but of a God-directed mix of heartache and sorrow and indescribable joy and compassion, expressed to us and through us as we live as ambassadors of the Kingdom.
The author is a Partner in Asia.