July 10, 2011

Not Yet Come - Papa's Story

Papa has tears forming in the corner of his eyes as he tells the story he's told a million times.

"Ring that bell." God calls to Samuel, and Samuel answers by picking up a rusty pike, bent from the impact of hitting the old bell over and over again, and he lifts it up once more. "I told God I would serve him until forever, and forever has not yet come!" Samuel hits the bell again and again, as the war cry is raised and all hell begins to break loose.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the night, the missionary, my great-great grandfather (the "original" Harmon), had a troubled spirit and felt called to go and visit Samuel. So he mounted the stallion whose name in Zulu meant, "no good" and rode all night to go to Samuel's church. As the African sun rose slowly in the sky, my great-great grandfather crested the land just in time to hear the ringing of a bell and to see the sun glinting off of an army of spears. Leading his soldiers, a Zulu chieftain was charging down the hill towards the church, "I will make an example of Samuel and his wife and child that all of Africa will never forget!" Samuel was told not to ring that bell. Told that if he rang the bell on this Sunday morning he would be burned alive in the church. And yet there he stood, in the dust of Africa, ringing that bell.

My great-great grandfather rode towards them, and as he rode into the thick of it, he rose his hands to the sky. By some miracle, the wave of spears stopped. These men had heard of this God that Samuel and the missionary served before, and they were afraid of Him. In the split second that the men stopped, my great-great grandfather rose his voice to yell above the clamor and chaos, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only begotten Son!"

Papa's voice breaks into Zulu as he quotes John 3:16. Then he continues to tell me the story of Samuel, of the day that the one Zulu man stood apart from the rest and said, "Missionary. Nobody told us that this is the message that Samuel brings. I will not raise my spear against it." And as he stood off by himself, the entire tribe soon stood behind him. Papa tells me how Samuel's story continued after that day when he answered God's call to ring that bell no matter what. Samuel's path led him through the military as the chaplain of the troops when they went off to war to fight a battle larger than they had ever fought before against a giant called Germany. Papa tells me about the day when Samuel came home and with his wife taken to Heaven, the mission station told him, "Retire, Samuel." But Samuel was not done yet, "No," he said, "Let me go to a people I have found. They live in caves in the mountains, and they are alone." So Samuel went to minister to a leper colony that the world had ignored. As he organized this colony, the UN's interest was piqued, which led to a team of scientists being sent to the foothills of Africa. As a result, the cure for leprosy was found. Samuel's story takes him through the kingdom of God, into Africa and America and the world.

And Papa cries, his hands shaking with the tremor left by Parkinson's disease, his memory not faltering today, although it grows harder for him to tell his stories. Papa cries as he remembers Samuel standing over the grave of my great-great-grandfather, praying, "God! I am old. Take me home!" and then Papa's dad, my great-grandpa Elmer, came to him and said, "But Samuel, who then would we point to, in this young generation, when we want to say, 'This is a man of faith. Here is a man who will ring that bell in the darkest hour. Who then?" Papa remembers Samuel smiling and saying, "Thank you missionary, for reminding me. I promised God that I would serve him forever, and forever has not yet come."

Grandma and I are crying as Papa's hands shake. I watch as the tears gather in my grandparents eyes, the eyes of two people who have served God whole-heartedly since they were teens. Two people who have traveled the world together, touched mankind in palaces and slums, two people who have given everything they have and then given more... I watch them as they remember the story of Samuel with tears in their eyes. My story is only just beginning, but as I sit around a table with the two people who have lived lives fuller than most people can ever imagine, lives so saturated in following God that even in the midst of chaos, their faith has shone in the darkness,  I realize that my charge is the same as theirs. My charge is the same as Grandma's. It is is the same as Papa's. It is the same as Samuel's.

  I will serve Him until forever. And forever has not yet come.