I woke up early again, staring into the darkness of our bedroom. As I listened to the even breathing of my husband fast asleep beside me, I recalled the director’s reassuring words, “The East is not like the West. They see kids as blessings. Your children will open doors for you.” We had recently been accepted by a Christian mission organization to go with our family as missionaries to Pakistan. In the interview we discussed safety concerns, not for us, but for our five young children. The national director dismissed our worries. “The secular world sees kids as a hindrance, but in reality they are a blessing, to the parents and others. He and his wife spent many fruitful years ministering in the Yemen and had six kids, one of whom died there of typhoid at age three. Someone else on the board pointed out God’s special care of children from Isaiah 40:11, Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. Ian and I felt God’s calling to share the gospel with unreached people groups, but knew most organizations would turn us down because of the size of our family. If God didn’t open the doors for us, we wouldn’t go. But this organization happily accepted us.
I not only felt uneasy about the children but also other issues: what about income, malaria, typhoid, rabies, hepatitis, schooling, living amongst Muslims and not knowing the language? The list went on: housing, high heat, humidity, pollution. My excellent imagination magnified my fears. Now in the dark, I tossed and turned. A Bible verse I memorized years before condemned me:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18).
We still had four months before setting off. We would leave behind Ian’s successful GP practice in north-eastern Victoria, good friends and dear relatives. Our church & friends stood with our decision. I too felt a deep assurance that we’d made the right decision, though it had taken much prayer as we considered the children. The more we prayed, the more we wanted to turn from seeking comfort and prosperity, to spreading the good news of Jesus to those who had never heard. Fears robbed me of sleep, making it hard to manage the household in the daytime.
In the stillness my heart cried out to the Lord, “I am full of fear. I know I shouldn’t be afraid. Obviously my love is not perfect. I don’t doubt your leading us to Pakistan, but I can’t cope with this fear. Can you please do something with it? I need help.” I didn’t know how the Lord would answer, but left it in his hands.
A couple of days later I got an early morning phone call from my sister who lived on a nearby farm. “Do you want to raise a newborn lamb? Marcus found him on the hillside this morning when he went to check the ewes. I’m very busy and thought you might like to.”
I got quite excited. “I’d love to. It’d be great for the kids. How did you get him?”
“Marcus found him lying in the grass with crows circling above, waiting for their chance to strike. Just a few paces away stood the ewe with the other twin. If Marcus came much later, it would have been too late.”
I’d never cared for a lamb before and eagerly drove over straight after breakfast taking the kids along. The kids patted his white, woolly head and cuddled him. We learned how to feed him and loved the way his tail wiggle-waggled with milk. His happy bleats inspired his name, “Baabaa”. After another feed we bundled him up and brought him home in the family van. Home was an old farmhouse surrounded by the landlord’s chickens, orchard and sheds.
We pulled up near the big peppercorn tree just outside our back gate. Everyone piled out and I carefully put Baabaa on the ground. He steadied himself on his wobbly legs. At that moment the three farm dogs down by the sheds noticed the new intruder. I think they wanted some fun, and raced up the hill, barking as farm dogs do. Baabaa bolted, taking off as fast as his wobbly legs would go. He managed about 10 steps, then tumbled over. The dogs surrounded him making a such a racket and snapping their teeth. Running to rescue Baabaa, I hollered at the dogs. As I lifted him up and pressed him close I felt his little heart pounding away next to mine. Addressing the dogs I said, “You bad dogs. Off with you.” They slunk off and we carried our precious treasure safely inside.
We bedded him down in the warm kitchen and reorganized our lives to look after him. The children tried to feed him but he sucked so forcefully that they dropped the bottle. I ended up chief feeder so he bonded closely to me. Within a few days his strength increased so much that he graduated to the back yard. When he heard me singing in the kitchen, he’d bleat his answer. Every time he heard the back door open he would bleat and come running. When I walked through the garden he stuck right next to me. I marvelled at how much he trusted me.
After a week I said to the children, “Let’s go for a walk in the bush. Get out your trikes and bikes and let’s go across the road for some exercise.”
One of them said, “We’ll need to put Baabaa on a lead.”
I said, “I don’t think so. Baabaa sticks closer to me than my shadow.”
So with the youngest in the stroller we stepped out the back gate. Just then I noticed the three dogs loitering down by the sheds. They saw Baabaa and started to run towards us. Immediately I started talking to him, “It’s OK Baabaa. Those dogs are coming again but don’t you worry. I’m with you.” The barking made Baabaa turn his head to look their way. As the dogs approached us, Baabaa pressed his trembling body against my leg. I continued talking in a soft voice, “Don’t you worry about their snarls and sharp teeth. They look scary but won’t hurt you. They can’t do anything to you with me here.” With hackles raised the dogs surrounded us, barking and snarling while Baabaa pressed hard against my leg. I kept talking, Baabaa kept trembling, and the dogs kept barking. Time seemed to stop. Finally I picked up Baabaa and held him close. His heart thumped away next to mine. Just then I somehow felt the Lord speak to me: “Dorcas, you are like this little lamb. You have enemies. They are bigger and stronger than you. You just need to stay with me.”
The analogy etched deeply on my heart. Yes, We faced dangers bigger and stronger than we could manage, beyond our ability to control. For the rest of my life I just needed to remember three things: One: stay close to Christ. Two: listen to Him. Three: obey whatever he says. In short: “press close, press close, PRESS CLOSE”.
I now had a way to handle fear. Whatever crises or and danger, I have had to squash my desire to freak out and panic, and instead press close, allowing my heart to be calmed by the Good Shepherd, seeking him for guidance and strength as he led us along a dark or dangerous path.
– Dorcas Denness