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When Fear is Real

David & Shirley Donovan

The following is an extract from Counting the Cost: Kidnapped in the Niger Delta by David and Shirley Donovan. 

 

Counting the Cost
Counting the Cost

When we were taken, I noticed one of the kidnappers had Ian’s guitar case strapped to his back in which he had put my laptop and another belonging to the Mission.

Why would he bring the guitar if it was not for our use, a distraction and comfort? It seemed a very intentional act, indeed thoughtful.

Ian sat up turning the guitar over to check for any damage. It seemed in good order. He climbed from the mattress and sat on the edge of the television. The plastic casing cracked under his weight, and he jumped. The plastic was brittle, perished and weak from the relentless heat of the sun. We smiled, and Ian regained his posture, tuning the guitar by ear.

‘Shall we sing something?’

‘What can you play?’ Shirley asked.

‘Only “Amazing Grace”, it’s the only hymn I can play without my chord sheets.’

How utterly strange it was as we found our pitch and hesitatingly and with deliberation began to sing, focusing with intent on the meaning of every word. Grace so amazing and love so divine, we relished every word, recognizing all the more in our utter helplessness that, despite the appearance of things, we were no longer lost but found and that God’s grace would lead us home.

The jungle was silent as we sang. We were alone and sang in worship to our God, to affirm our trust in His unfailing love no matter what the situation. We were sincere, and the words were alive.

This was not a comfortable rendition of a well–loved hymn to encourage, but an act of prayerful worship, where ‘Grace, our fears relieved’.

Ian laid the guitar down and, standing, came to sit beside us.

Two cracks pierced the silence, staccato and loud, then a short salvo of automatic fire.

Ian looked ahead expressionless, his eyes empty. He stood motionless, already in the presence of his Saviour, the very one he had been adoring only seconds earlier, worshipping in spirit and in truth. He fell forward, without a sound, into our laps.

Shirley swept his back with her hands; she thought it was an electric shock of some kind, so sudden, unexpected, no cry, no movement.

I grabbed Shirley and Alanna.

‘He’s been shot, get in the water, quick, don’t stand up!’

We rolled across the mattress and into the water beside the pontoon. We held tightly to the middle post, a medium–sized palm tree trunk rammed into the mud of the jungle floor. The water was dark and too deep to stand. Our feet were tangled in twigs and detritus of vegetation. Inches in front and just above us Ian lay silent and still.

All around us was quiet.

We held each other, panting, scarcely able to draw breath with the adrenaline. The shot came from behind Ian and surely there was a gunman moving slowly around to take aim at us. The jungle was thick and it was impossible to see beyond a few feet into the foliage.

Was it a rival gang? Were we here to be killed? Had they realized they had got the wrong people and were now cutting their losses? Thoughts were racing like ticker–tape across the mindscape, fast and furious, chaotic, like a scientist rummaging through papers for a crucially lost equation. It made no sense, we had no frame of reference for this experience, how do we process this?

Should we swim? In which direction? What about the occasional crocodile and snake, the silent canoes of our captors, and which direction was the Mission? It was all too much to process.

Each of us prayed, a pleading, unstructured affirmation of our Lord’s sovereignty. It was as if I was in the third person.

I admonished myself; here I was maybe seconds from death. What did I actually believe, will I really see Jesus in an instant, then no, why should I die here, unseen, without our sons? I am holding my wife; what can I do to protect her and Alanna? Nothing, no, nothing could be done; it will be the Lord’s will, accept, accept that He is sovereign and that His will is all we should seek. I looked at Shirley, deeper in prayer than I was able to manage. She had a quieter, deeper faith, whilst my mind raged with static and with scenarios that screamed through my imagination like a film reel in the hands of a demented projectionist. Then silence and no words came. We held each other. I felt the warmth of Shirley and Alanna, alive and vital – so far, no gunfire. What now?

It was not ours to understand, but our choice to whom to run to. Again, as we had prayed before, even when fear is real and we are helpless and powerless, we still have a choice where we place our faith, in our own devices or intervention from others. It seems that the Holy Spirit was, at the deepest level, telling us to affirm God as our absolute, that in Him we can trust, that He knows the beginning from the end and that all things work together for good to them who love God.

This presupposes of course that we do love God. Again, the turmoil raged but again faith came assertive, remembering the countless promises of God to those who sincerely call upon the name of His Son. The Christian faith is intensely real and practical; we decide each day, each hour, each minute whom we shall follow. There, clutching onto the wooden upright, I decided that for me and my house, my wife and Alanna, we would this day serve the Lord and that, in this situation, simply and intentionally trust Him.

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