I’ll never forget the day my son died.
I rushed Tim, out to the car—leaving Ruth with the other boys—and drove as quickly as I could to the nearest hospital. Halfway there Tim went into cardiac arrest. His sudden asthma attack was taking his life, and we were desperate.
The dark streets of Nairobi were deserted.
All I could see was a lone man, walking in the darkness from a shopping center. I quickly blocked his car with mine, and I demanded that he drive my car to the hospital while I climbed into the back seat and frantically administered CPR on my son.
In a passing moment of hope, Tim’s heart began beating and he started breathing again. When we reached the hospital, the medical staff began emergency treatment for Tim. Our son was unconscious, but breathing. As Ruth, my oldest son Shane, and some friends began to arrive, we huddled to pray.
When we next saw the doctors, their eyes told us what had happened even before they spoke a word. Tim was gone. He was sixteen years old.
We have never wept as we wept in that moment. In the five years we had lived as missionaries in the Horn of Africa and its surrounding countries, we had experienced heartbreak and stared the evil of terrorism straight in the face; but nothing had prepared us for this.
We had devoted our lives to serving the poor, and yet God had allowed our son to be a casualty of our sacrifice. We couldn’t help but ask ourselves: is all of this really worth it?
Later that morning, we sat with our other sons and talked about what had happened. I said, “We did not choose this horrible thing that has happened. And I don’t know how we are going to live through it. But we are going to make sure that we don’t waste Tim’s death. Somehow, we will do our best to honor God through even this.”
I don’t even know where those words came from. There was something profoundly supernatural about it. It was as if God was sitting right there with us in our pain.
Knowing Tim didn’t want to go back to America for college, but wanted to remain in Africa and become a teacher—Africa was truly his home—we decided to bury Tim at his school in Nairobi.
The funeral was scheduled for the following Saturday.
During that week, our home was filled with people every hour of every day. Neighbors, Tim’s fellow students, colleagues and friends from our Kenyan church enveloped us in their love and care.
Yet the biggest surprise of the week came on Thursday when “Omar” appeared at the front door and said to me, “I have walked here from Somalia. I had to come to help bury our son, Timothy.”
My first encounter with Omar had not been friendly. Omar had joined our humanitarian team a few years back when my family and I had just started working in Somalia. One day, I asked if he thought that it would be safe for me to go to a certain section of the city for a meeting that I needed to attend. Did he think that there would be enough danger that I should cancel my plans?
Omar told me that I should be fine.
I left for the meeting. As I approached my destination, a firefight broke out. I heard gunfire on my right and my left. I ran for my life. When I reached the safety of our compound and reported what had happened, other Somali staff told me that I should never have been in that part of the city alone.
They said, “Everyone knows that is one of the most dangerous areas in all of Mogadishu.” I was furious. The next time I saw Omar, I accused him of almost getting me killed. I demanded to know why he had lied to me. I demanded to know why he would place me at such risk.
His immediate, indignant response to my charges floored me. He believed that he was giving a complete justification when he said, “I don’t know you well enough to owe you the truth!”
For Omar, relationship earned and elicited truth. Once we understood and honored each other’s values, we developed one of the deepest friendships I have ever had.
I knew that I could trust Omar with my life—and I often did. He knew that I cared deeply for him, and I proved that to him on many occasions.
As soon as Omar had received word of Tim’s death, this dear Muslim friend had started a five-day odyssey. He had walked through minefields, deserts and mountains. He had crossed rivers and national borders. He had hitched rides and he had ridden on a camel and with goats in the back of a truck. He finally arrived at our home hundreds of miles later with only the clothes on his back.
I have never been quite so humbled, and I have never seen such a demonstration of friendship. I couldn’t help but wonder if most Christians I knew would make such an effort to mourn with a Muslim family whose heart was as broken as ours?
Omar ended up sitting between Ruth and me at the funeral. We went to Africa to help these dear people. Yet, in our moment of greatest need, they were there for us.
Oh, how I wish, every Christian had a friend like Omar.
Nik Ripken and his family have worked with persecuted Christians for over 35 years. They have collected the stories of hundreds of men and women persecuted for their Christian faith in more than 72 countries. “The Insanity of God,” a LifeWay film based on Nik’s bestselling book by the same name, is coming to theatres nationwide for a one-night special presentation on August 30.