Late yesterday I learned that our good friend and partner in ministry Ryan Bartlett was killed in an auto accident while delivering maize to pastors in need. Ryan leaves behind a wife, Katie, and three beautiful young daughters–Anna, Lydia, and Ella. For the past two years a summer highlight for Lavone and me has been the two to three weeks we spent in Malawi in August with theBartletts. Here is my lament for our friend and colleague.
In the abstract I hardly ever ask those why-questions. I often rather easily draw fine distinctions: when bad things happen to good people my world can be rocked but not my world-view. But when it's someone you know well, it's different. When it's someone you know well, it feels right to ask, "Why?" And besides, you can't help yourself.
Ryan, missionary extraordinaire–gifted, fruitful, committed, passionate about Christ-following, insightful into the new culture he was learning, effective in sorting out the difference between Malawian and Kingdom, gaining the confidence of the indigenous church–all of this and so much more bode so well, so great for the future. But now, Lord, why?
Ryan–devoted husband, clearly in love with Katie, devoted father, each of his little girls the apple of the eye to him, so much promise for the future cut short, cut off. Why?
Missionary extraordinaire, I say. Not only had he said "yes" to God's call, left home, established a new life in a place strange to him and his family, but in the wake of that "Yes," he was saying "yes" in other ways: Yes, we can help our pastors who will not have food because of drought and killer market prices. Yes, we can buy some ahead of the need, and get it to our brothers and sisters when the need becomes urgent. Yes, we can do it! And in the midst of saying "Yes!"–in the midst of doing it, suddenly there was the "No" of an accident and the end of a life. Why?
So, Lord, I am asking, "Why?" Just as I know many are asking. I know how to answer in the abstract. But in the middle of this painful tragedy, no answer really answers. So, why?
I'm asking why because your people have a long history with this question: "Why, Lord?" I'm asking because it raises the question of meaning. The very asking of the question bears witness to meaning–that some how, some way, purpose penetrates everything. I don't mean that you did this for a purpose (as some might say). I do mean that your purposes remain and will prevail and that even this outrageous accident will somehow count. I don't know how, so I'm asking the question, but still I believe.
I'm asking "why?" not so much in anger–though I am angry–but in pain. And, in hope that the pain will find relief eventually, and until then will serve some other good purposes.
I'm asking "why?" but not because I want an answer–what information or explanation could take away the pain? What answer could change what has happened? I'm asking "why?" because I want these kinds of things to stop. I want a day to come when no one will ask this question again! Why, Lord?
Asking this why-question now, in view of what happened to Ryan, which was so shocking, so unthinkable, brings a reality check nearly as jolting as the accident that took Ryan's life. This obedience to Christ's call is as serious as it gets. It could cost you your life. That doesn't scare me, it sobers me. I don't want to squander opportunities or fritter away time–both of which could be in shorter supply than I know. I want to redeem the time. I want to love well. I want to cherish the family and the FAMILY. I want "to go" in "the act," like Ryan did–in the act of obedience, of faith working itself out in love toward others. If my family and friends ever have to grieve my untimely loss I would want the last images I leave them to reflect the life of the age to come, when no one will be asking the question I am asking–Why, Lord?
So, Lord, a lot of us are asking it. "Why?'
Hear our question. Please hear us. And, then, please become the answer we need. And, then Lord, please say, "No more!"