As a child, Steve Saint thought of Timbuktu as a made-up name for “the ends of the earth.” In 1986, while traveling in western Africa for Missionary Aviation Fellowship, he found himself stranded in the real Timbuktu.
Steve decided to rent a truck to travel elsewhere, despite warnings that if it broke down, he wouldn’t survive in the Sahara Desert. Men armed with scimitars and knives watched him suspiciously. After he failed to find a truck, Steve’s thoughts ran to his father, Nate Saint, a former missionary in Ecuador. When Steve was only five, natives speared to death his dad and four other missionaries. Now, thirty years later, Steve found himself questioning his father’s death. “I couldn’t help but think the murders were capricious, an accident of bad timing.”
Steve asked for directions to a church. Some children led him to a tiny mud-brick house with a poster on the wall showing wounded hands covering a cross. A dark-skinned man in flowing robes approached and introduced himself as Nouh Af Infa Yatara.
Steve asked Nouh, through a translator, how he came to faith in Christ. Nouh said he had stolen vegetables from a missionary’s garden. The missionary gave him the vegetables and promised him an ink pen if he memorized some verses from the Bible. Nouh believed the verses he learned and came to Christ. Nouh’s parents threw him out of the home and pulled him out of school. Nouh’s mother even put a sorcerer’s poison in Nouh’s food at a family feast. Nouh ate the food but suffered no ill effects.
Steve asked Nouh, “Why is your faith so important to you that you’re willing to give up everything, even your life?”
“I know God loves me and I’ll live with him forever.”
“Where did your courage come from?” Steve asked.
“The missionary gave me books about Christians who’d suffered for their faith. My favorite was about five young men who risked their lives to take God’s good news to stone-age Indians in the jungles of South America. The book said they let themselves be speared to death, even though they had guns and could have killed their attackers!”
Stunned at these words, Steve said, “One of those men was my father.” “Your father?” Now Nouh felt stunned.
Steve assured Nouh of the truth of the story. And then Nouh assured Steve that God had used his father’s death, many years later, to help a young Muslim-turned-Christian hold on to his faith. Steve realized that if God could plan the death of his own Son, He could also plan and use the death of Steve’s dad, Nate Saint, to accomplish His sovereign purpose—including reaching one young Muslim for Christ and orchestrating this God-ordained meeting of two men at the ends of the earth.
Stories like this don’t apply only to the deaths of missionary martyrs. Over time, God has brought countless people to Christ through the lives and deaths of ordinary housewives, common laborers, farmers, factory workers, business people, teachers, and schoolchildren.
We won’t all, in this life, meet someone whose story will suddenly shed light on God’s purpose in our loved one’s suffering or death. But I think most of us will have that very experience one day, beyond the ends of this Earth, on that New Earth, where we, eyes wide, will hear countless jaw-dropping stories of God’s sovereign grace.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.