25 Miles From Heaven: Tornadoes, Death and the Will of God

My dad had it right when he said that Dave and I were 25 miles away from Heaven this weekend. He said this after I told him that we were 25 miles away from Joplin, Missouri this past Sunday night. We were going to do a presentation about our ministry in Cameroon but when we arrived at the church in Pierce City, there was a fire truck and the driver advised us to take cover right away because a tornado was coming. So instead of doing our presentation, we spent the evening huddled under a stair-case with people from the church and then later on went to a local tornado shelter. We then went home to our friend’s house only to discover the next day that 117 people were killed in the nearby town of Joplin. As we left Pierce city, we saw sheets of metal rolled up in a ball on the side of the road. Perhaps it was a roof from someone’s barn. We saw large trees pulled up out of the ground and set on top of a house-and this was just a mile from the church. Our friends later told us that several people in this congregation lost barns – and this loss was nothing compared to that of Joplin.

To add to the sobriety of the weekend, we found out that a World Team missionary serving in Cameroon died. His name was Shawn Kelley and Dave and I had the pleasure of spending some time with him when we took our field visit this past October. What we were told was that he was not feeling well so he went to the local hospital and then, because he started feeling better, went home. Soon however he started feeling poorly again so he went back to the hospital and died there of respiratory failure and congestive heart failure. I have not heard any more details as to what caused the respiratory and heart failure.   Shawn was the field administrator for World Team Cameroon South. He was a single guy, probably in his late 30s and he had just arrived on the field in March 2010. His ministry greatly lightened the load for the church planters, Bible translators, and other missionaries. The field director commented on his importance to the field:

Shawn Kelley has served World Team Cameroon South and the missionary community in numerous ways over the past two years. His role as World Team’s field administrator has been indispensable. His role as servant and friend has touched the lives of many beyond World Team’s missionary community. Shawn has left behind a host of friends and family here in Cameroon including missionaries and nationals.

Barry Abbott, Cameroon South Field Director

So this past weekend was filled with emotion for the Hare family – overwhelming gratefulness that the Lord spared us from the tornado, sorrow over those whom the Lord did not choose to spare, feelings of great loss at the death of Shawn, a deeper understanding of the risks of living in Africa, and just an overall sobriety that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. And yet, in the midst of this grievous weekend, the Lord led me to some encouraging Scripture in my daily devotions:

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the deeps. It is he who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

Psalm 135:6-7

I do not understand why the Lord would choose to make the wind destroy one town and not the other. Nor do I understand why the Lord would choose to take a man who just arrived on the mission field when it seems like he could do so much for the advancement of God’s Kingdom over the next 30 years. But, then again, God does not consult with me before he decides to do things. Whatever God sees fit to do, he does. I do not understand his ways, but I know they are higher and not lower than mine. So my reaction is one of silence before the Lord.   Another encouraging verse was found in Psalm 138:8a which says, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”

Our purpose for Shawn was another 30-40 years of service to those in Cameroon, but God’s purpose for Shawn has been fulfilled. He was created to do the good work of serving in Cameroon for a couple of years, and nothing more. God had purposes for Shawn’s life and these purposes have been fulfilled. There was no waste from God’s perspective. His life was not “cut short” but instead he died on the very day that the Lord appointed for him. So where do I go from here?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

This weekend has reminded me to number my days so that I might get a heart of wisdom. And even if the work of my hands is only two years in Cameroon, may the Lord establish what I am doing and fulfill all of his purposes for me, even if they are very different purposes than what I foresee.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:17

Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.