West Africa was once known as the “White Man’s Grave.” The early white missionaries there could expect to live twelve months. Ebola, cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, Lassa fever, and especially malaria took many lives.
I had never admitted to having a weak resistance system. But every ailment passing through kids always caught me first. Teachers probably thought of me as the canary in a coal mine.
My tendency to illness continued in Africa where I served as a missionary engineer. Between severe bouts involving convulsions, hallucinations, and even partial paralysis, I couldn’t get well. Months passed without one day of feeling good. Each morning I struggled out of bed to do a job that likely saved hundreds of lives and certainly introduced hundreds to Jesus.
An American doctor on a two-week mission trip came to our town. This is my chance, I thought. Going to the place where the doctor would be, I found a line of perhaps a hundred Africans waiting under the hot sun. Mothers had inert babies in their arms, some had open or festering wounds, or eye infections requiring a guide. Leprosy victims stood or lay. I joined the line at the end expecting an all-day wait.
But the line wasn’t going forward. I looked up to see every face looking at me. Several gestured for me, the white man, to go first. I shook my head, No. The line wouldn’t go forward as more waved me to the front.
You’re important. You’re doing work that benefits many, I rationalized. Then from deep in my soul came, YOU CAN NOT DO THIS. I walked away without seeing the doctor. Other missionaries I knew took such opportunities. I can’t say they were wrong. Doing so would have been wrong for me.
I Corinthians 10:13 promises, “. . . with the temptation will provide the way of escape . . .” I didn’t think of that verse as I departed, only prayed for help. Then an idea came to me. I drove to a school run by expatriates for their children. There I asked for the school nurse. To my joy, I found an elderly American lady. I introduced myself, told her frankly that I was in trouble, and asked for help. She mercifully treated me like one of her students. Within a week, I felt much better and never again got so run down.
When your heart tells you something is wrong, even if the situation is desperate, just don’t do it. Trust God for an escape.