Called to Serve
The account of Peter's mother-in-law is not the only scriptural precedent for this match; Tabitha was raised from the dead and presumably continued her selfless devotion to meeting the needs of others, and Epaphroditus saw his health restored and then ministered to Paul and the Philippian church. Even the miraculous gifts, Paul says, are to be used in order to edify people.
Paul would have loved Connie and Geoff Griffith. Missionaries in Africa, they were committed to sowing love, hope, and joy as they brought light to a darkened world. Geoff had been working with Hindu people when the couple decided to travel to India to observe firsthand the ministry taking place in that country.
Aboard a train bound from New Delhi to a small village in southern India, Connie focused on the trip ahead. She and Geoff planned to visit and work with another missionary couple who ran two orphanages in southern India. The train trip would take thirty-eight hours. Connie had been warned not to eat the food on the train, and surveying her grimy surroundings, she could understand the admonition.
Contemplating the Indian orphans, Connie's thoughts wandered to her own two daughters, ages six and eight. She and Geoff had left them in the care of some friends in Africa, and she hoped the children would behave themselves. They had only been gone for a few days, but already Connie longed to see her girls again.
As day turned into night and then into day again, Connie began to wish she and Geoff had thought to bring more food along. She was famished. How bad could the train food possible be, she wondered.
Geoff," she said finally, "I'm starving, I'd rather take my chances with the food on this train than faint from starvation before we ever get to the orphanage. Let's get some dinner."
Geoff agreed, and Connie selected curried mutton from the limited menu. It wasn't long before she regretted her choice, the meat was spoiled and Connie's stomach began to rebel. She spent the rest of the train ride weaving her way to the bathroom.
"Thank goodness," Connie mumbled when the train finally stopped. Her relief, however, was short-lived as Geoff steered her toward a bus that would take them to the village that served as home to the first orphanage. Elbowing her way through the crowd on the bus, Connie lost sight of her husband. He was nearby, she knew, but she could not see him. Instead, she found herself all but crushed by the weight of a drunk as he sat down beside her and promptly passed out on her shoulder.
By the time the bus arrived in the village, Connie felt almost delirious. She had to get some fresh air. She stepped down from the bus and was met by a blast of heat. Shielding her eyes from the blazing sun, Connie picked up her suitcase and hoisted it, African-style, on top of her head.
"Honey, are you okay?" Geoff sounded concerned.
"I'll be fine," Connie assured him. "I just need to walk a bit."
The walk turned into a hike as the Griffiths made their way toward the orphanage. They had been invited for dinner, and when they finally arrived, exhausted, Connie sank gratefully into her chair. Dinner was served.
Suddenly, Connie's stomach flip-flopped. A family of rats had apparently made its home in the rafters above the dining area, and now, as Connie watched, their droppings fall onto her plate, Connie excused herself and retreated into her bedroom.
Later, Geoff came in. "Connie," he asked again, "are you all right?"
"I feel awful," Connie admitted.
"I'm supposed to be gone all day tomorrow," Geoff said, "but I don't want to leave you like this."
I'll be okay. I think I just need some rest." Connie seldom got sick, and she was sure she would be up and about the next day.
When morning came, Geoff slipped noiselessly out of bed. Connie seemed to be sleeping peacefully, but Geoff wanted to alert their missionary hosts to keep an eye on her.
For Connie, the next three days were a blur. Geoff traveled during the day, returning to check on her at night. The missionaries, thinking Connie had been undone by the miserable poverty of their surroundings, let her alone to recuperate. When the time finally came to move on to the second orphanage, Connie struggled to her feet.
When the missionaries saw their guest, they were aghast. "You are sick!" the wife exclaimed.
"Yes," Connie agreed, "I've been in the bathroom for the past three days."
"Oh!" the missionaries cried in dismay. "We thought you couldn't stand being here, and we figured you didn't want to be bothered! You look awful-you'll never make it to the other orphanage. We need to get you to a hospital"
Too weak to disagree, Connie allowed Geoff to lift her into the missionaries' jeep. The missionary couple clambered into the vehicle, and the group began the three hour drive to the nearest hospital.
Fifteen minutes into the ride, Connie's muscles began to cramp. First her fingers then her knees and toes curled inward. Finally she found herself paralyzed, sitting like a little perched bird in the back of the jeep as it bounced along the primitive road.
"She's not going to make it," the missionary wife said, beginning to cry.
Oh for pity's sake, Connie thought nobody dies from dehydration! Then, as the trip wore on, her condition worsened. Her lips pulled back from her teeth. Geoff's face reflected shock as he stared at his wife's horrible grimace.
"God," he cried, "please do a miracle! Do something!"
Dimly, Connie heard her husband's plea. Her thoughts were far off in Africa, with her precio0us daughters. God she thought, I've got two little girls. If I die, I don't know how they'll adjust or manage.
Suddenly the missionary who was driving the jeep let out a shout "Look," he cried, "it's the Red Cross!" Sure enough, just off the old trail was a small white building that bore the red mark of the international relief association. No other buildings were in sight.
As the jeep pulled to a stop, Connie tried to protest. The AIDS epidemic was all too familiar in these remote areas, and Connie knew it was common practice to reuse hypodermic needles. "No injection!" she said through clenched teeth, realizing even as she spoke that no one could understand her words.
The group made its way into the brightly lit building, and Connie felt reassured by the facility's cleanliness. An Indian man, dressed in a neat white shirt and baggy pants, greeted the missionaries. He spoke perfect English.
"I know what's wrong with her," he said, motioning to Connie. "She's dehydrated. I have some electrolytes here in this packet. This water has already been boiled." With no further explanation, the stranger mixed the electrolytes and the water and handed Geoff an eye dropper encased in a plastic bag. "It's sterile," he said looking right at Connie.
The stranger's instructions were clear. Geoff was to feed Connie one drop at a time until they reached the hospital. Connie's mouth had locked open, and as the group set off again in the jeep, Geoff began the slow process of rehydrating Connie's body.
An hour and a half later the group arrived at the hospital. Connie had swallowed a good bit of the medicine, and her muscles had relaxed. She was able to walk into the hospital by herself.
Even so, the Indian doctor who examined Connie expressed concern. "This is one of the most severe cases of dehydration I've seen" she said. "Your body has sucked the water out of the cells. It is surprising you don't have damage in your kidneys or your heart. You came within hours of dying."
Connie stayed in the hospital for three days, nourished by Ivs as she gained her strength. Finally the doctors released her, and she and Geoff resumed their itinerary by visiting the second orphanage.
A few weeks after their return to Africa, Connie and Geoff received a letter from the missionary couple in India. "You won't believe this," the couple wrote, "but when we returned to our village via the route we had taken to get you to the hospital, that Red Cross building was gone. The is nothing there in the place where it was."
Connie knew her life had been miraculously spared. Catching her daughters in her arms, she thanked God for allowing her to fulfill her service as a wife and missionary and as a mother to her two darling girls.
Fifteen years have passed since Connie's miraculous encounter. She and Geoff still work with the Africa Evangelical Fellowship through the ministry's American office, and they occasionally hear other stories of divine intervention in everyday affairs. Reflecting on her miracle, Connie says that it revealed God's kindness. "It showed me that He cares, that He knows exactly where we are, and that He cannot help but reach out and show us His love from time to time.
God does care about us. Even as He works miracles to build faith and remove things that hinder ministry and service, God is fully aware of our other needs. The Bible says, in fact, that He knows our needs even before we ask Him.
From Celebration of Miracles by Jodie Berndt