This summer, I texted my friend in one of Ethiopia’s war zones. I texted him again. And again. And again. “Are you safe?” “I’m concerned for you.” “I’m praying for you.”
But there was no reply. There was only haunting, ambiguous silence for over 5 months. The little notifications on WhatsApp never turned blue, and I didn’t know if he was dead or alive, like so many others.
War cuts us off from one another. It fills us with the grief of uncertainty, gripping us in the suspenseful double loss of not fully knowing what we’ve lost. Meanwhile, we ache for even a single word of hope, or simply the confirmation of our worst fear.
Last week, I sat at my desk writing about forgiveness in the darkness as the sun set. It was the end of my day, and my mind was fully immersed in my new book Practice Flourishing.
And then my phone lit up on my desk and glowed in the darkness. I looked at the beacon-like screen and read these beautiful words: “Hello Andrew.”
It was from my friend, like a message from another world. I could hardly believe my eyes. He was alive!
He told me that he was displaced with his child but safe. His wife was far away, but the last he heard, she was also alive. (Thank God, he has since confirmed that she is safe.)
My heart filled with peace, joy, and gratitude. I sat in the dark breathing, a mountain of grief slipping off my shoulders into the darkness like pebbles into a pool of peace. Light gently glowed within my soul. For a moment, as I meditated on forgiveness and looked toward Christmas with this good news filling my soul, it felt like we would all be alright — everyone, everywhere.
My friend continued: “It’s really hard to explain. These days it seems everything is broken. I am sorry, and I don’t know how I can explain this painful sickness. If you talk of peace, no one is interested. But I know that it’s because of prayer that we survive. This year Christmas will be difficult.”
Perhaps when we die, we will find ourselves alone in darkness, not knowing where we are or if we’re alive. And then the darkness around us will light up with glowing messages that surround us with love:
“Hello Andrew” from the friend lost in war
“Hello Andrew” from Matt who died in the car crash
“Hello Andrew” from Ermias who was killed by brain cancer
“Hello Andrew” from Sam who committed suicide
“Hello Andrew” from Jess whose heart failed in the middle of the night
“Hello Andrew” from Eyob, the boy who died of burns
“Hello Andrew” from the enemy I thought I couldn’t love
“Hello Andrew” from Jesus
And the darkness will be overcome with light, and we will see that we are together — again — alive.
Perhaps this is what happens to us when we die — healing messages of life and togetherness that surround us, lift us, fill us with breath, and bring us home when we thought everything was cut off, lost, finished — dead.
As we celebrate the coming of Jesus and anticipate 2022, may we pray for peace and these seemingly impossible reunions. May God’s love embrace you and give you fresh hope wherever you are today.
And may you hear that gentle whisper from the most unexpected voice, saying, “Hello [your name]”
Heartfelt thanks to friends who have joined me in caring for our dear brother and his family in this incredibly difficult time.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” John 1:5
“Do yourself no harm, for we are all still here.” Acts 16:28