Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lynette's Hope

In January of 1997, after 6 months of serving as missionaries in Prague, Czech Republic, Jennifer and I were seriously considering tranferring to Bosnia. We were told that after a few months, unless something changed, we would be THE ONLY Southern Baptist missionaries in the country. This was a little intimidating to us, partly because we were only 28 years old and inexperienced as missionaries. But we felt a strong sense of call, and so we went through with the fateful decision to make the move.

To our great surprise, when we arrived in Bosnia, we found that we would not be the only missionaries after all. Something had indeed changed. We discovered that our organization had evacuated about a dozen of its many personnel in Albania to Bosnia. The reason for the evacuation was the mass civil unrest that occurred in early 1997 due to the collapse of a pyramid scheme run by the Albanian government in which many thousands of people lost their life savings (think Enron, but nearly the whole country affected). We all joked at the time that our missionaries to Albania needed someplace safe to go, so they got sent to Bosnia!

(If you don't get that joke, click here and read about the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war.)

By causing so many missionaries to relocate to Bosnia, the Albanian crisis indirectly but greatly affected our lives and ministry. I didn't know it at the time, but the crisis also impacted another young missionary couple, Orthodox missionaries named Nathan and Lynette Hoppe. They had hoped to depart for Albania in mid-1997, but they were now forced to wait nearly a year.

Nathan and Lynette finally arrived in 1998, after the fury had mostly calmed down. They were an exceptional couple. Converts to Orthodoxy from evangelical Protestantism, they had missions in their blood all their lives. Both had grown up on the mission field, Nathan in South America and Lynette in Uganda. They had loved the lord Jesus and his Gospel all their lives. Having recently come to love the Church that Jesus founded, they were eager to help this Church to start over in a land where all religious expression had been illegal from 1967 until the fall of the Communist regime in 1991.

Nathan and Lynette faithfully served the Lord and the people of Albania for many years, leading many people from unbelief to new life in Christ, and building up His Body, the Church. I must note in passing that life in Albania, as I heard countless times while we were in Bosnia, is VERY difficult! Water and power outages are common, frequent, and long lasting, and there are myriads of other difficulties.

Then, after six years of devoted, self-sacrificial service, they made a tragic discovery: Lynette had stage 4 breast cancer. They returned to the U. S., where Lynette underwent a variety of aggressive treatments. In spite of the treatment, the cancer grew worse and had soon spread throughout Lynette's body. Failing a miracle, Lynette had no hope of survival.

As a former missionary, I have long been a supporter of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), and I have tried to keep abreast of what God is doing through the OCMC around the world. I remember reading late in 2004 about Lynette's diagnosis. I soon joined the throng of people around the world praying for her healing. I began reading her online diary at the website called simply "Pray for Lynette."

In early 2006, with death virtually inevitable, the Hoppes decided to return to Albania, spending Lynette's final time on earth ministering to the people that they had grown to love. Only a couple of weeks before she died, Lynette gave a talk at a girls' camp, speaking frankly about her struggles with her imminent passing and sharing the lessons she had learned. Humanly speaking, Lynette had every reason to be bitter and angry; no one would have thought it unnatural for her to "curse God and die," as Job's wife urged him to do.

But she didn't. She chose instead to focus on God's love and faithfulness through all her pain and suffering. She spoke (and wrote) about all the spiritual healing that God had wrought in her life, even while denying the physical miracle that everyone hoped for. The text of Lynette's final talk, along with a selection of her writings from her private journal, her missionary newsletters, and her website, have recently been published in a beautiful book entitled Lynette's Hope. I read quite a few books. I only recommend the very best to others, and much less frequently do I call a book a "must read." But this book is indeed a "must read." Among other things, it helps us to put our own "suffering" into perspective. After reading it, I was forced to look in the mirror and ask the big dummy standing there, "If this woman can endure what she went through and only praise God for His faithfulness, never complaining, then what's YOUR problem?" In fact, I think I may need to do this again...but I digress.

Let me close by sharing a couple of brief passages from the book, one written by Lynette (an excerpt from her final talk), and one by Nathan, who likewise displayed great faith and courage.

Ten days before she left this earth, Lynette told the girls at the camp,

In the end, I can say that I have never felt that God has given me something terrible. Even during those times of depression and anxiety, when I did feel like He was absolutely nowhere, I learned to cling to what I know is true. I learned not to trust my feelings at all. I have to trust in what I know about God--He is good; He is love; He is always with us (p. 192)
After Lynette's falling asleep in Christ, Nathan wrote:

I remember Lynette saying about her illness: "This is good because it is given to me by God, and God is good. I might not fully understand it but I'm sure that this is good." She taught us how to conquer death because she was with Christ...Lynette's life was bestowed by Christ and she knew it; that's why she had inner peace, no anxiety or fear of death (p. 244)
There is much, much more that I could write about Lynette's beautiful and inspiring story, but I have a better idea: Why don't you get the book and read it yourself? If you do, your life will be changed.

Two other things: Listen to a podcast that discusses the book and that includes the audio of Lynette's final talk. Also, read my new friend Molly Sabourin's outstanding meditation on the Hoppes' story.

May the Lord bless you all.


Molly Sabourin said...

How interesting that your family and the Hoppes shared a similar background in terms of your missionary work and conversion to Orthodoxy. You are absolutely right, that book can certainly make one ask themselves some challenging questions ("What AM I complaining about, exactly?"). I loved the quotes you chose at the end from Nathan and Lynette. Thank you for this!

Charlene said...

Fr. James,
This is a remarkable story, and bless you for sharing it with us. I cannot wait to read the book! I believe Lynette was a gift from God for so many people whose life she touched when she was alive as well as all those her story is touching now.
At a low point in my life 22 years ago, I was working as a companion-sitter for the disabled and elderly. One night I cared for a young man at a hospital, where he had recently undergone surgery. He was about 18 as I remember. I had read about him in the local area newspaper about ten years before when a devastating car accident on his own front lawn had left him a quadraplegic without the ability to make his needs understood to any but those who lived and/or worked with him on a daily basis. He was also prone to frequent spasms that would contort his small frame even more than it already was. His father gave me instructions on how to try to understand his needs as best I could. I am sure my inexperience made it a difficult night for him. The next morning I learned from his full- time companion-aide that this remarkable young man had been tubing down the Guadalupe and was excited about a planned trip to Austrailia in the coming year. He had, as they say, been given lemons by life, but made lemonade. I am sure there were many others that were inspired and changed by his uncrushable human spirit, just as so many will be inspired by Lynette's uncrushable faith in God. Sometimes the gift we are given by God turns out to actually be a gift for someone else.
This turned out so very long - please feel free to edit it down to the first paragraph or not post it at all. I still wanted to share this with you rather than not send it at all.