Thanksgiving: Loss and Hope

Sowing seeds of hope for Biblical literacy and hunger for God’s Word.

It was a few short years ago that our Thanksgiving week was tinged with grief. A village neighbor, who had been on the decline for several months, had finally passed away early one Sunday morning. Upon receiving the news while we were eating breakfast, I hurried to put on a head covering and headed next door, where I joined a small throng of women already gathered in his widow’s hut. As I found a place next to my friend on the earthen floor of her bedroom, our hands clasped, crying together, my heart throbbed with two profound realities:

First, the bittersweet beauty of a shared grief, even across the chasm of our differing languages and cultures. Ten years ago, the familiar death wail signaling someone’s passing in the village would have sent me emotionally retreating away from the source, not toward it. We would have paid our respects by presenting our village funeral “dues” to the family group and perfunctorily greeted the bereaved, perhaps not even actually knowing who had died. That I was now sitting here among the inner circle of grievers, next to someone I not only knew, but loved, startled me into the realization that God had actually enabled me to find and build a sense of community in the years we have served here. Hard, hard years of miscommunication and misunderstanding and isolation, but it had happened.

But then, sadly, the realization of a grief accompanied by no certain hope. We didn’t know where this man’s heart was at the end of his life; our Father alone knew. Our neighbor’s death was a sobering reminder of why we are here: transformed lives through enabling access to the life-giving Word in a language these people understand.

Our neighbor’s death was a sobering reminder of why we are here.

At the time, this neighbor’s granddaughter attended our afternoon French preschool ministry, co-taught by a local scripture engagement colleague. Several afternoons each week, this little girl, her cousins, and neighbor-friends heard a Bible story in both French and their own language, an exercise that sowed seeds of hope for Biblical literacy and a hunger for the Word. Though we grieve the loss of her grandfather, we hope and pray the Gospel will yet penetrate and transform the hearts of this girl’s extended family.

The process of disciple making in this context is long and hard, with little visible fruit. But that Thanksgiving week, in the space of shared grief, I was reminded anew that it’s worth it. This people group we serve among are no longer a faceless people group but rather individuals made in His image that we have come to know and love.

We cling to the belief and hope and joy that these friends of ours will join the chorus of worship in Heaven.

We are so deeply grateful for all the people who follow, pray for, support, and encourage this ministry. It demonstrates a faith that this labor is not in vain; it signals a shared hope and joy that one day, these friends of ours will join the chorus of worship in Heaven.

Katie Von Rueden
Katie made her home in a rural West African village with her husband and two children, where she served in vernacular literacy and administrative support. Making Africa her heart’s home over the years was a journey of surrender and of discovering joy and God’s calling in unexpected places. Katie’s journey ended abruptly when she died in her sleep in her village home on November 4, 2022, shortly after she wrote this article.
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