Full Circle

Sometimes God disappoints. Then things happen we can’t explain. This is one such story.

November 1941. When I was seven months old, Dad’s passion drove him to contract with Sudan Interior Mission in Africa. They packed me into their black 1939 Ford fastback, and sped like an arrow three thousand miles across the U.S. to New York where they waited to sail. But on the eve of departure the Japanese savaged Pearl Harbor and America plunged into WWII. Hostile German submarines were sinking ships like stones, so the passenger ship lines scratched all Atlantic passengers sailing with young children. Yet some missionaries felt the fire of their call so strongly that they entrusted their children to relatives and sailed anyway. My parents decided to keep me and stay. Dad told me later, “That was the greatest disappointment of my life.” (I hoped he meant Africa, not me.)

October 2006. Time-travel forward sixty-five years. I’m teaching anthropology in Minnesota at Bethel University with my colleague, Samuel Zalanga, brilliant sociologist and father of three. He tells me, “I was born in northern Nigeria and grew up in a small Christian village there named after my family—Zalanga. I studied at Muslim schools through my master’s.”

 “Nigeria? When I was a baby that’s where my parents were headed as missionaries, but we never made it.”

“Really? What happened?”

“Yeah, Dad and Mom got as far as New York, but after Pearl Harbor no young children were permitted to sail, so they stayed home. When they tried giving back their “outgoing” money to donors, most refused it. After talking with their mission, they decided instead to send the money to Nigeria to build something called “Beliri Bible Mission.”

Samuel’s face changes. “Beliri Bible Mission?”

“Yeah, why?”

“That’s where my grandparents came to Christian faith!”

I feel the blood drain from my face. “What? You mean it was the same mission? I don’t know anything about Beliri except they built it somewhere in the middle of Nigeria.”

“It’s just a short distance from my home village. My grandparents met SIM missionaries at Beliri years ago.”

I grow silent. Dad’s disappointment results in the building of a tiny mission where Samuel’s family embraces faith. Years later he comes to teach alongside me at Bethel University. Without Beliri, Samuel would never be here. I wish Dad were alive today to hear this story. God may seem to disappoint, but miracles happen all the time. In this case I got to see one up close.

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