Sharks Ahoy!

  • Sharks Ahoy!
Sharks Ahoy!

Take him to the ocean and he’d jump in looking for sharks. Take him to the mountains and he’d see how high he could climb. One day when he was five I watched in horror as he jumped off a roof—a garbage bag parachute duck taped to his back.

We couldn’t be more opposite, my son and I. The higher he climbs the more he believes God is with him. Not me. I believe God put us on dry land and said, “Lo, I am with you always.”

In his first year of college he called one night to ask me for money. “I’m sorry,” I said. “You have reached this number in error. Please hang up and call your Uncle Dan.”

“I scaled a 300-foot cliff today,” he said, undaunted. “You’d have loved it.”

Right. His father who contracts vertigo standing on an ottoman.

For years I’ve wondered what God would make of our son. Would he call him to be a helicopter test pilot? A professional bungee jumper? A clown? Or would he fulfil every North American parent’s dream by settling down in an enormous house with a nice wife and providing us a half-dozen grandchildren to spoil?

The unexpected answer arrived in the mail one day.

Dear Dad and Mom,

I just want you to know about recent plans and developments in my life. I met a couple nice girls and we’re planning on being married. In Utah. Not really. But I did meet Lucy. You’ll like her a lot. It’s surprising how quickly you can find a Justice of the Peace down here. Lucy owns a tattoo parlour, but seldom works. Her father won some money in a lottery, so she’s set for life. I won’t need to work anymore either. I’ve bought a Mercedes convertible and you’ll be happy to know I put a chrome fish on the bumper. Lucy owns a house, a summer home, and we’re praying about buying a yacht.

If you haven’t fainted yet, you may want to read the truth now. It may be more shocking. In the country of Uganda The Lord’s Resistance Army is committing atrocities against children that are too awful for me to put in this letter. Over the years they’ve abducted 50,000 kids and turned the ones they haven’t murdered into soldiers. I want to go to work with street children in Kampala. I’ll be living with local missionaries. It will mean lots of needles and I’ll need to raise a little money too. I once heard you say Dad that Jesus came to comfort us not to make us comfortable. I guess I’ve been comforted enough; it’s time to offer some to others.

Your son, Steve

“Where do you think we went wrong?” I asked his mother. “Couldn’t he just have a beach ministry in Hawaii?” She grinned, despite the fact she’d just stuck herself with a knitting needle. “Maybe we blew it taking him to other countries or raising him on God’s Word,” I suggested. “It’s what we’ve prayed for all these years,” she smiled. “That he would live life on purpose.”

And so it was that we found ourselves in the airport, hugging our first-born son until his ribs squeaked as he embarked on a grand adventure half a world away. It’s funny the questions people asked when they heard he was going to Uganda. I heard it a dozen times: “Aren’t you worried about his safety?” And I’d be a fool not to admit that I had my moments. Check a list of the most dangerous spots on earth, and Uganda nears the top. But is safety what we’re here for? Isn’t the most dangerous place on earth the place of complacency? Isn’t suburbia sucking the life out of more of our teenagers than any foreign country ever could?

We prayed and taught this boy to follow a man who gave up his life that we might live. How could I do anything less than applaud wholeheartedly when he takes us up on it?

But I must be honest. There were times I would rather Steve was home, making good money, putting it away for my nursing home bills. Yet I cannot hope for more than this, that my children will hear God’s voice in a noisy culture, and that they will listen.

Just before he departed I asked him what he’d miss most about home. “The dog,” he said, smiling. Then why was it that I saw him studying family photos and lounging on the sofa watching an old Disney movie with his brother and sister? Was he killing time or saying goodbye to the remnants of childhood?

I shed a few tears, but mostly I gave thanks. For a son who was an updated and improved version of his father. For email and cheap overseas phone rates. And—oh yes—I was thankful there are no sharks in Uganda.