“Whom shall I send and who will go for me?” (Isaiah 6:8)
Life is but a breath. It is a true statement from the book of Psalms. Seriously, breathe in and then out…it is weird to think if you don’t do this… you will die. I (Tracey) am thankful for life, because I have seen death. As a missionary in Kenya for the last 20 years, death is something that is familiar in this land.
Let me step back about 24 years to 1996, when I delivered our second son Simon Joel. I had been on bed rest for a few months during my pregnancy while trying to continue to take care of our 2-year-old son Sam…this was not easy but I had—and continue to have—a great husband. Eric (my husband) was always willing to take Sam out for the afternoon or evening, to the movies or bowling, while I rested. But my bed rest came to a screeching halt when I suddenly was rushed to the hospital, where I delivered a 22-weeks newborn baby boy that we named Simon. He shot out of me with one push, weighing 1lb 4 oz. His skin was as clear as plastic wrap and I could see his internal organs. His eyes were still fused shut like a baby kitten. But he was fully formed. All 10 fingers and 10 toes… a perfect, tiny life.
Simon right after he was born.
The book of Luke in the New Testament says, “Indeed the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear; you are worth far more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7) At that point, Simon had just a few wisps of hair and he was as fragile as a sparrow. But we felt in our spirit that this sparrow would survive and it would be a supernatural fight for his life…were we ready to enter this battle? We had no choice.
The Bible says the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Through prayer we saw God bring Simon back from many near-death experiences over the next two years that he spent in the hospital. This was a battle in the spiritual realm, as well as physical realm. Two years in the hospital, fighting for your child’s life, is extremely exhausting. Each day was a roller coaster of emotions and various steps forward and back. More often than not, Simon made big steps backwards: three heart attacks, multiple surgeries and endless medications. The steps forward included Simon smiling at me for the first time, hearing his voice for the first time after he came off of the ventilator, seeing him eat by mouth rather than a feeding tube and the day Simon finally came home from the hospital at age 2.
Once Simon came home, he continued to receive intense medical intervention. He was connected to a machine called a ventilator through a hole and a tube in his throat. He was dependent on this machine 24 hours a day so that he could breathe and his heart would continue to pump. Thankfully, we had nursing care in our house for some of that first year. When nurses were not there, Eric and I quickly became “medically trained” as we took care of Simon and all the equipment.
Our son Sam loved holding his brother, even though he would get tangled up in all the tubing. Sam would kiss his brother and pray for his brother all the time. Sam often told us that Jesus was healing Simon. Sam helped keep our life normal. He wanted Simon to go everywhere with us, even though Simon was attached to all those machines. So we would lug Simon and the machines to various places like the mall, restaurants and friends’ houses for dinner. We got a lot of “sympathetic stares” from people but Sam did not care, he wanted Simon included in everything! Eric and I leaned on each other during these years—we cried with each other and we prayed with each other as we walked shoulder-to-shoulder through the wilderness. We memorized many Bible verses on healing and prayed them over Simon endlessly. One of our favorites was “Fear not for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you and I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”(Isaiah 41:10).
People had all kinds of comments, prayers and responses. Some were encouraging and some were not. I often heard from people that “We needed to manage our expectations” and expect the worst. The Lord Jesus did not want us to “manage” our expectations… He wanted us to trust Him and not lean on our own understanding. The Lord met our needs beyond all that we could have imagined. Simon was known as the “miracle baby”, and the New York Times did a front-page story about him. We had so many opportunities to declare God’s goodness to the world. Fast forward to 2001. Simon was out of the woods so to speak and healing wonderfully. Sam was now 6 and was a great big brother. In the meantime, Eric and I felt the Lord ask us if we would consider going into full-time overseas missions? We were unsure if this was the voice of the Lord but we decided to spend time praying and fasting.
Through much prayer and a few fights between the Lord and ourselves we finally realized that God was asking us to go overseas to be full-time missionaries. Now that may sound very romantic and very Godly but at the time, all it felt like was a lot of work. We had to sell everything: our house, our cars, pretty much most of what we owned… and then move our family over to Nairobi, Kenya. Eric had been offered a job to work for Wycliffe Associates, an organization that helps promote Bible translation in many countries. You may wonder what we were thinking? Why in the world would we take two little boys to Africa? Especially since one of our little boys had just spent three years fighting for his life. Well I don’t know about you… but most things that God directs us to do don’t make a lot of sense. Look at Moses who parted the Red Sea. I am sure he was not initially like “Okay God whatever you say” …he was more like “Oh you have to be kidding me!”
One thing was for sure…we knew this was a huge step of faith (and we only had faith the size of a mustard seed) and we knew that God was asking us. “Whom shall I send and who will go for me? (Isaiah 6:8). We definitely did not feel very ABLE but we were WILLING. God doesn’t need us to be ABLE; He just needs us to be WILLING. In September 2002, Eric finalized all his work at Hagman Construction (the family’s construction company) and we packed some things, sold some things, threw some things away… and boarded a plane to Nairobi, Kenya with eight suitcases and two little boys. Both sets of grandparents said their farewells to us at the airport through tears and smiles.
They believed, along with us, that we needed to follow the Lord wherever He asked. We were so thankful that our parents gave us their blessing even though it was very painful. Fast-forward to 2021.The last 19 years in Kenya have been intense and wonderful. Eric spent the first 10 years traveling around Africa supporting Bible translation projects by building various translation centers. The boys both attended and graduated from a small international school. Simon was one of 2 students in their special education program for 15 years. Once again the Lord asked us to step out in faith and Eric left Wycliffe in 2011 and we founded a special education and therapy center in Nairobi called Heshima (which means “dignity” in Swahili) We currently provide medical intervention, therapy and special education for many low-income families in the slums.
After graduating from High School in Kenya, Sam has gone on to become a doctor in the USA. His desire is to move back overseas to become a medical missionary. Simon has stayed in Kenya with us and is the pastor at Heshima. Simon spends his days on the Heshima campus sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with our families through prayer and simple teaching. Simon cannot read or write past an Elementary level and his speech is hard to understand…BUT GOD has used Simon’s life to lead many people to Jesus Christ here in Kenya.
Our family has learned to never underestimate the power of God. We see Him moving on the Heshima campus daily, bringing good news to the broken hearted. The moral of this story is this: Use TRIALS that the Lord allows each of us to go through and turn them from…TRIALS to TRIUMPHS. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)