• Sheila Harkins

Thoughts of Easter and Sacrifices


It’s the time of year when I spend a good bit of time preparing for the Good Friday service and the Easter Chapel at the school where I work. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” And, I’m reminded that Jesus lived out the truth of those words as he demonstrated his love for all of us by dying on the cross.


Another memory comes to mind, as well.


It was 1978. I was ten. It seemed like an ordinary evening on the mission station. The smell of wood fires signalled that it was evening time as all around the women in villages were preparing the evening meal. The chaos of the busy days always quieted down while the African sky changed colors as night approached. Inside our house, my Mom, Dad and my younger sister and I were playing a game together.


“Maurice!  Maurice!” our neighbor Uncle John (we called all the missionaries uncles and aunts) called out as he approached the house. There was an urgency in his tone. In addition, he bypassed the traditional “gogogoi” greeting that was usually called out as one approached a residence. 


My Dad got up from the table. They stood talking in our living room and then my Dad told my Mom that our missionary neighbor, Archie Dunaway, was missing and they were going to look for him. The two men left together and my Mom moved us along quickly in getting ready for bed.


I had no way of knowing the fear that the adults must have immediately experienced. I could tell that something was wrong, but I didn’t know that the number of missionaries who had been killed during this five year war had just grown from sixteen to twenty in  the past week alone. The terrorist fighters had found a soft target for their anger against white Rhodesians who ruled the country.


Around 1:00 am, my Mom came into the room. “Susie and Sheila, wake up.  We’re all going to go keep AuntMargaret company since they haven’t been able to find Uncle Archie. So we pulled on our housecoats and tugged some shoes on in our half-asleep state.  And then, in the dark African night, we held onto our Mother’s hands as we walked to the house next door.


It’s still vivid in my mind. I had to have had a sense that this was most unusual. That something was terribly wrong. The other missionaries had gathered together in the Dunaway’s house. The pastor and his wife from the mission church had also come to be with them as we waited. They tucked us girls into a room with two single beds and told us to go back to sleep. 


In those days, the phone lines didn’t have good connections and one had to speak very loudly to be heard. There was no way we could miss the phone calls and Aunt Margaret’s distress as she called her family and children in the States to let them know that their Dad was missing. Although I didn’t know what all was happening, the fear and sadness was evident in the tears and the rise and fall of voices in the house.


The next morning, my mother came and let us know the very sad news that Uncle Archie had died. She told us we could go home and that a friend would take care of us while she helped Aunt Margaret. Susie and I started down the dusty driveway. We heard one voice call out to another, “Have they found Archie?”


And then the answer, “Yes, he was stabbed to death behind the hospital.” 


I clutched Susie’s hand, my heart racing as we walked to our house. I could feel the world as I had known it shifting, but I was too young to know what the grief and repurcussions of that one night would be for so many who knew and loved Archie Dunaway.


Not everyone has the privilege that I had to be raised among a community of missionaries who were willing to leave their families and all that was familiar to make daily sacrifices in war torn Rhodesia. And, not everyone has had the honor of knowing someone who made the ultimate sacrifice because he believed in the importance of sharing the gospel message with the people he loved.


Twenty-two years earlier, a missionary named Jim Elliot was one of five men who were brutally murdered at the hands of the Huaorani people in Ecuador. He once said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim knew the risks involved, but he knew any sacrifice was worth it to take the message of God’s love to the Huaorani people.


I know in my life and in the life of the young people that I work with that the story of Jesus dying on the cross can seem so far removed. The incredible sacrifice–the beatings, mockings and death on the cross–can seem so hard for us to personally relate to or picture or understand. The same can be said for the deaths of Jim Elliot and Archie Dunaway.


Sometimes we fail to see that the pattern of dying-to-self came far before the physical deaths. However, all of us who understand the gospel are called to lay down our lives. We are all called to deny ourselves and take up the cross daily. We are all called to be living sacrifices.


This isn’t a lifestyle of self-denial in our own strength or for our own purposes. It’s a lifestyle of daily walking with the Holy Spirit and keeping in step with Him. It’s allowing Him to show us how to receive His love and how to love others. This Easter season, join me in seeking what it might look like for us to lay down our lives in our everyday world.

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