TWR Canada past-president Ray Alary blogged every Thursday, telling behind-the-scenes stories and ministry updates you won't find anywhere else. You can still access his stories and read about his time as a missionary with TWR.
Last week you read how darkness threatened to overcome us as we worked on the West Africa transmitter project. And I promised you the rest of the story: how I struggled to overcome the darkness that clung to me. Each health challenge and each death were part of that darkness that caused confusion and pain.
While I found it difficult to understand why Andrew, a young man full of life and living for the Lord, would be taken away from us, it didn’t affect me on the day-to-day level in the same way the other health challenges and deaths would.
For example, Jean Marc was like one of our children. We had a gate between the Ragsdale’s property and our home. Almost every day, the children would come and see Sandy. They were like our grandchildren. If something happened to Jean Marc, it affected us directly. I couldn’t understand why a young boy would have to go through this. He didn’t start the work in West Africa; he had no direct connection to the project. Why should he suffer?
Andrew, along with Jean Marc’s parents, were ambassadors for Christ. They were so invested in this project that Satan was attacking in a dirty way. He was attacking through our children. You must understand that missionaries are a family; when one family is affected, we all felt the responsibility and impact.
Stephen was my brother. We didn’t come from the same continent, and we didn’t have the same colour of skin. We didn’t go to the same schools, and nothing in our upbringing was the same. But we were brothers in every way. Working with Stephen was a dream, and I loved him like I love my own family. He would do anything for me, and I would do anything for him.
Andrew and I were much the same. We didn’t have as close a relationship as Stephen and myself, but we were like brothers. Like many brothers, we had an “iron sharpens iron relationship.” In simple terms, that meant we didn’t always agree, but we worked together and loved each other as brothers.
I often called us the dream team. Stephen, Andrew and I led the ministry in Africa, and we worked well together. We helped each other out, and God blessed the ministry.
When Stephen passed away, Andrew’s cancer had already taken him back to Cape Town so he could spend his final days with his family. On June 6, 2007, we went from having a three-person leadership team to one: myself. I will never forget that day as long as I live. I would see Stephen on the floor of his home with paramedics surrounding him. At that moment, I realized that my life had changed forever.
I also remember going downstairs with two other leaders and discussing what was next. Who was going to call international leadership? Who would stay with Grace and the family? And the big question for TWR: who would pick up the pieces? Who would deal with our grieving staff? Our minds were in a whirl. Those other two leaders looked at me and said, “Ray, you are the man to do this.”
An hour and half later, I walked out of the house to go to the office and make some phone calls. I realized that I had a responsibility to the staff. Yes, I had just lost one of my best friends, a leader I loved and looked up to, a man who had taught me that it wasn’t enough to have a vision to do something, you had to have the determination to do something about it. I had lost a dear friend, but my grief would have to be put on hold.
To this day, I don’t remember all the details of those next few days. I do know that I learned a great deal about Ghanaian culture very quickly. I came to understand that Stephen wasn’t just an international director to the leaders of our offices in Africa, he was a father to all of these leaders. They had lost someone important, and I could not fill the gap.
People came from around the world to say their goodbyes to Stephen. Our team stood beside Grace and their children through it all, and we began to bring our team back together. All of sudden, I was overseeing the project in West Africa. I was leading an international human resource team. I was the operational director for Africa, and I was working with our international president to keep the operation going across the continent. To say the least, my mind was spinning.
Ecclesiastes says there is a time to grieve, but it doesn’t tell you how important that process is. As a leader, I went into a different mode. I felt I had to show the team that I was strong, that even though I had lost someone important to me, I could rise above it and carry on. After all, if I didn’t do that how would the rest of the team react? I did carry on, and I did not grieve as I should have. One and a half years later, I personally paid the price for not doing that. It was only when I got counselling that I realized I had missed an important step in the process of losing a family member.
I will write about how this created my own crisis later, but we are not there yet.
Scripture tells us that we will have to pay a price for our obedience (Luke 14:26-27) but how many of us really believe that? Until I went through the dark valley of loss, I never really thought about it in the way I have since I went through losing friends and seeing families go through incredible challenges.
Today as I reflect back, I thank the Lord for the Burnett family. They continue to serve the Lord in TWR. James is the project manager for the second transmitter to be installed in West Africa, and Lyn heads up TWR Women of Hope in South Africa. They went on to lead many Griefshare courses to those who have lost loved ones due to death.
John Ragsdale and his family continue to serve with TWR at an undisclosed location. John continues to have a burden to reach out to Muslims around the globe. Jean Marc will graduate from high school next year. He still has an annual checkup to monitor the growth of the tumor that remains.
Barbara MacDonald, who served alongside her husband, lives in Cape Town and is retired.
Grace Boakye-Yiadom lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her children. Stephen is still talked about around the office. His leadership was exemplary, and thus he is still remembered by not just those in South Africa but around the continent as well.
As I write this blog, I am still serving with TWR. My passion is what it is today because of the team and people God surrounded me with. I look forward to the day when we will all be united in heaven and we can see from the other side why we had to go through such difficult experiences.
It is a pleasure to share my heart and my story. God has done great things, and he continues to do them. Praise to the Lord!
I will leave you with this quote from Stephen: “Africa Needs Jesus.” While Stephen was alive, that was true, and it is still true today. I would add that it’s not just Africa that needs Jesus; the world needs Jesus. Thanks for reading. One of the lessons that Ray learned through these challenges was the need for rest. Ray's Journey to Hope blogs will take a break for the next two months, but we look forward to getting back into this story on September 6.