“During this time of intense prayer I did not ask that Carroll’s life or my life be spared, but that I would have the strength and courage to be faithful to the end, whatever that might be.” These words reflect a desperate prayer from Shirley as her husband, Carroll, was being attacked by a group of robbers when they broke into their temporary home, wielding machetes.
My friend Carroll stands just over 5 feet tall. He is in his 80’s now. He is a very gentle man of God. Talking to him one is immediately put at ease as he shares about his mission in life since retirement. No one would suspect the near death experience he endured that would have turned many people away from the call of taking the Word to remote parts of the globe. He had retired as a professor at the University of Tennessee to become associated with Worldwide Discipleship Association as a missionary. Even in his seventies, Carroll felt the desire and calling of God to reach out to unknown places and give hope and rest to unknown people. In recent years he and his wife have taken a number of short-term mission trips, some with their church, Cedar Springs EPC in Knoxville, to places such as Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Romania, Tuva (Russia), Myanmar and Peru. One of those trips to Tanzania in 2006 was nearly the last trip Carroll would take. Not because of getting older, but because of a vicious attack.
Carroll and Shirley had arrived in Tanzania safely and had met with some mission friends already on the ground. They had had meetings during the day and were resting comfortably at the mission compound, serving as their temporary home, that evening after dinner. The compound is surrounded by high walls and considered a safe-haven from such attacks. After dinner Shirley retreated to the bathroom area, where the lighting was the best, to read her book. Carroll went to the bedroom to rest. Suddenly, Shirley was shockingly distracted from her book when she heard a rough voice demand, “Give me your money!” She heard Carroll yell her name in a panicked voice as the assault on him began. Rather than rushing to his aid, which probably would have resulted in her being attacked as well, she turned to the Lord in frantic prayer. As she hid herself in a bathroom stall, she cried out to Jesus with prayers, “Jesus…Jesus…Jesus” and “Please help Carroll” and for herself, “Make me faithful to the end.” She thought for sure that after the attackers were finished with Carroll, she would be next.
As three men had broken into the dormitory, a table had turned over blocking direct attack from two of the men. The third man began beating Carroll on his head and shoulders with the side of a machete, demanding money. One swipe of the machete came full force with the blade. Carroll’s arm was sliced open on the underside from wrist to elbow. After his arm was cut, the attacker told Carroll to kneel. Holding his arm to staunch to flow of blood, Carroll looked in to the eyes of his attacker and proclaimed, “Jesus” with a command, “In the name of Jesus, I command you to leave.” One of the attackers cried, “Let’s get out of here.” Carroll felt the presence of the Holy Spirit fill the room and caused the three men to become frightened and flee. If Carroll had gone to his knees at the robbers demand, he probably would have suffered much worse. As it was he was bleeding profusely from his arm wound and was close to death from loss of blood. Meanwhile, Shirley had continued to pray and proclaiming Jesus as the victor and protector of their lives in time of trouble.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.
The thieves had left with no money and only a small tape recorder with, ironically, a worship tape inside.
Carroll was guided to their friend’s house in the compound by what he felt was “an angle on each side of him.” Upon hearing of the attack, several staff members went to the dormitory and rescued Shirley. A tourniquet was applied to Carroll’s arm but much too loosely so he had to continually hold his arm tightly to try to slow the bleeding. They stopped at the police station on the way to the hospital to report the attack. Seeing that the bleeding was not slowing, Shirley hurried the group on to the hospital. She saw that Carroll was getting weaker and closer to death and they filled out paperwork. As it turned out, a police accident report had to be presented to the hospital for treatment. She prayed words of life over Carroll all the way to the hospital.
When they arrived at the hospital, Shirley ran from the vehicle into the hospital and called for a doctor as loud as she could yell. He came immediately and followed her to the car where Carroll was still bleeding liberally and near to passing out completely. Carroll had blood all over him and the car and no one knew just how badly he was beaten or the extent of his injuries. The doctor did not begin treatment immediately but kept watching him. The nurse could not get an IV into Carroll’s vein and it took the doctor to get it inserted. He estimated that Carroll had lost about forty percent of his blood. His blood pressure was zero over zero, and it remained that way for several hours. The doctor stitched his arm but failed to repair the cut artery. During two days at the hospital, Christian friends brought meals to Carroll and Shirley since the hospital did not provide them. The hospital did what they could with limited supplies and resources. After leaving the hospital they arranged to immediately fly home arriving in Knoxville the next day. They immediately went to the University of Tennessee Hospital emergency room. They checked-out Carroll and seemed to think all was well and sent him home. A week later, he was back at the hospital with severe pain. They were going to send him home again except their daughter, a registered nurse, suspected something else was wrong and insisted they do some more tests. When a vascular surgeon saw the test results, he sent Carroll to surgery immediately. After cutting open his arm open from wrist to elbow and repairing the slashed artery, he stated that Carroll had compartment syndrome and came within two hours of losing his hand. Blood had been pooling in his arm with no place to go.
Carroll stayed in the hospital for eight more days with two more surgeries. Today, Carroll still has a little pain in his arm. When I talked with him he was upbeat, humorous and more than willing to share his story as well as show me the 12” scar that goes from wrist to elbow. Shirley concluded her testimony, “We are thankful that we are both alive and can continue to serve our Savior in Tanzania and other parts of the world as we follow the Lord’s leading for our lives.”
IF WE CAN JUST BE LIKE THEM
I reflect on this story not to cause alarm or fear from the tragedy of the events, but for the joy of the ongoing story. What an inspiration to meet a couple that have gone through so much yet joyfully risk it again to continue with their calling around the globe! I admire those that have taken up their cross in dangerous places and face persecution and possibly death every day. It’s not work one takes lightly or without reason. As written in my last blog, A New Mission Has Begun, my wife and I recently took vows while being commissioned as missionaries for World Outreach of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The last vow to which we said “I do,” was one of being willing to suffer and possibly die for the sake of the mission. While we are not going off to live in a remote part of the world, part of our ministry is to visit those places where EPC World Outreach missionaries are living and working. Some of those places are dangerous. I pray that we never have to face any physical peril in the mission field. But I also pray if we do have to face the danger we can meet the challenges with the faith, strength and tenacity that our friends Carroll and Shirley displayed in their time of trial as well as the many that have gone before us facing persecution and enduring all the inflictions for the cause of Christ. As Shirley proclaimed, I hope to “have the strength and courage to be faithful to the end, whatever that might be.”
“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him…”
2 Timothy 2:10-11