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Cover Story


The Lamb Who Would Not Cry



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In the far corner of the veranda slumped a large sheep. The dirty, matted wool on its chest was slowly absorbing the blood that streamed from deep fang wounds.

The sheep’s owner stood above his animal, glowering darkly and muttering clipped, sinister oaths in Swahili. His cronies from the local Congolese village nodded in agreement.

“And they call themselves missionaries,” said one, spitting over the back wall. “Yet they let their dogs attack our sheep.”

“Where were they, anyway, when it happened?” asked another man, pointing at me with his chin.

“They were in church,” one of the cronies replied caustically.

“You can bet they will pay dearly for this,” undertoned the sheep’s owner. “This is the only sheep my family has.” He emphasized his point by roughly nudging the sheep with his bare foot. The creature moaned.

“Why this, God?” I lamented, knowing how a touchy incident such as this could seriously damage the effectiveness of our mission service. “Why just now, when we’re finally starting to feel at home here?”

In the near corner of the veranda cowered Christy, our German shepherd. My husband and I were in our mid-20s and living halfway around the world from our families. Doing our lonely best to adapt to a foreign culture, we’d taken comfort from the warmth and companionship of the little pup. We had obtained her from the Ugandan Police Kennels on our way into the Congo a year before. And as a pet often does for a childless couple, Christy held a special place in our family.

But there she was now, nursing her wounded pride after having received a brief whipping from my husband. Christy had never attacked another animal before. I was sure she had only wanted to play with the sheep, but what a mess she had gotten us into!

Guttural groans punctuated the sheep’s labored breathing. Involuntarily I glanced at the sickening sight in the far corner. When two of the villagers turned to stare at me, I lowered my gaze.

Noon sunshine reflected off the broad banana plant leaves waving lazily in the plantation breeze. We had just returned from a service up in the school chapel. How precious had been those moments of Easter worship with our African brothers and sisters. God had seemed so close as we knelt before Him in praise and thanksgiving for the priceless sacrifice of His Son, a gift that united us all.

With comforted spirits we had left that place of renewal—only to walk down the hill into the nightmare unfolding on our back veranda.

LIVING NIGHTMARE

Even in a slow-moving culture, bad news travels fast. Soon passersby on the road, coming from and going to market, wandered into our yard to find out the reason for the crowd.

A young woman in a bright wraparound pagne, with a bottle of palm oil balanced on her head, asked the sheep’s owner what had happened. He didn’t hesitate to tell her.

A weathered old woman, holding two upside-down chickens by their feet, cackled through a toothless space in the front of her mouth. While her chickens clucked miserably, more and more curious sightseers clumped in chattering groups, craning their necks to view the proceedings on our veranda.

By threes and fours, students, having finished their lunch at the mission school dining room, approached the back porch. All of them waited respectfully on the lawn, where they could be within hearing distance. All, that is, except Eliel—a natural-born leader who had instigated three student strikes already this school year. In fact, I recognized his loud laugh even before he emerged from the banana plants.

He was among the last people on earth I wanted to see just now. He loved to watch teachers squirm—especially foreign ones.

Brazenly he led three of his classmates onto the back porch without first asking, according to local custom, permission to approach. I was offended by their poorly disguised excitement and glee at our predicament.

“Where is your husband, madam?” Eliel bluntly demanded as if he were taking control.

I suspected they were going to gather as much information as possible before returning to the dormitory to relate every hilarious detail to their colleagues. His companions gathered around to hear my answer.

“He took the car to get Nurse Solomon from the dispensary,” I answered carefully, feeling more alone than ever.

“Is a nurse for people going to tend to an animal?” Eliel asked sarcastically. He could scarcely conceal his amusement. I felt humiliated.

Just then the roar of our Peugeot 404’s unmuffled exhaust pipe announced my husband’s arrival. I watched him, pale-faced, drive into the yard with Nurse Solomon in the passenger seat.

The crowd in the yard smirked and tittered as Solomon pushed his way through them, black instrument bag clutched tightly in his hand, a no-nonsense look on his face.

“What are you going to do, Nurse Solomon?” demanded the sheep’s owner.

“I am going to sew up your sheep’s wounds,” answered Solomon quietly. He ignored Eliel’s loud laugh. “Lift your animal up onto this table.”

“Why bother?” countered the owner. “My animal is going to die. I just want money so that I can replace it—that’s all.”

“Well, it’s far from being dead,” insisted Solomon, “so get it up onto this table.”

The owner looked as if he could turn violent at any moment. After a long, dangerous silence, he exhaled loudly and motioned to the villager standing next to him to help lift the sheep onto the Ping-Pong table. There Solomon gently bound the ewe’s legs.

Feeling like an insect caught in a spiderweb, I had no choice but to helplessly watch what was about to take place.

The onlookers’ excited chattering faded abruptly as Solomon took a large half-moon needle from his black bag and began to thread it. Silently he disinfected a ragged wound near the sheep’s throat. Even the sheep’s owner had stopped his muttering to watch.

I felt my stomach grow tighter.

“God, where are You? What good can possibly come of this? And Easter, of all weekends!” I complained. “This is so unfair!”

With a determined thrust, Solomon jabbed the dull needle through the raw flesh. I cringed, anticipating the animal’s cry of pain. It never came. Instead I heard a sympathetic grunt or two from Eliel’s group.

Thirty minutes passed as Nurse Solomon repeatedly pressed the needle into the animal’s flesh. Deftly he secured each stitch with a neat little knot.

An hour went by. Realizing that this surgical procedure was bound to be a long, monotonous one, the market-goers began to lose interest in the drama and wandered off in search of more lively pastimes. By now the owner seemed resigned to the fact that his sheep was in competent hands.

But even though the sheep’s owner had stopped his grumbling, I wasn’t finished with mine. Feeling shortchanged by God, I leaned against my husband’s shoulder, listlessly observing the scene. It just doesn’t make sense, I whimpered inwardly, swiping at a large fly buzzing around my face.

THE LAMB

Slowly I became aware that almost everyone had left except the sheep’s owner—and Eliel, of all people, who was standing at Solomon’s elbow. I remembered now that Eliel had once expressed an interest in medicine.

“ . . . never cried out,” he commented unexpectedly to no one in particular.

Solomon rethreaded the blunt needle.

“I beg your pardon,” I said dully, looking at Eliel.

He glanced up at me as if his thoughts had been interrupted. “Oh, I was just noticing how patient the sheep is.”

It was then that I realized Eliel had been watching the sheep, not Solomon. Again he turned his gaze on the creature, and for once the proud, self-confident Eliel had nothing to say.

“How is the sheep?” my husband asked Solomon in English.

“She’ll be fine if the owner keeps her wounds clean,” he answered, beginning to unbind her legs.

Well, the worst was over, although I still smarted from the sting of public humiliation. I walked over to the dog in the corner to make sure she didn’t get any ideas when she saw the sheep.

Solomon lifted the sheep down from the table and set it gingerly on its unsteady feet, giving directions for its care to the owner. He nodded that he understood.

Solomon clicked shut his black bag and slid into the front seat of the car beside my husband. The Peugeot disappeared in the direction of the dispensary.

Down the path leading through the banana plantation the injured sheep dutifully plodded after its master.

Standing on the top porch step, Eliel watched it go. I was perplexed by his uncharacteristic silence.

“Eliel?” I queried cautiously. “Are you all right?”

He slowly met my questioning eyes. “Did you see how that creature just lay there?” he asked. “No struggling? No groaning?”

He paused and swallowed hard. “Remember when they read in church today that Jesus was led like a sheep to be slaughtered? And ‘He opened not his mouth’? I never understood before what that meant exactly.” His eyes had a moist, troubled look about them.

We stood silent for an awkward moment, a proud Congolese schoolboy and a missionary of little faith—unexpectedly sharing a deeper understanding of the Lamb.

 

This story originally appeared in the June 27, 1987, issue of Insight. Carolyn Rathbun Sutton has served as a missionary, an English teacher, and the editor of Guide. A popular speaker and writer, she is the author of several books and currently edits the annual women’s devotional produced by the General Conference Department of Women’s Ministries. She and her husband, Jim, live in Alabama.

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