Take heart. Has anyone ever said this to you? I always thought it was kind of an odd saying. People usually say it when something bad is happening and you are hoping for a miracle. But it doesn’t seem that “taking heart” has anything to do with making a miracle happen, or does it? I have experienced a few miracles in my life and the one thing I know is that the miracle doesn't usually happen when everything is going well. Actually, it’s usually the opposite. Tragedy, heartache and struggle often precede the miracle. Does taking heart have anything to do with miracles? And what does it really mean? I think I learned this year.
The phrase is used a few times in the Bible, once by the Apostle Paul. Paul handled the struggles and joys of life with his heart set on his mission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. At the end of Acts, Paul is imprisoned for more than two years before the governor of Judea ordered that he be sent to Rome. The voyage was filled with dangerous storms, violent wind and many difficulties. Paul, along with the other prisoners and sailors on the ship, was hungry, afraid and desperate for a miracle. It was in this dark place of utter despair that Paul experienced the perfect opportunity to reveal God’s faithfulness. In Acts 27:25, Paul says, “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” The Lord had revealed to Paul that they would survive their difficult circumstances and Paul knew that God was trustworthy and completely in control no matter how big and fierce the storm around him. Even though his natural response was fear, Paul chose to trust God’s past faithfulness, knowing that He always keeps His promises, despite the grim reality he was facing. Paul shows us that the opposite of fear is faith. Faith that God is who He says He is and that His character doesn’t change based on our circumstances. The journey to Rome was difficult but in the end well worth it as God’s providence ushered the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. God used difficulty in Paul's life to direct the Gospel where He wanted it to go.
The misfortune provided the opportunity for the miracle and the miracle provided the opportunity for the mission.
I have identified with Paul in many ways this past year as our commitment to our mission was tested as we sponsored two children from West Africa for heart treatment. These two children proved to be two of the most difficult sponsorships we’ve experienced in our five years of ministry. In the spring we welcomed a two year old boy named Soudaisse. He lives with his mom, Safi, in Burkina Faso, just north of Togo, Africa. His open heart surgery was a success but the difficulty came when Safi fell and injured her mouth here in Jacksonville. Through the generosity of our local endodontist and support from our community, Safi underwent two root canals before returning home to her village. Now, when asked about the scar down Soudaisse’s chest, she tells people that neither Allah nor witchcraft saved her son, but when he was around all the people who love Jesus he was healed. The mishap of her injury made a way for her to experience the love of Jesus through the people who healed her and her son. Through that miracle Jesus is being proclaimed by a Muslim woman in a part of the world where many people have never heard the Gospel.
The obstacles brought on by Safi’s injury pale in comparison to the heartbreak we experienced with the next child we sponsored, Ahad. Ahad came to Jacksonville in October with his mother, Sekina. Sekina and Ahad live in Mango, Togo and travelled to the US knowing that Ahad’s case was complicated. After weeks of tests, diagnosis and deliberation, it was decided by the medical team that Ahad was inoperable. This outcome is never our intention and it was devastating to everyone involved when the decision not to operate was finally made. The medical team at Wolfson Children’s Hospital worked tirelessly to get Ahad stable so that he could return home, but unfortunately his body was not strong enough to survive without support and he tragically passed away on November 25. When I received a call at midnight from the attending physician telling me that Sekina had chosen to withdraw Ahad’s support I was heartbroken knowing what was about to unfold for her and her family. With the unbelievable support from two friends and dedicated Will King supporters, a burial and ceremony was arranged with the Islamic Center in Jacksonville for Ahad and Sekina was on a plane to return home to her family within 72 hours after his passing. We all prayed for a miracle - that Ahad would live even though it was medically impossible, but that’s not the miracle we witnessed. Instead, we witnessed the miracle of community coming together despite different cultures and languages and nationalities around a grieving mother. We saw the miracle of incredible strength as Sekina travelled home without her little boy. We experienced the miracle of the Gospel going to West Africa once again in the form of a small audio Bible recorded in French that travelled in the inside zipper pocket of Sekina's bag. Jesus doesn’t promise that if we follow Him we will never experience grief or hardship or loss. He doesn’t promise that we will always be safe and happy. In fact in John 16:33, Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” There it is again - take heart.
Jesus doesn’t promise that He will always make our lives here on Earth better. That’s not why we follow Him. We follow Him because He is better than life.
When God put us on the path to start the Will King Foundation He never promised it would be easy. Actually, we knew it would be hard. There is tremendous risk in supporting children who are born with congenital heart defects and need open heart surgery just to have a chance to survive. It’s never going to be easy, but we didn’t sign up for easy. We said yes to being a part of supporting children from developing countries who are receiving heart treatment in our city because we believe in a good God who uses our pain as a platform for His glory. This March we will celebrate five years since our founding and around that same time we will be sponsoring our tenth child for heart care. The past five years have been challenging in many ways, but they have been worth it. Our mission will continue to be worth it as God makes a way for children to receive care they don’t have access to in their countries and creates opportunities for the Gospel to head towards the ends of the Earth. As we approach year five, I thank you for your support and encourage you to continue your commitment to our mission. This year, more than ever, we have witnessed the importance of community, the necessity of prayer and the life change that comes with the knowledge of the Gospel.
So what does it mean to take heart? It means to have confidence in a good God. It means having the courage to walk in faith, not fear, even when it’s difficult. It means trusting in the Lord always, especially when facing the challenges that life brings. Most importantly, it means finding hope in the the finished work of Jesus on the cross and loving others in response to God's love for us. Paul’s commitment to the Gospel didn’t protect him from danger or tragedy, it did the opposite. It is because of Paul’s commitment to take the Good News of redemption through Jesus to the ends of the Earth that he experienced violent storms, trials and tragedies. Why did he keep pursuing his mission when it continually lead to persecution, imprisonment, abandonment and heartache? I think it’s because he had experienced the goodness and grace of God in such a personal and powerful way that his desire for everyone to trust in Christ outweighed any suffering that stood between him and that mission. With the same mindset and heart focus, we step into 2023 braced for the struggle, expectant for the miracles and committed to the mission.
Our mission is to children from developing countries receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville, FL.
My name is Courtney Hughes and I am Will's mommy. I am happy that you are here to read Will's story and make a difference with us!