RITE OF PASSAGE: A father, a son and Elijah
A little more than three years ago, BJ Higgins, one of our student missionaries, willingly laid down his life at only 15 years of age. Many of you prayed for him during his six-week hospitalization. Six months after his death, his father, Brent, joined our staff as vice president.
Brent and Deanna Higgins have written an inspiring book about their son’s journey called I Would Die for You (Revell, 2008). Recently, it received a nomination by Outreach magazine as “Resource of the Year” in the Evangelism category.
Last month, God led Brent to visit Kenya and Uganda. He has used his blog to describe his journey, and I wanted to share part of the story with you.
Somewhere around 4 p.m. on the day we visited the Somali Bantu refugee camp, we had to board the bus to head back south. For most of the trip, my seat partner was Elijah. You say his name like the first part of the word allegia-nce.
He boarded the bus with an ear-to-ear grin. He immediately began shaking hands as he moved down the aisle, saying, “Good afternoon, I am greeting you.”
He is 15 years old, and his voice remains untouched by puberty. He speaks with strict African-British diction, every word clearly articulated.
When he sat down next to me, my spirit quickened! I was enthused to have such a polite and well-spoken young man seated next to me. Perhaps I would survive this trip after all!
By the time we pushed out of Lodwar, we were in full conversation mode. Elijah is no stranger to the tragedies of life.
I brought up my own family, and he wanted to see pictures. He was very curious. I told him about us in brief fashion.
We talked about Jesus, too. We spent quite awhile discussing what being a “Christian” really meant. His thirst for knowledge was apparent.
He spoke at least three different languages: Swahili for Kenya, English and his native tongue. He has a strong command of the English language and, in fact, speaks better than I do.
After our initial flurry of conversation, things got quiet, and the light of day vanished. We were back in the bush, where no electricity powers light, so the darkness was deep. Every once in a while, I caught a glimpse of his brilliant white teeth.
After a long quiet pause, Elijah broke the stillness of the night.
“Brent, you know that I am a Christian, right?” he queried.
“Yes, Elijah, I know that you love Jesus.”
(I confess I was not prepared for what he said next, and it nearly undid me.)
“Brent, do you think perhaps you could be part of the answer to my prayers? I have been a Christian for a long time, and I want to grow closer to Jesus as you have said, but I do not have a Bible. Could you get me one?”
Those words pressed in on me from every angle. I was overwhelmed in the moment. His question was not an unusual one. He believed (as I later learned) that I was carrying some small New Testaments in my bag.
My immediate reaction was to lead him in prayer. I wanted him to see that provision begins with prayer. However, he had already demonstrated that understanding.
As I prayed with him, I was fully aware that the thin line Bible I had along with me was marked just as I liked it. Years ago, in a similar situation in Canada, I had given my Bible to a new believer.
This was different. I could feel the weight of the world on him. It was as if the Lord was showing me that Elijah Ajaang was to be the Billy Graham of East Africa. I could not wait to give him my Bible. At the same time, I did not want to give it up at all. I preached from this Bible. I had all the passages underlined. I had it full of my obsessive notes. It was filled with BJ’s writings! I knew just where to find everything after years of studying it.
“Amen!” I said. I had asked the Lord to provide Elijah with the Word of God so he could fulfill his calling.
I stood in the most difficult part of the trip. The bus pitched back and forth and hugged the mountain’s edge.
I pulled out my Bible, and unlatched a small flashlight from my pack.
I sat down and pulled out all the unnecessary markers. I had quite a pile in my lap. Elijah looked on with interest. I tucked them under my leg on the bus seat and leaned into him.
I began walking him through the Word. His attention was unwavering.
The next few minutes must have seemed like forever to him. When they ended, I gave him the Bible and the flashlight. I told him I believed the Lord wanted to use him to reach Eastern Africa, and that his study over the coming months and years was critical. I handed him a piece of me.
He handled it as though it was the most precious thing he had ever touched. He turned from page to page, he read, he asked questions, he flipped to the maps, he looked over the concordance, and then he turned to an open page in the back, asked how to spell my name, and began to inscribe it.
I said, “Elijah, let me show you something.” I took it from him and showed him my name in gold lettering on the front. I showed him my family tree inside. I asked for permission to inscribe it myself. He seemed pleased.
For much of the rest of our long journey, Elijah studied the Word of God.
He leaned over to me at one point and said, “Brent, don’t you want to take your son’s writings from here?”
“No, Elijah,” I said. “I believe the Lord wants you to have those, to remember that he was your age when he passed, and that great things can happen through your obedient, young life!”
“Oh, Brent,” he responded. “Thank you very much.”
I went so far as to tell Elijah that my journey had been long, and that I had wondered why the Lord had brought me to Kenya. I shared that I had a burning desire for the past couple of years to get here, without a clue why or what I was to do upon arrival.
“Now I believe I understand at least part of the reason,” I told him. “God sent me to Kenya to arm you with the Word of God, to prepare you for the future, Elijah!”
He returned to studying!
Our parting was difficult but fulfilling. I saw him move to a seat closer to the front and settle back in.
My journey with Elijah was over. My prayers on his behalf had only begun.
For more of Brent’s adventures in Africa, visit www.prayforbj.com.