On March 29, 2015 Stephanie and I drove down to a house in Tukwila to eat a meal with the Khup family. Never underestimate the power of the table. People connect at far greater levels over food and laughter than they could without. I don’t think this is accidental. Someday we’ll sit around a table in God’s Kingdom and it will look and feel a lot like the table Stephanie and I sat at with Sian’s family. People from different cultures, speaking different languages, sharing a table full of the goodness God gives us all. We felt like family.
After the meal Zam (Sian’s father), Langh (translator), Kelly, her husband David, Stephanie and I sat down in the living room to talk while the kids tore through the house full of energy and life. If you’ve ever had a chance to communicate via a translator, you know it can be both challenging and comical. It doesn’t help when the guy asking the questions and telling the story (ahem, me) is a talker. It amazes me that what took a full minute to say in English can be translated in five seconds in Burmese. It could be that the Burmese language is far more efficient than English. My better guess is I could be far more succinct in my communication. Regardless, Langh did an excellent job with the translation and we began the conversation.
Zam told us the story of what happened the day Sian was born. Zam woke that morning to get ready for work. The children were at school and Ciin (Sian’s mother) was preparing food for the children for when they arrived home. The night before Ciin had been awake all night heartbroken, weeping for her parents back in Burma. When Zam asked Ciin what he could do, Ciin replied with the desire to send money back to her village because of the rich life they had received from God in the United States. Let’s pause right there. Zam works a full-time job in a seafood processing plant on the night shift. He makes minimum wage with a family of eight that lives in a two-bedroom apartment with minimal furnishings. To top that off, the apartment is infested with bed bugs and mold.
As Zam got ready for work that day he heard a loud noise in the kitchen and rushed out to find his wife had collapsed, six months pregnant, and was unconscious. Zam attempted to call 911 but, due to the language barrier, had a difficult time communicating with the operator. He found a neighbor who could translate for the 911 operator and they quickly sent an ambulance. Ciin was rushed off to Highline Hospital where an ultrasound was done to see how the baby was doing. To everyone’s surprise, the baby was still alive. Ciin was kept on life support and rushed to Swedish Medical for an emergency Cesarean section. Shortly after Sian was born, motherless.
Here is where we begin to see the beautiful strand of grace God weaves throughout this story. I asked Zam at what time his wife had collapsed in the kitchen and it happened a little after 11:00 am, December 2nd. That’s the moment Stephanie had felt God tell her to pray for “baby Grace” and had called me at work with the frantic burden to pray. Zam explained the timing of his decision to name, Sian. He said after Sian’s birth, the doctor asked what her name was. Since the baby was premature, Zam hadn’t had a chance to think about her name. He asked the doctor if he could have five minutes to pray about what to name his daughter. He proceeded to kneel and pray, torn between the weight of the loss of his wife and the exuberance over the birth of his daughter.
“As I prayed God reminded me of how good He has been to me all my life. That’s why I named her God’s goodness; God’s grace.”
Silence. Then tears. A man who has lived the vast majority of the last ten years separated from his wife and children. Living eight years in a refugee camp in Thailand and two years in the United States in poverty and subpar conditions. Finally reunited with his wife and children, the oldest of whom was seven years old when he left and was now seventeen. Working for minimum wage while supporting a family of eight. Now mourning the loss of his wife. Now tasked with raising seven children he hardly knows. Sitting in front of us all proclaiming the goodness of God in his life.
What other response is there but silence and tears?
As we all composed ourselves we looked at Zam. “Zam, we want you to know that God knew Sian’s name before you did. God had Stephanie interceding on behalf of Sian the moment your wife collapsed. God has had a community of people interceding on behalf of you and your family since that very moment, a community of people who had no idea who you were until now. Indeed, God is good.”
Today, Sian is a growing and thriving little girl. The community has come around the Khup family for support and financial backing. The school district raised in excess of $50,000 to support funeral expenses and to pay-off the debt associated with getting the family out of Burma and to the United States. This truly is a beautiful display of the power of community.
The beauty of a life of adventure with God is that it doesn’t make sense to the world and usually costs everything. Is there anything we would choose over being a part of God’s story? I sincerely hope not.
Here’s what I know. God loves us enough to sometimes allow us to see how He miraculously intervenes in very tragic situations. He loves us enough to give us the opportunity to participate in His plan. That’s what the good news of Jesus is all about. God intervenes in impossible, hopeless situations to bring life from death: hope to the hopeless. Our role in this whole process is to respond in obedience to His goodness, His grace. What is our response to the reckless, unrelenting love of a God who knows our names and intimately cares for us? Reckless and sacrificial love to our neighbors. This is worship. This brings glory to God. We love with His love because He first loved us. What the enemy has meant for evil, God has used for good.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalms 73:25-26