“Oy!” came the shout as a chubby brown face peeked out from behind a mango tree. The laughing face disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
Immediately understanding the game, I crept to a low fork in the tree. Suddenly thrusting my face through, I bellowed, “Oy!” I was rewarded with a startled look and then a big smile. I had made a friend.
It was November 1994 when I first met Delpin behind the mango tree. My family had just arrived on our first tour of duty with AFM. Even before we could speak a word of each other’s language, a strong bond formed between Delpin and me. As the years sped by, we experienced all the normal whims of friendship, fights and sleepovers, high adventure and abject boredom. Often his family had to travel to the interior to find food, and almost as often my family had to visit the States for virtually the same purpose. Through thick and thin, though, our friendship grew.
Then came the announcement that I dreaded. Our family’s Alangan Project was complete, and it was time to leave. As I dragged myself away from my Alangan home, my heart tore in two. Even as I write this, I feel the pain afresh.
God’s mercy knows no bounds, though, and each succeeding year I was able to return for a brief visit. At the end of each visit I would watch from the bus window as Delpin disappeared from sight around a corner. My heart would ache again, and my tears would flow freely. But even then God was whispering to me. He had plans for an isolated tribe to the south, and He was calling my name.
When Delpin’s first two children died, it was a major blow to him, and he plunged into a deep depression. Angry with God and barely able to endure living, he let go of his faith. His marriage, already rocky, now strained to the breaking point. His remaining children, spoiled by their frightened mother, turned into little terrors. At times Delpin drank, and his temper became renowned. There was nothing I could do but pray fervently.
And then the day I had long worked toward finally came—the Tawbuid project was launched! When I arrived at my old home, my people welcomed me gladly. Sad to hear that I was determined to press on to a new tribe, they determined that I would not go alone. After much deliberation it was agreed: Delpin and his family would be my partners in the work.
In the two and a half years since that day I have seen beautiful changes in my friend. His anger and despair are gone, and his old self-control and temperance are back. Once again, his faith is strong and simple. His marriage is at peace, and his children are happy under consistent discipline. And best of all, he is slowly learning to lead others to the faith that saved us both.
Oh, the joy of friendship! Life can be tough, “but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).