Marked for Death


  WHAT IS about to happen to you will not be pleasant, but you will live."     

Startled, Heidi looked about the room. She saw no one. But she'd heard the voice clearly. The words sent chills down her spine. Who'd said them and why?

When God searches for volunteers who'll give all for His service and receive all from His bountiful grace, He sometimes permits something drastic to prepare His chosen ones. As Heidi pondered the strange communication, something suddenly flashed across her mind: the hate and anger of the wife of the man with whom she now lived. Her threats rang in Heidi's ears: "You'll pay dearly for taking my husband from me."

Almost every day she would receive phone calls, ugly messages, hate notes, continual threats from the rejected wife. And now this sinister voice of warning!

Less than five minutes later the door of her house suddenly burst open. A large man had thrown his weight against it. Fear filled Heidi's eyes as she saw him pull out a pistol and aim it at her head. Before she could scream, he fired five times, and all five bullets went into her head. He'd been hired to kill her, and he didn't intend to fail. He turned and left Heidi lying in her blood, certain his job had been successful.

Heidi, born in Bolivia, had spent many years of hard study in southern Spain, becoming an accomplished flamenco guitarist. This intensely rhythmic style of music takes great skill and is often performed to flamenco dancing. Now she had the money her skills could command and the man she wanted. But in her quiet moments she often wondered why she couldn't get rid of that dark cloud hanging over her.

When Heidi awakened in the hospital, her mind flooded with the horrible emotions of the shooting. "Where am I? What happened? Why is everything so dark?"

"You are very lucky to be alive," she heard the quiet voice of the doctor say. "I removed five bullets from your head. You should have been dead. Your brain still functions, but the bullets caused serious damage, for you have lost your eyesight."

Ready for New Directions
Lying in total blackness, Heidi had time to think. Why didn't I die? Whose voice spoke to me? Could it be that God cares for me, a selfish, miserable sinner? Though physically blind, Heidi began to see for the first time that her life had been going nowhere fast.

Friends she had thought were fanatical came to visit. "Heidi, God loves you. He didn't want you to die physically, but He does want your old self to die. Listen to His message to you: 'For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him' [2 Tim. 2:11].* God has great plans for your future. Would you like to learn how to live with Him?"

"Please, teach me. I have no idea how to live for God," Heidi pleaded.

"May we come often to see you and study God's Word together? You'll be thrilled at the beauty of living an abundant life with God," they said.

"Though I can no longer read, maybe you can help me memorize what I need to know. I've heard very little about Jesus Christ, but I want to become His friend." Hope and expectant joy wreathed Heidi's face.

"Let's begin with a great promise that fits you. 'For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain' [Phil. 1:21]."

Heidi repeated it several times and then asked, "How long will it take for the old, ugly me to die so I can be like Jesus?"

"That's up to you and how often you die."

"I don't understand."

"The apostle Paul, who had been a real rascal, said, 'I die daily' [1 Cor. 15:31]. The oftener you die to self, the sooner you'll live for Jesus."

"Makes sense. I hope the Bible shows me how to die so I can really live."

"It does, Heidi, and you'll love what you learn."

So began serious study of God's Word. Heidi accepted with joy each new gem of truth. The struggle against self often drove her to her knees, but God gave her the victory. Soon she asked to become a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Leaving Spain, she moved to the United States. There she learned English and became a U.S. citizen.

Gradually a longing developed in her heart. She couldn't forget the desperate needs of her own beloved country. Should she leave the good income she earned with her music and go to a place where she'd have no job or means of support? Daily the conviction came, "Return to Bolivia. God needs you to develop a ministry there." Was it the same voice that had spoken to her just before the shooting?

A Wake-up Call for Jenny
Heidi had been in Bolivia only a short time when God provided her with a needed companion. Her second cousin, Jenny, from Germany, came to Bolivia for a visit and stopped by to see Heidi. By the world's standards, Jenny had been most successful. An accomplished singer, she'd been making and selling many CDs in Germany. Also she enjoyed living with one of the wealthiest men in Germany.

"Tell me, what's happened to you since we last met?" she asked Heidi.

Hearing about her cousin's experience scared Jenny. "Without a doubt, you've been given a miracle from God. Do you think God could clean up my messed-up life, too? If I postponed my return trip to Germany, would you tell me about your new God?"

"I'd love to do so," Heidi responded, "but since I can't read, you'll need to look up the texts in the Bible."

Each day Jenny became more convinced that she wanted what Heidi had. "I can't keep on singing the songs the world pays money to hear," Jenny said with conviction. "I must sign back to the recording company all my rights to those many worldly musical recordings. That's the end of that career. Once this is done, may I join you in your ministry?"

"We'll make a great team for God," Heidi returned joyfully. "But let me warn you, I'm totally a volunteer for God. He provides for my needs. You won't live the life you're accustomed to. Some will say you're sacrificing money and fame, but I know you'll gain a blessing far more valuable."

Full of energy and ideas, Jenny exclaimed, "I'll gladly dedicate my life to God and assist you in a music and prison ministry here in Santa Cruz."

"You'll find the needs appalling and heart-wrenching," said Heidi. "In Bolivia the prison system is corrupt and unfair. Since our ministry will demand our full time, we must depend on God for our daily needs. We'll work in the prison during the day, and in the evenings we'll go into homes and give Bible studies or minister through music. We can both sing, or I'll accompany you on the guitar. The people love hearing the hymns played in the flamenco guitar style."

Skipping Meals
With their meager resources, the two women decided to skip breakfasts. A kind friend who owned a local vegetarian restaurant provided both of them with a full-course dinner each day. In the evening they ate a bit of fruit.

"I praise God for making our one full meal each day last for 24 hours," Jenny said, smiling broadly. "I'm sure we won't get fat."

One Sabbath at church a friend asked Heidi, "Have you heard about Brother David Gates from Guyana? He conducted the week of prayer for our Adventist university last year. Not long ago he helped build a broadcasting studio and supporting television network here. He gives his services for the church as a full-time volunteer missionary and lives by divine support just as you do. Before he left, he said he would return in September."

Heidi became excited. She said, "I want to meet this man who works for God, trusting His promises as we do. God's provisions are certain, but we find life a bit lonely at times. You see, very few people feel willing to depend totally on God. We find it thrilling to live solely on the promises of God."

Virtually penniless, Heidi and Jenny continued to expand their prison ministry by faith. This included legal services to try to free women who, though still in prison, had never been charged. The cousins did all their legal paperwork on an old manual typewriter; it took long hours to type the many pages. A friendly lawyer agreed to sign their work, but refused to do so if it contained one single erasure or typographical error.

In addition, they built a shelter for the children of imprisoned women. In Bolivia the children are allowed to stay within the prison yard, but they have to sleep on the ground near the prison wall. Because transportation was costly, the cousins walked or found other ways to visit prisoners' homes to give them donated clothes and food. They also assisted in getting permission to set up a small Seventh-day Adventist church within prison walls. The first lady of Bolivia heard of their work for prison women, became their personal friend, and now uses her influence to help.

Heidi gave God a special request: "Lord, I realize this is only July, and Brother Gates isn't scheduled to come until September, but we need him right away. We shall begin a season of fasting and prayer that You will bring him here soon."

The prison members joined with her, knowing that God does hear and answer prayer.

Back in Guyana the Guyana Adventist Medical Aviation Services team urged David to make an emergency trip to Bolivia in connection with a deal on an airplane. Reluctantly he agreed and flew there for one week. He spent the first day in business negotiations. That night he attended an evangelistic meeting conducted by a blind man from Chile, who quoted 72 verses by memory. Impressed, he learned this man had been doing the same each night for two weeks. He felt blessed as he listened to the special music by a blind woman playing her guitar in accompaniment to her cousin's singing.

"Who are they?" he asked someone nearby.

"Heidi and Jenny, who work in prison ministry."

On the way out, David stopped to thank them for the music. When he introduced himself, they started jumping up and down, praising God.

Only when they told their story did he understand the significance of their joy. His urgent trip to Bolivia showed God's response to faithful prayers and fasting.

"This will strengthen the faith of the prison church members in God's promises," they said. "'Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, "Here I am"' [Isa. 58:9]."

The more David learned about Heidi and Jenny, the more he admired their dedication to the Lord. Both women shivered as they talked, neither owning warm clothing to protect against Bolivia's cold southern winds. Trying to stretch their funds to help others, these two upper-class women had gone for several months eating only one meal a day. With their old typewriter, working one at a time, they had managed to free 35 women who'd spent more than 18 months in prison without having been charged.

One night during the evangelistic meetings Heidi said to David, "Please come and meet our ex-prison women. Dozens of them attend church, and many have been baptized."

With this request David knew exactly why God had sent him to Bolivia. He spent several days with the cousins, working on their projects. Filled with a sacred joy, he purchased a jacket and a blanket for each of them to keep warm. Using some of the donated funds he'd received for mission work, he purchased a computer to expedite their legal paperwork.

Before he left, they joined in prayer that God would provide them with a dependable four-wheel-drive diesel vehicle to facilitate the visitation of outlying prisoners' homes in places where mud and terrible roads make travel difficult.

As he left Bolivia, David praised God, saying, "Thank You for giving me the sheer joy of giving. What a thrill to be used by the Almighty to be an answer to the prayers of Your trusting children. Give me wisdom to know how to support the ministry of these precious volunteers."

In November 2000 David received word from Jenny.

"Using the computer you bought for us to process legal paperwork, we've obtained prison releases for more than 40 additional women. We always follow up each released prisoner's family with Bible studies. This year we have had more than 50 baptisms!"

David could imagine her beaming with joy. "Now for the surprise," she continued. "God used you to provide us with a beautiful brown four-wheel-drive diesel Nissan wagonette. Now we can double the amount of family visits we do. This gift from God's children somewhere will multiply our sphere of influence like the airplane does for you. Truly this is the answer that shows God's ability to supply all our needs in honor to His word: 'My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory' [Phil. 4:19]."

She Was Dying on Hard Wood
Two weeks later, in a small village in eastern Bolivia, small children came running toward a brown vehicle slowly making its way over the rough roads into town. On tiptoes they peered into the tinted windows. Could it be true?

Jenny stepped out from behind the wheel and opened the back passenger door. The children rushed forward into the arms of their mother. What joy! After having been in prison for more than a year, their mommy had come home again!

"Could you tell us where the mother dying from cancer lives?" Jenny asked. The children pointed to a tumbledown shack at the end of the road. Stepping through the low doorway into the dark interior, Jenny saw a thin, pale woman lying on a couple of logs.

"Here she is, Heidi, and her four small children, a twin boy and girl about 8, and two smaller boys, around 2 and 4. They are sitting on a few boards that no doubt serve as their bed at night." Tears rolled down the cheeks of both women as they thought of this mother, dying of cancer without even a bed to rest on. The woman had been referred to them through their prison ministry.

Accustomed to spending their every penny on helping others, the women immediately purchased a small mattress for the mother and a larger mattress for the four children to use. They brought them to the shack.

"Oh, how comfortable," smiled the mother as they helped her get settled and pulled a ragged blanket over her bony body. The children snuggled together on their mattress and giggled in their joy. As Heidi sat on the edge of the mother's mattress and told the story of Jesus' love, Jenny put her arms around the children, who listened quietly.

"Thank you! Thank you! I have accepted Jesus into my heart," whispered the dying mother, gratitude shining from her dim eyes. "Please promise me that after I die, you will care for the children and place them in an Adventist home." Heidi nodded as she reached over and squeezed the woman's hands. Neighbors, listening to the mother's request, remembered.

When the mother passed away, the neighbors quickly notified Heidi. The cousins hurried to pick up the four children. They took them to their house for baths and haircuts. Then they returned to the shack for the children's clothing and other belongings. From a distance they noticed the local priest gesturing angrily, obviously upset over losing the children. They quickly turned around with the children and left unseen.

After government agency workers had verified the mother's death, they authorized Heidi to place the little orphans in the Adventist children's home.

"I know God will answer that dear mother's dying prayer," Jenny said with assurance. "He will provide an adoptive family who will love them and raise them up in the Advent hope so they can be with their mother throughout eternity."

By choosing to become God's agents for answering the prayers of others, Heidi and Jenny have themselves become recipients of God's wonderful gifts. With joy they declare, "'Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over' [Luke 6:38]."

Yes, being a volunteer is opening your hands to receive God's best gifts.

*Scripture references in this article are from the New King James Version.

Eileen Lantry, who writes from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, is a teacher, librarian, Bible instructor, nature lover, and former missionary. She has authored 18 books, the most recent entitled Mission Pilot


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