Zeb’s Life and the Nations Among Us

Just a glimpse of that red, flooded me with memories, with sorrow, with a renewed resolve.

Picking my way across our very disorganized garage, the red caught my eye, and a surge of emotion welled up in my throat.  It was just a red scarf, stuffed in a box…the red scarf that I had asked Danny to get rid of two years ago because I was in decluttering mode in the midst of moving.  I’m so glad he didn’t.

That day, in the midst of tending to constant tasks and requests, I needed to see that physical reminder, even if it is “just one more thing” in our home. That red scarf carries the colors of Hungary and it carries the colors of an intense encounter which has shaped us. It carries memories from two years ago, which I had nearly forgotten…

I was so incredibly exhausted. Seven months pregnant, during an incredibly hard pregnancy with Benjamin.  Living amongst boxes, as we scrambled to finish packing for our move to Orlando… in the midst of the chaos of passing our beloved ministry on to other hands to carry on…sorting through the emotional mess of saying goodbyes… trying to cram in precious time with members of our flock before we left…not to mention caring for a 1,2 and 4 year old… and Danny gets off the phone saying “I’ll see what I can do”.

The kids loved those “packing days” and all the boxes everywhere. July 2010.

“What now?” I think.  “What urgent need has surfaced now?  I just can’t handle one more thing!” Danny explains that there was a group of students from Hungary who were traveling the east coast, and the Christian homestay arrangements that they had, had fallen through.  Could we put the guys from the group up for two nights?  “Where?!” I think, as I survey our box-cluttered tiny apartment.  “They could stay at the church…” Danny trails off.  We tear into the box with the air mattresses and leave our three sleeping little ones with Kortlyn, my friend who lives above us.  I drag my aching pregnant body over to the church a block away to go get things ready for the students. It’s 11pm and all I want to do is go to sleep.

God mercifully puts new situations into our lives to bless us and teach us, even if we start out kicking and screaming as we enter them.  He is the Father that knows better than his near-sighted children. My near sightedness would have kept me from being blessed and challenged by the encounter to come.

As we  welcomed the students, I found myself so thankful that I GOT to be the one providing them a place to stay for a few nights.  What a privilege to talk with these students from Hungary, learn about their lives, and be graced with their thankful smiles and cheerful hearts even though all we had to offer were a few air mattresses in a large, old church.  As we got things set up for them, we explained some of the history of the church and why we were there…that we believe Jesus changes everything, including rough communities like the one they found themselves in.   The oldest student, Zeb (thats what he told us to call him, because we’d butcher his name so badly)  stood out from the rest-his English was amazing,  he was really outgoing and extremely helpful as we got everything situated for them.

The next day some of our staff members and summer interns took them around NYC so they could see the sights, and Danny spent some time with them that evening (I was too tired to go over and hang out with them).   The next day we prepared to send them off to their next stop in Philly. Our gracious guests bombarded us with Hungarian paraphernalia-gifts to show their gratitude for an air mattress and a dusty church building. I was touched by their generosity, but my decluttering mind was also thinking…now there’s a bunch more stuff to pack and find a place for! Zeb had given us a scarf…we were about to move to a place with no winters. Great.

Two days later, news hit that a Duck Tour boat  had been run over by a barge in Philadelphia, and two international exchange students were missing. Horrified, I quickly looked online to discover our group of students was on that boat… and a 20 year old was missing.  Could it be Zeb?!?


We prayed and waited…Only to find out a that Zeb, who we had hung out with and joked with just two days prior, had gone to meet his Maker that day. He would stand before a holy God that day. Had he hoped in the righteousness of Jesus?  Had he even had the chance to hear that Jesus had lived out a righteousness FOR him, had dealt with the judgement that he deserved by dying on the cross, and had risen again, that Zeb also might know a resurrected life?  I  trembled for Zeb. I reflected on our brief time with him.

We had shared bits and pieces about Jesus and our staff had had a conversation about God’s work in their lives. But was that enough?  Had he been invited into faith in Christ? Was he aware of his need for an Advocate before a Holy God? Did he know that the wages of his sin was death…but that the gift of God is eternal life? (Romans 6:23)  Did he know to claim the name of Jesus, for it is by faith we are saved, not by works? (Ephesians 2:8-9) Maybe God had brought him all the way to the U.S. so he could hear the Gospel for the first time. Had we been faithful to make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5)?

I am left with many questions. I am stopped dead in my tracks, as I re-evaluate where my time is spent and how I use opportunites placed in front of me.  Tragically, it often takes a persons life and death to awaken, to shake out of slumber and apathy a self-absorbed heart.

That glimpse of red, reawakened all those wrestlings the other day. Waves of sadness and grief.  Feelings of remorse and resolve, that Zeb’s brief life, and my brief encounter with him would not be in vain. I hate that it takes Zeb’s death to spur me on towards making the most of every opportunity with international students-to utilize the fact that we can still (and maybe not for long!) share the Gospel freely in this country.  These students are here for a reason. It is no accident. We pray for the nations. God has brought them to us.

This encounter, this tragedy was a doorway into what God was preparing us for here in Orlando. He prepared a home with extra rooms in it.  He prepared a short 10 minute commute to a university with nearly 1,000 international students. We waited for God to lead, and when we got a flyer just 10 days before Christmas about hosting international students for a week long stay, we already knew that God had prepared us to do this very thing. Those two Chinese students and Korean student led to a Libyan housemate, which led to relationships with all his friends, which led to two Saudi Arabian Christmas guests the following year, which led to a new Libyan student now moved in.  I’m amazed at the opportunities and the beautiful works that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10) My prayer is that many students from around the world would encounter the Living Jesus, and receive new life, because Zeb’s life forever changed mine.

Short video about students reaching international students on their college campus.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: From the Mouths of Babes… A lesson in economics | ...to the least of these...

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