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The Crash
Paul Beckingham learned the hard way that hope transcends earthly circumstances.

Shattered glass, twisted metal, and skid marks on a narrow African highway define Paul Beckingham’s understanding of hope: “Resilient hope is that peculiar virtue which stubbornly refuses to depend upon our circumstances. Rather, it transcends them. It declines to be held hostage to fortune, imprisoned within the flimsy boundaries of one’s state of affairs. Hope is a state of mind rather than a condition of our circumstances.”

Beckingham states this definition in his book Walking Towards Hope: Experiencing Grace in a Time of Brokenness. He didn’t develop it flippantly. It’s been a painful process, one that began in Kenya more than a decade ago.

On October 20, 1997, Canadian missionaries Paul and his wife, Mary, enjoyed a sightseeing trip with four of their five children, ages 10 through 17. They returned home mid-afternoon to find Daniel, a 16-year-old local boy, waiting to visit them.

At six o’clock, Paul decided to ensure Daniel’s safety by driving him home before darkness fell. Mary and their ten-year-old son, Aaron, joined them for the ten-minute ride. The foursome never reached their destination.

Unbeknownst to them, a 13-foot-wide military tractor-trailer unit was barrelling in their direction on the 16-foot-wide road. Three minutes after Paul turned onto the highway, the truck rounded a curve at a speed exceeding 40 miles per hour. The two vehicles ahead of the Beckingham’s careened onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision. The missionary family was left with no escape route. “What does he think…?” yelled Paul. Everything went black before he finished his sentence.

Life, as the Beckinghams knew it, would never be the same. Aaron endured injuries from broken glass, and Daniel suffered a broken femur. Mary sustained a broken collarbone. Paul lost six pints of blood and suffered 17 broken or displaced bones, massive head injuries, and the near-amputation of one foot. His condition was so grave that three surgeons and an anaesthetist refused to treat him when rescuers delivered him to a nearby hospital.

Precious minutes passed before his family doctor found a neurosurgeon, an orthopaedic specialist, and a micro surgeon willing to try to save Paul’s life. Three times he stopped breathing before and during surgery, and three times they revived him. One of the doctors later told Paul, “When we got you on the operating table, we realized it was hopeless and there was very little we could do. We began to pray, and we saw God do things we couldn’t do.”

That night marked the beginning of Paul’s difficult journey into understanding hope as a virtue independent of his circumstances. Ten days after the accident, he and his family returned to Canada for specialized care. He spent the next two months in hospital, at times teetering on the brink of death. Rehabilitation as an outpatient followed – seven hours a day, five days a week.

Six months into the gruelling regimen, a metal plate in Paul’s leg broke, causing excruciating pain. Surgery replaced the plate with a two-foot-long metal rod inserted into his femur. This enabled the bone to knit properly, but the process meant additional months of pain and rehab.  

Coupled with this disappointing setback, Paul underwent tests for the AIDS virus due to possibly receiving contaminated blood in Kenya. Four months passed before he received the results. Fear paralyzed Paul as he waited, and he convinced himself that death was imminent. He refused to share his feelings with Mary, holding her emotionally and physically at bay.    

Added to these stresses, Paul wrestled with ongoing frustrations caused by his brain injury. Formerly an academic high achiever, he lost his confidence to perform even simple tasks. He often embarrassed himself and his family with incessant talk and inappropriate social behaviour. He didn’t like the person he’d become, marked by an awkward gait and short-term memory loss.

The combination of circumstances threw Paul into a pit of despair. “I lost my hope completely,” he says. “I sank into a dark and dangerous place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I screamed at God, ‘I’ve given this my best shot! What do I have to do to get better?’”

Several days later a physiotherapist made a home visit. Paul refused to look at her, and he answered her questions with only one-syllable grunts. Finally the therapist said, “I’ve been following your case with interest.”

“Why?” Paul asked.

“Because we’ve been praying for you at my church,” she said. Her words penetrated Paul’s darkness with a ray of light.

“It was like someone opened a window from heaven and God shone His sunshine on me,” says Paul. “I thought, Wow, someone’s been praying for me. Someone cares. And God loves me.”

Time and again when circumstances discouraged Paul, God instilled hope through evidences of His grace and presence. For instance, Paul experienced a period of time when he questioned God’s whereabouts on the night the accident occurred. He joked bitterly that his guardian angels stepped out for a cold beer when he turned onto the highway. Two eyewitness accounts changed his perspective.   

The first was when a woman and her daughter from a foreign embassy stopped at the accident scene. The girl was a friend of one of Paul’s daughters. Recognizing the victims, the mother told her daughter to run to the Beckingham home, find her friend, and then fetch help from the next-door-neighbour who worked for a Canadian organization. The girls found the neighbour in a long-distance phone conversation with a man in Canada. As they told the news to the neighbour, he relayed it to the Canadian who immediately phoned Paul’s mission headquarters in that country. Less than an hour after the crash, an email blast notified Paul and Mary’s coworkers of the tragedy and prayers were being said worldwide on their behalf.

The second incident occurred as Paul lay trapped and dying in the car while Mary watched helplessly. An African woman approached, removed her own beautiful knit sweater, placed it on the red soil, and urged Mary to lie down lest she collapse. Then the woman prayed, and as she did, a sense of peace settled over the chaos.

The next day Paul’s brother phoned a ministry leader’s office in Kenya for an update on the situation. The leader was gone so the only other employee in the office, the accountant, took the call. He said, “I know what happened because I was there. My wife and I never travel that road because it’s too dangerous, but yesterday we did because our usual route was congested. We never stop at accident scenes because the mobs can be very dangerous, but this time my wife urged me to stop. She prayed with your brother’s wife.” The accountant later visited Paul and assured him of his family’s concern and prayers.

As Paul pondered these events, he acknowledged that God had indeed been present. Focusing on this truth rather than on his feelings of abandonment helped restore hope as he realized that God was sovereign over that night’s events.

God’s Word also played a key role in restoring hope. In his book Paul writes that marching into the uncharted territory called recovery was daunting, but hope came as he clung to Scriptures such as Proverbs 23:18: “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off” (NIV). He was reminded that hope focuses on a point beyond present difficulties; Christ’s cross anticipates promised resurrection. Hope looks toward security, a future rooted in the Lord.

Paul’s hope strengthened as he learned to trust God’s future for him even though it was different than his own blueprint. Once a dynamic public speaker, he thought his ministry ended when his brain injury left him unable to express his thoughts in a focused manner. He was mistaken.

“Prior to the accident, my ministry was all about my desire to be a grade ‘A’ preacher,” says Paul. “I was a driven person, a perfectionist. I wanted to see results, but I just pushed people with pain further into their pews. After the accident, I was a really bad preacher but God finally had space to work. His strength became evident in my weakness. By simply showing my brokenness, I became a wounded healer. People listen, cry, and then tell us about their own hurts and disappointments.”

A decade after the tractor-trailer slammed into his family’s car, Paul still battles negative after-effects. Physical energy never meets the day’s demands. He finds multi-tasking impossible. Nevertheless, he speaks at support groups for brain injuries. He’s Assistant Professor of Church and Missions at a Canadian theological college. And he serves as an army chaplain, sharing a message of hope with soldiers who struggle with alcohol, grief, divorce, and suicidal thoughts.

“God’s Word says I have a future and a hope,” says Paul. “Possessing hope has nothing to do with my circumstances. It’s found in God and the truth of His promises. My forced pilgrimage has tested me to the core and proven this is true.”

Grace Fox lives in Abbotsford, B.C. She and her husband direct International Messengers Canada, an organization that offers creative short-term and career ministry opportunities in Eastern Europe. The mother of three children, Grace has chronicled her journey of trust in three devotional books entitled 10-Minute Time Outs for Moms;10-Minute Time Outs for Busy Women; 10-Minute Time Outs for You & Your Kids and also her latest, Moving from Fear to Freedom. Her website is: www.gracefox.com.

Originally published in Power for Living, December 7, 2008.

 

 
 
 
 

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