By Mark Ellis —
He watched his three-year-old son die following a robbery that went awry. Later, he unexpectedly encountered the men responsible for the boy’s death and faced an agonizing choice – to forgive or not.
“Gabriel is an evangelist and church planter among the nomadic Turkana tribe in East Africa,” recounts Galen Burkholder, the founder of Global Disciples. “One day, his 3-year old son was struggling to breathe so they rushed him to the nearest clinic.”
There was no doctor available, so the medical staff hooked the boy up to an oxygen tank and directed his parents to a hospital in a nearby town.
Unfortunately, their route traversed the territory of an enemy tribe, where Gabriel, his wife, and young son were held-up by three armed men. “When the robbers saw Gabriel had no money, they grabbed the oxygen mask and tank from his son and ran!” Burkholder recounts.
“Gabriel and his wife held their little boy as he gasped for breath—then died in their arms. Angry and distraught, they headed home to mourn and bury their precious son.”
Within a few months, Gabriel received some surprising news from a leader of their church movement. People in that same enemy tribe were responding to the Gospel and receiving Christ. The leader who conveyed the news to Gabriel invited him to help with outreach to the tribe.
“You must be crazy,” Gabriel replied angrily. “These are the people who killed my son!”
But over the next few weeks, the Holy Spirit began to soften Gabriel’s heart. Under conviction about his hostile attitude, he agreed to join the team that would share the Good News with the unreached village in proximity to where his son died.
After Gabriel arrived, he and others met with a small group of the new believers in the ‘enemy’ tribe. “Gabriel’s leader asked him to share his testimony. As he told the story of his son’s death, three men in the group stood,” Burkholder recounts.
“We are the ones who held you up on the road,” they confessed, raising their arms. “We deserve to die. There’s a gun in the corner. Get it and shoot us. We’re sorry.”
Jolted by the news, Gabriel’s heart pounded and his mind raced as he considered how to respond to men who had taken the life of his only son.
Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Gabriel did something remarkable.
“He crossed the room extending forgiveness in the name of Jesus and embracing his three new brothers in Christ.”
Today Gabriel is working closely with these same men to reach a tribe he once considered ‘the enemy’ — and they are being transformed by the power of the Gospel.
To learn more about the work of Global Disciples, go here