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Peace Like A River

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by Zach Barz Zach is a member of the EM Summer Staff team leading short-term mission trips in Webster Springs, West Virginia this summer.

She had lost five children. Three of them murdered.

“And you know what,” Vera said, looking up at me with tears in her eyes. “I was able to forgive them. I forgave the people who murdered my kids. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but God gave me total peace.”

For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream.”
- Isaiah 66:12

Several days after this initial encounter with Vera, I sat on the bank of the Elk River with my feet in the water, taking some needed rest and reflecting on this woman’s story and the chapter in Isaiah I had just read that morning. The image of “peace like a river” kept coming back to my mind as I stared down at the water flowing past me. It’s a phrase you hear often in Christian circles, and admittedly it does have a nice ring to it. But the more I thought about it while looking at the river front of me, the less sure I was that I actually understood what it meant to have “peace like a river.”

After all, the river I was seeing was noisy and tumultuous. The current was powerful, rushing around rocks and over small falls without stopping. If anything, it seemed to be the opposite of peaceful. But after another half hour of silent contemplation, I started to see the connection between these flowing waters and the peace promised by Christ.

Like the noisy river in front of me, which drowned out the sound of cars on the highway a hundred yards away, true peace envelops us in a way which blocks out the cares and concerns of the world around us. This is not to say that our troubles are forgotten or simply go away—and the sin which surrounds us doesn’t disappear either—but God’s peace is greater than our earthly trials. Being enveloped in peace allows us to focus our lives on what actually matters: Christ and His love for us and all of Creation.

The peace of Christ further emulates a river in its persistence and consistency. As a river never stops flowing, so God’s peace is with us night and day, through the easy, flat stretches of life as well as the rocky, challenging times. And the difficult times will still come, but we can find comfort in the fact that instead of getting caught up in these trials we are brought through them to new life in Christ. This peace brings us through it all, carrying with it the promises of God’s presence and our eternal salvation. Jesus invites us to find peace in Him – peace that is enveloping, renewing, and continual. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace,” Jesus says. “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

God’s peace is substantive and transformative; it is present throughout even our busy lives and our hardest days.

God grants us peace like a river.

Now Vera, living alone less than ten miles from where her children are buried, quietly and persistently lives out her faith in God. Despite previously having suffered both a broken back and a broken neck, Vera puts in long hours every week at the nearby Camp Caesar, where she works as part of the landscaping crew. And she continues to give witness to the Prince of Peace and the giver of peace, her Lord and Savior.

Knowing all of this, it wasn’t a hard decision to send a work team of mission trip volunteers out to Vera’s home this past week to fix her crumbling front steps and rebuild a cracked and broken front retaining wall. After several days of demo, minor setbacks, archaeological discoveries, and creative solutions, Vera has some much safer steps and a beautiful retaining wall now gracing the front of her house.

Unfortunately, due to her daily work at Camp Caesar, the team at Vera’s home wasn’t able to connect with her for the first couple days. After hearing that Wednesday was Vera’s birthday, the team’s creative minds sprang into action. After working at her house in the morning, the team traveled out to Camp for the afternoon in order to pay Vera a surprise visit. Bearing a homemade cake and a bouquet of flowers, the team found Vera at work, serenaded her with “Happy Birthday,” and presented their gifts.

“I was afraid I was going to spend my birthday alone,” Vera admitted, tears welling up in her eyes. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” Her entire day made, Vera posed for a picture with the group and reiterated her profuse gratitude.

West Virginia Mission Trips

As the week drew to a close, Vera and the team working at her house each went their separate ways—one party touched by acts of kindness and servanthood, the other by the faith of a little old woman. And all of us left marveling at the amazing peace given by our awesome God.

The LORD gives strength to His people; the LORD blesses His people with peace.
- Psalm 29:11

Learn more about West Virginia Mission Trips!


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