My Brook Cherith: When life dries up on you
“And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up” (1 Kings 7:7, KJV).
Like Elijah, I had my Brook Cherith – all mine.
I had spent a significant portion of my life at Southeast Asia Union College (SAUC) in Singapore. Although a small school, it had a deep impact on my life when, as a young adult, I came to its portals as a student in 1968. For the very first time, I savoured and drank deep from the fountains of Adventist education. Like the Brook Cherith, it nourished my soul, nurtured my thinking and transformed my very being, defining for me the call the Lord had given while I was a youth member of our home church in Penang, Malaysia.
With great joy I graduated at the end of 1971 together with my boyfriend. We went home to a pre-arranged wedding ceremony. As part of our honeymoon, we flew over to Kuching on the island of Borneo – and there we had our first taste of mission service at Sunny Hill School. SAUC had prepared us well, and we did our very best. Seven years later, we received a call to return to Singapore, and we were thrilled at the opportunity to serve as teachers at our alma mater.
But first came an intensive one-and-one-half years in the Philippines, where we received our Master’s degrees. When we returned to SAUC in 1980, the college was struggling with issues of recognition so that our graduates could hold a degree that would open doors to employment opportunities outside the church.
A new journey opened before us as we pooled our efforts in working toward an affiliation arrangement with Walla Walla College in the United States. After heaps of paperwork and exchange visits, the affiliation was signed and sealed in 1984, leading to better quality assurance for all. This relationship with Walla Walla College increased enrollement gradually as recruitment efforts intensified. In the mid 1990s, enrollement peaked at 201, an increase of 43 per cent over the 1980 figure.
However, as the educational environment in Singapore evolved and provided keen competition, SAUC’s student numbers soon plateaued. The college’s location in a country with a high cost of living meant that the neighboring countries of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia could not be served. Besides, the political situation made it almost impossible for students from these three countries to obtain visas for studying in Singapore.
A small college has its many threats and challenges, but we had the assurance like Elijah by the Brook Cherith. It wasn’t the most comfortable of situations, nor the most prosperous of times, but we had a mission to fulfill. We saw how the Lord brought the students to us. Miracles along the way assured us of His providence and constant care. As a faculty, we worked hard and enjoyed the fruit of our labor – every year, graduation was a high point as we charged our graduates who had been with us for four or five years to go out and make a difference wherever they are.
Yes, God supplied abundantly: “the ravens” showed up at the opportune time; our water from the brook seemed sure. It was not a gushing river but a trickling brook that sustained us from year to year.
The brook may dry up …
Then, very abruptly, the brook dried up. The date will remain etched in our memories, never to be forgotten because it happened so dramatically right on my husband’s birthday – March 4, 1996. For some time, we had known about the government’s acquisition of land along the stretch of road where the college was located, and a friend had gone down to the Land Office to secure more details. As he looked at the map, he realized that the college land was set for acquisition. What a birthday “gift” for my husband (who was the president of the college at the time), as this news was conveyed to him over the phone. It was like a bolt of lightning coursing through our nerves. Frantically, we consulted and consulted, but the bottom line was clear as day. We had to close or relocate; it was too expensive to move and rebuild the college in Singapore, based on the options offered us by the government.
Yes, we had to admit that the brook had dried up; it was time to move on. Establishing a Transitional Plans Committee to study the relocation of the college took first priority, since the union felt the need to maintain an institution of higher education for its territory. Plans kicked in to take care of every student, clean up the files, and prepare to archive them while creating a system whereby students could still access their transcripts despite the fact that SAUC was no longer in existence in Singapore.
At first it was hard to rejoice in a situation like this. Tears flowed freely; we mourned, we grieved as it became crystal clear that there was no way to continue as we used to. Our comfort zone lay shattered – the future looked uncertain. No one could predict the outcomes, yet we had to bravely carry on. But with each step taken during those two trying years, the future became clearer. By the end of 1998, we graduated our last group of graduates, and SAUC officially moved to Thailand to merge with another small Thai institution, called Mission College.
We had to face the fact that Cheriths don’t last forever – whether it is a job, an institution, a special friend, or even a bank account. As with Elijah, all of his security vanished in a day’s time. When that happened, Elijah did not cry or pout. God told Elijah to go to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there with a widow who would supply him with food (I Kings 17:8, 9), and Elijah went. Simple obedience; no questions asked. Perhaps he was anticipating something better around the corner. He was no longer alone; a widow would be there to care for him – someone to talk to rather than talking to the birds!
Consider what might have happened if Elijah had stubbornly stayed in the same spot and refused to move from the brook. He would have died. For sure, the widow of Zarepthah and her son would have starved to death. Baal worship would have flourished even more without the Mount Carmel experience. But because Elijah was willing to move on, I Kings 18 records the triumph of God over Baal on Mount Carmel.
In my case, I had grown so attached to my Cherith that I was comfortable and happy; perhaps too comfortable and too happy that my Cherith meant more to me than what God wanted to do with my life. In retrospect, the Lord was alerting me to the fact that He had a new mission for me to accomplish.
But God has a plan
When your brook appears to have dried up, when you think that you’re abandoned, stop asking why, stop blaming God, stop looking for an easy way out. Cry if you must, but cry out to God, and cling to His promises that all things will work together for good. Thank God for the memories and the beautiful times you have had by your Cherith. Then let go of your “brook.”
Pray earnestly for the mind of Christ to envision fresh perspectives ahead so you can see where He wants to lead you next. Keep your hand firmly in the hand of God as you move forward in trust and faith. He has promised that His Word will be a lamp to show the way in the deepest darkness. Read that Word every day, delight in its promises, and He will lead you one step at a time, not more, not less, in newly forged paths that He has gone ahead to prepare for you. These paths will take you to still waters, and safer pastures where your soul will be restored and where you will eventually agree that He has given you “far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” (Ephesians 3:20, The Message).
Yes, my experience by the Brook Cherith was part of a God-ordained plan. In retrospect, I can see how the pieces have fallen in place like a jigsaw puzzle. A beautiful picture has emerged. He has brought me to places I never dreamed I would go, and enabled me to carry responsibilities I never thought possible. The Lord worked it all out according to His purpose.
After the move in 1998, Mission College was in a much better position to serve every country in the union territory. Students from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia could afford to pursue their studies in Thailand. The merged college grew by leaps and bounds. Today, some 10 years later, it is about to receive university status by the country and has an enrollment of about a thousand students from more than 30 countries around the world who are taught by an international faculty.
So when your Cherith dries up on you, when all seems lost, take heart because in the spiritual realm, the end of one story is simply the beginning of another – an experience that will bring you closer to God. If we put God first and last, we will be able to say with assurance, “The best is yet to come.” Just trust that God always has our best interests at heart and His guidance is always the safest. Ellen White states so beautifully: “Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet.”*
Sally Lam-Phoon (Ph.D., Andrews University), is the Children’s, Family and Women’s Ministries director and Shepherdess coordinator of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists with headquarters in Ilsan, South Korea. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1940), p. 330.