Pastor killed by crocodile while baptizing

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Kate Spade, famous for her handbag line and other fashion designs, was found dead in her New York City apartment yesterday from an apparent suicide. She suffered from depression, according to her sister. She is survived by her husband, Andy, who is the brother of comedian David Spade, and their daughter, Frances.

In other news, a man who killed himself when confronted by police on Monday has now been linked to six victims. Among them was renowned psychiatrist Dr. Steven Pitt, who became famous for his role in investigating the death of JonBenet Ramsey in 1996.

Meanwhile, a pastor who made no headlines by his life has made global news by his death.

Last Sunday, Pastor Docho Eshete was baptizing at Lake Abaya in southern Ethiopia. He had baptized the first person when, according to a local resident, “a crocodile jumped out of the lake and grabbed the pastor.”

Despite efforts from the congregation, fishermen, and residents, Pastor Eshete died from injuries to his back, legs, and hands. The crocodile escaped as the group used fishing nets to keep it from taking the pastor’s lifeless body.

Celebrity is obviously less powerful than mortality, as the deaths of Kate Spade and Dr. Pitt illustrate. But we might think that faithful obedience to the call of Christ should insulate us in some ways from this fallen world.

It is hard to imagine anything more sacred than baptizing people into the body of Christ. It is also hard to imagine anything more horrific than being killed by a crocodile.

“I have overcome the world”

Over 900,000 Christians were martyred for their faith over the last decade. If 151,600 people die every day, and 31 percent of the world is Christian, this equates to 46,996 Christian deaths each day.

And the number of believers who face significant suffering but do not die is likely much higher. For instance, Pastor Robert Morris returned to the pulpit of his Texas megachurch last weekend, almost two months after he nearly died from internal bleeding. His is just one example of the fact that Christians are not immune from the pain and problems of this fallen life.

In fact, Jesus warned us bluntly, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33a). “World” translates kosmos, referring to the universe or natural order. No matter where you are at this moment, his statement applies to you.

“You” is plural, including every one of Jesus’ followers. “Will have” is actually in the present tense, describing an ongoing reality. “Tribulation” translates thlipsis, a Greek word picturing a weight that crushes grain into flour.

That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (v. 33b).

“Take heart” is a present-tense imperative, an ongoing command that applies to every Christian. “Overcome” translates nikao, meaning to conquer or vanquish. (The name of the goddess “Nike” was derived from this word.) “I have overcome” describes a past reality with present-tense consequences. “I” is emphatic in the Greek. “The world” is again kosmos, the entire universe.

As a result, Jesus’ statement could be translated, “Wherever and whenever you go in the universe, every one of you will be crushed by this fallen world. But choose to be courageous, because I alone have already overcome all that you face.”

“To die is gain”

In light of this remarkable text, Victor Hugo’s advice seems especially relevant: “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones. And when you have finished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”

Such peace may be our most powerful witness to a skeptical culture.

Critics of Christianity might wonder what good our faith does in a world where a baptizing pastor can be killed by a crocodile. The answer is simple: faith in Jesus doesn’t always prevent death, but it always redeems it.

When I told my wife about Pastor Eshete’s death, her first response was, “That’s horrible.” But her next words were, “But how great for him. He got to open his eyes in heaven with Jesus.” She went on to say, “I think we will all have such a different perspective in heaven on what we labeled tragedy while on earth.”

Her words echoed Paul’s testimony: “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).

As we noted yesterday, American Christians live in a culture that is growing increasingly antagonistic to biblical truth and morality. Meanwhile, millions of our fellow believers around the world face life-threatening persecution every day.

But the courage with which we stand and suffer for Jesus is evidence that he is truly our Lord.

“Tune our hearts to brave music”

What thlipsis are you bearing today? In the hard places of life, let us pray with St. Augustine:

“God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies gray and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage.

“Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of community with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honor and glory.”

Amen.