Steve Saint is perhaps best known as the son of Nate Saint, a missionary pilot in Ecuador who, with four others, was killed by Huaorani indians in 1956. In June of 2012, Saint was injured and partially paralyzed from the neck down – these things I had heard. What I had not heard is that Steve Saint had a daughter, Stephenie, who died of a massive cerebral hemorrage in the summer of 2000. I heard this story, told by Saint himself in 2005, just this morning and was so moved by his faith and understanding of who God is that I wanted to share it here.
God Planned My Daughter’s Death
I believe God planned my daughter’s death. In the years prior to her death, people started asking me to go around and speak, and I realized that there was a deficiency in my heart and life: I could not see the world the way God does. Oh, be careful what you pray for. I prayed and begged God and told Ginny, “I can’t keep doing this. I go out and I’m speaking from my head to people and it doesn’t work. I can’t keep going. I can’t speak unless I feel the passion of this.” And so I started praying, “God, please, please let me have your heart for the hurting world out there. I see it, and I empathize a little bit but I don’t have a passion for it.” Now, don’t overrate this. Perhaps a lot of you struggle with the same thing. I just couldn’t keep going and talking about what I had seen God do without a passion to share it. And I had no idea if God would give me such a passion or how he would do it. I’m more mechanical; that’s what I do well. I fly; it just comes, it’s in the genes, I don’t have to figure it out—it’s just there. But passion is another story, so I begged God to let me see his heart.
We have an idea that if we do what God wants us to do, then he owes us to take the suffering away. I believed that; I don’t believe that anymore.
Ginny and I had three boys and then we finally had a little girl. I made her promise me that she’d never grow up; she broke her promise and went away to college. And then a time of suffering came because Youth for Christ asked Stephenie, who could play the piano beautifully as well as the bass guitar, to travel around the world for a year with one of their groups sharing the gospel. And you know what? It wasn’t worth it to me; I wanted my daughter home. I knew that some day she would probably meet a boy and go off. She was tall and slim, and in my eyes, beautiful. She was Ginny’s bosom friend. She was our baby. She started traveling around the world, and it was a painful year. But finally the year was over and she was coming home. Ginny and I met her at the Orlando airport. Grandfather Mincaye was there too. We had made him a sign to hold up, Welcome Home, Stephenie, but he couldn’t read so he held it upside down. He was jumping around, big holes in his ears, wearing a feather headdress. He wasn’t blending! Stephenie came and saw him and tried to pretend that she didn’t see us, but Mincaye went up and grabbed her and started jumping around with her. Then we headed out for a welcome home party—it was a joyous time.
Later, I passed Stephenie in the hall, and she just leaned on me and said, “Pop, I love you.” I thought: God, just beam me up right now. Let’s go at the peak. Does it get any better than this? All of our children are following you, and Stephenie is home. And Ginny and I—we’ve had a twenty-seven-year honeymoon. Let’s just quit right now.
A while later, Ginny said, “Steve, Stephenie’s back in her room. Let’s go back and be with her.” So we ditched everyone else and went back. Stephenie had a headache and asked me to pray for her. Ginny sat on the bed and held Stephenie, and I put my arms around those two girls whom I loved with all my heart, and I started praying.
While I was praying, Stephenie had a massive cerebral hemorrhage. We rushed to the hospital. I rode in the ambulance while our son Jaime and Ginny and Mincaye followed us in the car. Grandfather Mincaye had never seen this type of vehicle with the flashing lights, didn’t understand why strangers had rushed into the house and grabbed Stephenie and hurried off with her. Now he saw her at the hospital, lying on a gurney with a tube down her throat and needles in her arm, and he grabbed me and said, “Who did this to her?” And I saw a look on his face that I’d seen before, and I knew that he’d be willing to kill again to save this granddaughter whom he loved.
I didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know, Mincaye. Nobody is doing this.”
And just like that, this savage from the jungles grabbed me again and said, “Babae, don’t you see?”
No, I didn’t see. My heart was absolutely tearing apart; I didn’t know what was going on.
He said, “Babae, Babae, now I see it well. Don’t you see? God himself is doing this.”
And I thought, what are you saying?
Mincaye started reaching out to all the people in the emergency room, saying, “People, people, don’t you see? God, loving Star, he’s taking her to live with him.” And he said, “Look at me, I’m an old man; pretty soon I’m going to die too, and I’m going there.” Then he said, with a pleading look on his face, “Please, please, won’t you follow God’s trail, too? Coming to God’s place, Star and I will be waiting there to welcome you.”
Why is it that we want every chapter to be good when God promises only that in the last chapter he will make all the other chapters make sense, and he doesn’t promise we’ll see that last chapter here? When Stephenie was dying, the doctor said, “There’s no hope for recovery from an injury like this.” I realized that this was either the time to lose my faith or an opportunity to show the God who gave his only Son to die for my sin that I love and trust him. And then I watched. I watched my sweet wife accept this as God’s will and God’s plan. And you know what God has done through this? He changed my heart. He broke it. He shredded it. And in the process he helped me see what he sees. I thought the worst thing that could happen in life was that people would go into a Christ-less eternity. There’s something worse than that. It is that our loving heavenly Father, the God and Creator of the universe, is being separated every day from those he desperately loves, and he will never be reunited with them again if what this Book says is right.
Moment by moment.
[Special thanks to Pastor Chris McGarvey of Bethel Baptist Church, Delaware for sharing this in his recent series on suffering. Text courtesy of Grace for Sinners. You will find the entirety of Steve Saint’s message on Desiring God under the 2005 conference series.]