What A Friend

What A Friend

What a friend we have in Jesus...

Emily said that if I sang that hymn it would make me feel better. Whenever she felt homesick she walked around singing. She knew all the words to all three verses. I had listened to it so often, I knew the tune and could hum it, but I wanted to learn the words. Maybe Emily was right. Maybe it would help.

...all our sins and griefs to bear!

I sneaked a hymnal out of the chapel under my shirt. I took it after I cleaned my assigned classroom, before the game bell rang, and ran to my dorm room to hide it in my dresser drawer under my socks and underwear. My intention of my sinful stealing was to learn the words to the hymn, but now I had the problem of being caught with the hymnal. I could not let anyone see me with it in my room, even though it wasn't really stolen—just borrowed, and could only pull it out when nobody was around. I had to sneak the hymnal back to the chapel before someone found it.
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

After lights out at night I tried to say my prayers, but when I got to the "God Blesses" and started listing family members, I could feel the tears stinging my eyelids. Lying in the dark wondering if my family missed me as much as I missed them made it hard to say my prayers and hard to fall asleep.

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear...

The mail had come that day, and there was a package with a letter addressed to both Bill and me. Bill got it first, while I was at games, and took it to his dorm room. He told me at supper he would divide out the cookies and give me my share along with Mama's letter when he was through reading the letter. I asked him at study hall where my cookies and the letter were, but he said he had not gotten to it yet. What could be more important than reading a letter from home and dividing out the cookies? Tears in my eyes, I turned back to my books, imagining Bill and his friends eating all my cookies, even though I knew he wouldn't. I hoped he wouldn't. He might.

...all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Bill had been to CS before and was in high school and didn't suffer from gut-wrenching homesickness anymore. I didn't think it was fair that he got the cookies and the letter first. I would have liked that letter in my hands, tucked under my pillow, when I went to bed that night, so I could go to sleep with Mama's words near me. My prayers that night were angry lashings at my brother, then guilt because of them. Did Bill say his prayers before he went to sleep? Did he think about me, lying awake and homesick?

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?

Trials? I didn't get all my homework finished because I spent study hall thinking about the cookies and the letter, and trying not to cry. I spent many study halls trying not to cry, and got further and further behind on my homework. I was not used to having homework in every subject every night. I was not used to having no one check to see if I had finished all my assignments. "You need to be more responsible," my teachers told me when I turned in my unfinished work. "Maybe you need to do some of your homework during rest hour." I didn't want to do homework during rest hour. Temptations? The books on the library shelves, whole sets of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys or Edgar Rice Burroughs books were so tempting. I wanted to read during rest hour. I read until I fell asleep, tired from not sleeping well at night, only to be 7
wakened too soon by the bell announcing that rest hour was over. Trouble? Oh, boy, I knew about trouble! I was always in trouble - for noise during quiet time; for unfinished school assignments; for day dreaming in class. The list of trouble was endless.

We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Emily seemed to have lost the sparkle in her eyes that she had on the freighter crossing the ocean when our families traveled back to Congo together, but she walked around singing hymns. Carol never got demerits and her room was neat and tidy. Winited and Priscilla got their schoolwork done, and their papers were neat and their answers were right. Margaret Ann never let anyone see her cry. Sannie and Beth had time to read in their spotless room, and even though they would fight with each other and cry, by bedtime they would be brushing each other's hair to make it smooth and shiny. Perfection was a contest and I was out of the competition.

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?

I told Winited, my oldest friend and playmate from Mutoto days, that I thought a certain sixth grade boy was cute. Winited made up a silly song about my crush and sang it to the other girls in the dorm, mentioning the boy's name. They were delighted with Winited's song, and I could not let them know how humiliated the song and their laughter made me feel. I did not want to be labeled a bad

. Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Jesus knew that I cried in my pillow at night. He knew I still sucked my thumb at night, even though I was ten years old. One morning, the grammar school girls woke up to discover we had all gotten our faces painted with lipstick during the night. There was a red ring around my thumb, where my lipsticked lips had been. What high school girl knew my secret weakness, I wondered as I scrubbed my hands with soapy water. Not even my roommate knew I still sucked my thumb. I went to breakfast that morning, afraid to look anyone in the eye. I did not want to be teased for being a baby.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?

I thought about those words as I pulled weeds on Saturday, punishment for my demerits I had gotten for being too loud and for not getting my work done. I felt like I had a load of care because I was homesick and was getting behind in my schoolwork and didn't like being teased for my crushes and my thumb sucking. The hot sun and the biting bugs and my beginning sunburn made me feel weak and heavy-laden. Cumbered…that word made me giggle. Once, in Youth Group, Emily requested her favorite hymn. Aunt Mary played it on the piano, and we clustered around to sing. Johnny read the word in his hymnbook wrong, and sang "cucumber" and we all laughed. After that whenever we sang the hymn in chapel, the grammar school boys poked each other, grinned and made faces at the girls, trying to make us laugh.

Precious Savior still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Whenever I got to the word 'refuge', I read it as 'refugee' and I remembered that awful time around Congo's independence from Belgium, when we had to evacuate and leave Baba, and our pets, and all our things. I thought about how it felt to kiss Daddy goodbye in Rhodesia, when he went back to Congo and we went to America without him. Thinking about kissing Daddy goodbye made hot tears sting my eyes. Did Daddy miss me, or was he too busy?

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!

Carol said I was immature because I threw old mango seeds at Johnny and Billy in the play area after supper and made them chase me. Emily said I was disgusting because someone said something funny at the table during supper when I had my mouth full of milk, and when I laughed I snorted milk out my nose. Winited was still going around singing the silly song about the sixth grade boy I no longer had a crush on. Margaret Ann took my pencil and wouldn't give it back. She said it was hers, but I knew it was mine because of the scratches I'd made around the top. Sannie gave me a demerit for throwing a book across the hall at Margaret Ann during rest hour because she wouldn't give back my pencil, but she didn't give one to Margaret Ann who was the cause of the trouble. I didn't have any quarrel with Beth, but since she was Sannie's sister and her roommate, she had to side with Sannie. Right now, my only friend seemed to be Priscilla. Sweet Priscilla. No one was ever mad at her. She never seemed to take sides or be involved in any of the dorm fights. How did she seem to avoid them all?

In his arms he'll take and shield thee;

I thought about Jesus taking me in his arms, and then decided that he was probably too busy with all the unsaved Congolese to worry about a little girl like me, who had a hard time understanding her Bible, and who had a hard time getting her math done, and who had a hard time staying out of trouble, and who cried every time she got to the "God Blesses" in her bedtime prayers. Jesus probably wouldn't approve of the way this hymn made me feel when I heard Emily sing it, all sad and hurting inside, from wanting to please everyone - the girls in my dorm, my teachers, my Mama and Daddy, and Jesus - and knowing that I couldn't. That was my "load of care," and praying didn't seem to help much. It only made me feel sadder, and I wanted my Mama's arms around me instead.

...thou wilt find a solace there.

Johnny had thought the word 'solace' was 'shoelace', and sang it that way in Youth Group the same day he sang 'cucumber.' We were already feeling giggly about the 'cumbered cucumber.' Aunt Mary explained to us what solace meant, but the words to Emily's hymn did not give me any comfort - just a sad empty feeling inside.

I flipped the hymnal shut, preferring the giggly feeling 'cucumbers' and 'shoelaces' gave me, and I tucked it back in my drawer under my socks and underwear, to wait for a good time to sneak it back into the chapel, when I thought I would not get caught.


Becky Washburn Scott, adult MK, Presbyterian Congo Mission. Emily was my first roommate at boarding school. Our families had traveled together back to Congo by freighter that summer. This is when I was 10 years old and a 5th grader, and my first experience away from home for any length of time. This song has always given me knots in my stomach because of the associations I had of it, with Emily singing it as her comfort song and the negative feelings it gave me. It is one of the ones I have difficulty singing sincerely in church. There are several of those, for various reasons.