by Paul Stock
Paul and Dale Stock were born and grew up in Pakistan. Their parents, Fred and Margie Stock, have been serving in Pakistan for nearly fifty years.
Paul and Dale Stock were born and grew up in Pakistan. Their parents, Fred and Margie Stock, have been serving in Pakistan for nearly fifty years. Coming from a long line of missionaries, Paul’s great-grandfather was a missionary in Pakistan’s Punjab area (then part of India). Many of his greatgrandfather’s nine children worked as missionaries in the Indian subcontinent. Paul’s maternal grandfather, John Lowry Anderson, however, desired to serve in Africa as a missionary. All five of John’s children were missionaries, and all of Paul’s siblings are also missionaries.
Dale was the tenth member of the family to be buried in the Indian subcontinent. He died while serving Christ. Memorial services were held both in the southern state of Sindh, where Dale and Nicky worked, and later up north in Murree, where most of the mission community had gathered for the hot summer months. Over 500 Pakistanis came to the service in the Sindh, most of whom had been directly impacted by either Dale or Paul’s ministry.
This reflection is a poignant reminder that it is sometimes through tragedy that God’s grace and glory is most clearly seen.
SETTING THE STAGE: DALE’S DEATH
On July 13, 2002 my brother, Dale Stock, his wife Nicky, daughter Esther and son Luke set off for Kulri Lake for a relaxing day of swimming and fun. Their good friends and colleagues, Dr. Bill and Sheila McKelvie, joined them with their three children, Daniel, Mark and Rebecca. Kulri Lake is an hour and a half’s drive from Tando Muhammed Khan, where Dale and Nicky had an evangelistic ministry.
The weather was hot! They all enjoyed cooling off in the water, splashing and swimming until noon. After a tasty meal, the children begged to go for one last swim. The adults didn’t go in this time, but Dale videotaped the children as they swam. When Esther, Luke, Mark and Rebecca started yelling for help, the adults thought they were just playing. However, the strain in their voices made it obvious that something was very wrong. Seeing they were being pulled down by an undertow, Dale put down the camcorder and dove into the water. Bill immediately followed. Although Esther tried to go to the bottom of the lake to push herself up, she found nothing but mud and reeds and struggled back to the surface.
Dale managed to get Esther and Luke to the edge where Nicky was waiting to pull them out, but Bill got caught in the undertow and was struggling to keep his head above water. Dale, a strong swimmer, headed for Rebecca and put her on his shoulders. He tried desperately to swim to the edge while carrying the twelve-year-old, but the undertow was too strong. Realizing Dale was having difficulty carrying her, Rebecca slipped off his shoulders. Immediately the water pulled her down again. A Pakistani man threw an inner tube into the water and Bill, now utterly exhausted, and his son Mark were able to grab on.
Rebecca could see the tube, but she didn’t have the strength to reach it. Feeling Dale push her from under the water, she grabbed onto the tube. Dale emerged from the water with a cry for help. With no strength left, he went under. He didn’t come up again.
Although many had gathered around, no one went to look for Dale for fear of the undertow. Daniel McKelvie took the car to a nearby town to find divers who could look for Dale. When the group arrived back and went into the water there was no longer an undertow. Dale’s body lay right where he had gone under. Forty minutes had passed since that time. Bill is a medical doctor and Sheila and Nicky are nurses. For nearly thirty minutes each took turns trying to resuscitate Dale while the car sped towards the nearest hospital. But Dale was gone.
We never found out why there was an undertow in the lake. To this day, I have gone swimming at Kulri Lake with seventy teenage boys and have encountered no problems.
I awoke on the morning of July 13th with a light heart. I had slept well—no premonition of trouble, no prompting of the Holy Spirit to pray. We set off to have brunch with friends, unaware of the horror that had occurred at Kulri Lake just hours before.
We were at the restaurant when our cell phone rang. I watched Pat’s ashen face as she cried, “No! Are you sure?” My mind raced with possibilities. “What is it? What happened?,” I begged. The rest is a blur—I don’t know how many people were watching as we wept. We cried continually, “It can’t be! Not Dale!,” as if by saying that we could somehow change what happened. I don’t remember our friends quietly taking the children out to the car and paying for the bill. I wanted to be with my family, yet they were scattered around the world-—in the US, China, Albania and Pakistan.
I had last seen Dale at Christmas. We had gone caroling in the freezing rain on Christmas Eve in Erie, Pennsylvania. As Dale’s rich baritone voice boomed out familiar tunes, we were his accompanying chorus. Although our song sheets were drenched within minutes, Dale knew all the verses. It was snowing when we waved goodbye. I never dreamed that would be the last I’d see of his big, warm smile.
I knew I had to get to Pakistan but my mind was like mud. Sharper minds worked on the details while I called relatives and wept with parents, sisters and a sister-in-law. I checked my email and saw five which contained the subject: “Re: Dale Stock’s home-going” in the subject line. I slammed the computer shut. How dare they write me lies! How dare they say Dale’s dead! He can’t be!
I had a flashback. Dale and I were swimming in the Attock river. I was eight and he was ten. As he grabbed my leg and pulled me under I could hear him laughing. I tried to resist, but he was stronger. I could talk circles around him, but he was always stronger. No, it’s not possible! Dale—so strong…strong physically, emotionally and spiritually. How could you drown?
I sat in church on Sunday, July 14th. It seemed I was watching the service from a distance—no words or songs reached my heart. All I could think of was Dale in the water, crying for help, going under again and again. Was I seeing things? Two huge arms reached down from the sky; one hand gently picked up Dale from the water and put him on the palm of the other hand. Then he was taken up. The scene faded. What was a shock to us was no surprise to God. Ok, so this is your will God, but why? Why? I wanted to stand up and scream. Why?
A group of people walked towards me and one woman took my hands. “So sorry to hear about your brother’s passing, but we know he’s in a better place,” she said. Better for whom? His wife? His children? Another hugged me. “God likes to take the good people home to be with him,” the person muttered. So we’re the rotten ones? Again, “You’ll see him again in heaven.” But what do I do now? And again, “Maybe God was saving him from an even worse death.” How do you know? People cared and wanted to help, but I wished they would just give me a hug.
No one hugged like Dale. It was night and I was looking at the dark shadows from the balcony of the Sandes Home Hostel at our boarding school in Pakistan. I was homesick. Eighth grade was a low point in my short life, filled with feelings of insecurity and rejection. I felt a strong arm around me and turned to see Dale. We talked of home, our dog and baby Sara’s cute diapered-waddle. He hugged me and I knew everything was alright.
After Dale died, I became a different person. I had always been fearless, but now I was afraid for my wife and children. I was terrified that I would lose them too. I usually loved being with people, but I only wanted to be with close relatives and friends. I had always believed strongly in God’s protection of his people—now everything seemed random. I’ve had a strong faith, but now I was questioning everything.
I soon became a jumble of contradictions. I felt deep sorrow at the amputation of Dale from our lives, yet I felt intense joy over small things—a humming bird hovering over a flower and three-year-old Jodie gently touching my cheek with her pudgy hand. One moment I was angry at God; the next I would be praying, “Lord, I need a ticket to Pakistan. Please work it out.”
CONTINUED UNCERTAINTY AND MOURNING
Tribal women adorned with splashes of color and bright smiles were accompanied by their less flashy husbands for daily morning worship. It was the last time that I was at Tando Mohammed Khan, Sindh (in the south of Pakistan) where Dale and Nicky had been working. Dale, who never felt he was gifted in speaking, gave a simple, clear and compelling message. It was clear during the discussion that followed that these illiterate believers had been taught well and had a living faith.
“God is good, all the time,” sang the worship group at our church. I felt my stomach turn. Good? Right! But he took Dale when his work in Tando Mohammed Khan was going so well! Why? Why our family? I thought of many families who still had all their siblings alive and felt resentful. God, you know how much Nicky, Luke and Esther depend on Dale. Why couldn’t you have saved him?
What about my own calling? Pat and I had been called to work with the tribal Hindus in the Sindh and long to see them put their trust in Christ. So few people are called to live a life of no running water or electricity for the sake of sharing the gospel. Dale was willing, and yet God took him. Does God really care about the tribal people of Pakistan? Does God care if Pat and I are in Pakistan? Does anything matter that I thought mattered?
Eventually, the emails were a source of comfort. However, I found myself taking mental notes on who wrote and who didn’t—and I felt hurt when good friends didn’t. I began wondering if I had written my friends when they lost loved ones. Had I let them down? I felt drawn to others who had lost siblings and wanted to talk to them. To lose a member of the family is a change in identity.
GROWING THROUGH PAIN
Dale was shy and lacked confidence in high school, perhaps due to a slight learning disability. There was a profound change in him when he gave his life to Jesus in the ninth grade and he didn’t know that it wasn’t cool to be passionate about his faith. Before his conversion I had sometimes been the target of his fiery temper, but after Dale came to Christ he treated me with patience and maturity. He never missed a prayer meeting and soon developed a love for worship. As God moved in Dale’s life he became a man of godly wisdom, high moral standards and strong character.
The plane landed with a series of bumps and we were in Pakistan! I looked forward to the opportunity to mourn in a culture where you can express your grief openly and with volume. But I was waging war in my mind. You must be an example, Paul. You are a missionary. Be strong and encourage those weaker in the faith. But my pain became evident when I saw Nicky, Esther and Luke. We all wept for days and just when I thought I had gained composure, the tears would once more flow.
Again I flashed back to my life with Dale. “There is a girl I want you to meet, an Australian nurse named Nicky,” he said. It was Christmastime 1986 and I was visiting him in Pakistan. Nicky won me over with her warm character and delicious food. I felt honored Dale wanted my advice on his soon-to-be wife and I told him to go for it.
Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” This was the verse Dale and Nicky had on their wedding invitations. I thought of this verse during the memorial services. Is this not calamity—if not for Dale then for Nicky and the kids?
Those two weeks in Pakistan were a painful but precious time. The memorial service was held at Murree Christian School (MCS), a boarding school we attended as children and where Dale’s children now attended. We left Pakistan on a Saturday and MCS was attacked by terrorists on the following Monday. We were scheduled to return to Pakistan as a family at the end of August, but in that moment I couldn’t plan or make decisions about the future.
I was proud of Dale and how he sacrificially gave his life to save another. Yet I was plagued by the “if onlys.” If only they had not gone swimming after lunch that fateful day. If only there had been people to help. If only I had been there. If only it had been me who died instead of him. Pat quickly brought me back to the moment. “You’re cutting me out of your life, Paul,” she said. She was right. I was not allowing her to comfort me. A book I began reading helped me understand what I was going through. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss by Gerald Sittser helped me understand my fear of facing the future.
I also began to understand that it was okay to be angry with God. Instead of running from him, I was expressing my true feelings. The God I knew would not turn on me for being honest.
A few weeks later I was sitting in church and feeling the usual detachment from what was going on around me. And then God clearly spoke to me, “Give me all of your pain, questions and anger. Let me use them to make you a person with a greater capacity for pain and joy. Stop asking why and start asking what. Ask me, ‘What do you, Lord, want me to do with the short time I have on earth?’”
It was then that I realized I could face the future, make plans and even hope. I want to learn to appreciate every moment with those I love. Rather than needing all my questions answered, I could choose to trust the one who sees the big picture.
HOPE IN A VERSE
“God is good, all the time” began the praise band. When the song was over I realized I had sung the song all the way through. We were in the United States, on our way back to Pakistan. To my surprise, some friends gave my wife and me a beautiful plaque with Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you…”
I remember talking with Dale about my struggles and frustrations and thinking that when he prayed it seemed as though he were talking to an intimate friend. I would leave uplifted and blessed and filled with new insight into my situation. I would have loved to go to Dale for prayer about his death, and yet, even though I can’t, I still know what he’d say. “Don’t worry about me because I’ve never been happier. I’m with the God I love. And don’t worry about Nicky and the kids, because Jeremiah 29:11 is for them too. God knows the plans he has for us.” That is what Dale would say. And I believe it.
Sittser, Gerald. 1996. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
Paul Stock and his wife, Margie, have served in Pakistan for almost fifty years. Paul was born and raised in Pakistan, the son of Presbyterian missionaries. He is now ordained with the Church of Pakistan, part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion.
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