At 7:20 a.m. on Tuesday, November 24, 2020, my phone buzzed at the office, and I received the following text from my son-in-law: “I have had to rush Jade to emergency. She started feeling dizzy after [going to the] gym this morning, which led to some feeling of numbness on her left side, and then she started to lose consciousness. They have done a bunch of tests and a CT scan and they think she has had an acute stroke …”
Jade, our oldest daughter, and her husband, Julius, had been missionaries in Tanzania for nine years. We were used to getting several texts a week—but not like this. Our 32-year-old daughter, who’d never been seriously ill with anything, was airlifted to The Nairobi Hospital, had brain surgery the next day in an effort to save her life, but ultimately suffered a second stroke on Saturday. She died at about 5:30 p.m. on Monday, November 30—six days later.
From that moment on, Christine and I were thrust into the deepest and darkest storm of our lives. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made it nearly impossible to get to Kenya, but eight days after Jade’s death, somehow we managed to land in Nairobi to be with Julius and our grandsons. Her boys, as Jade referred to them, were all under 10 years old. In the hurly-burly of the next three weeks, filled with three memorials in three cities and two countries, we survived on adrenalin and people’s prayers. We existed in a foggy dream state—except it was a nightmare.
We arrived in Mwanza, Tanzania, three days before Christmas. We decided to stay until March to help Julius with the boys and to try, if possible, to help him adjust to life as a single dad. We also offered to step in and help with Petra City Church, the new church plant he and Jade had begun merely four Sundays before Jade’s stroke. I was not in a good state spiritually. I couldn’t pray. I could barely breathe the name “Jesus,” but Julius and I felt it was better to keep busy with the one thing that brought life against the backdrop of death and loss. Thank God, so many people all over the world were praying for us.
One sleepless night in the midst of countless others, I turned to Christine and said, “I sure hope, after everything we have given our lives to, there really is a heaven, or else I am never going to see my little girl again!” Even as the words hit the air, I was shocked to
hear them come out of my mouth.
The bedrock foundation of my life and my faith, and all I had lived my life to pursue and preach about, was crumbling. Satan had begun his campaign to assault and assail me, to kill, steal and destroy the most basic and fundamental of my beliefs—when I was at my most desperate. I had invested 37 years in full-time ministry. I was a pastor who’d preached about heaven all my life, and in the darkness of losing my precious little girl, I was grasping to hold onto the last wisps of hope. I couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing Jade again. I hadn’t held her for 17 months and in a heaving, sobbing pile of unbearable grief, all I wanted to do was hold her in my arms one more time. In that moment, in the terror of this unimaginable loss, I was undone. The enemy of my soul had unravelled me—with supernatural, diabolical, insidious and cruel whispers that there is no heaven and that I had lost everything.
Over the next six weeks, through the gentle kindness of the Holy Spirit, God reminded me of a passage of Scripture buried in my subconscious heart. The entire passage was 1 Corinthians 15:12-26, but the key verse for me was this one: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
The sweet, dovelike Teacher used systematic theology—the logic of Scriptures I had long hidden away in my soul—to rebuild the broken-down walls the Enemy had bombed with doubt.
If there is no resurrection, Jesus is not raised, my preaching and my faith are useless, and all Christ followers are liars and false witnesses! And if the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised, we are all still in our sins and unforgiven, and my faith is futile. What’s more (I began to reason along with the Apostle Paul), all who have died in Christ are forever lost. If only for this life I have believed in Christ, then I am to be pitied—and pitied more than all men!
Christine and I still feel the eyes of people on us when we enter a room with anyone who is seeing us for the first time since we lost Jade from this life. The empathy, the pity, the realization of every parent’s greatest fears are palpable. But we are not to be pitied! The truth Jesus began teaching us is that we believe in Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead. He was the first to rise from the dead to show us that when we die believing in Him, then we, too, rise from the dead. This earth is not heaven. This earth is not our home. This life we have on the planet is not all we have. For the Christian, heaven is not just something—it is everything!
What would be pitiful, worthy of the pity of others, is not the loss of my precious daughter, but if I lived my whole life committed to the gospel, dedicated to following Jesus and hoping in Him only for this life—without there being any heaven! Then I would say, like Paul, that I should be pitied more than all men!
As Jesus continues to heal Christine and me, it is through wagering all we are and all we have on a risen Christ. It is my hope, my great hope. It is everything. As I believe Jesus’ words, I see myself holding my “little girl” again. Jade did not live her life—and I will not live mine—believing in Christ “only for this life.”
Epilogue: The theme of this article comes from a message Rev. Davidson preached on March 31, 2021, the first Sunday following his return from Mwanza. If you would like to listen to the entire message, click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZE591jzVDg&t=2935s
Blake Davidson lives with his wife, Christine, in Toronto, Ont. He is the lead pastor at Willowdale Pentecostal Church. Their four children are married and live in Tanzania, Texas, and the GTA with their seven grandchildren—except Jade, who lives in heaven. This article appeared in the October/November/December 2022 issue of
testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
© 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Home page photo © istockphoto.com (Mount Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi Peak). Photos above courtesy of Blake and Christine Davidson. Jade and Julius Kenyamanyara in August 2020 with Ezra (in plaid), Gabriel (in pink) and Josiah (in yellow).