05 April 2011

Ladies' Bible study last Saturday... if you are curious... God is working!

I love God's Word... I love to study it and see meaning in it... trying to understand it "academically," but even more important... striving to hear the Holy Spirit revealing God's messages as He whispers in my ear. I want those I care about to feel the same about their bibles - looking forward to time spent in the Word with great anticipation, confident that God will speak when they listen, read or meditate upon His Word, even if it is nothing more than the still, small voice reaffirming well-known truth. And so this year, one of my prayers has been that God will use ladies' Bible study to: 1) build confidence that God is teaching them and that what He teaches is worth speaking up about, sharing with others and testifying of God and His awesomeness; and 2) give them a safe place to practice sharing about God's miracles and works, big and small, in their lives for as they draw near to Him through His Word, He promises to draw near to them.

As I prepared for Bible study last Saturday, I struggled. I wanted to do something similar to what I'd done the month before - go word by word through a verse they all knew and encourage them to share a few words about what God was saying to them... I flipped and flopped about as I prayed and thought through verses we might use. I would think I'd settled on one, but as I started to study and meditate on it myself, the Holy Spirit would clearly close the door. The night before, I spent a couple of hours awake with Elsie Mae (she was feverish and not sleeping well... I was waiting for her fever to break), snuggling and praying. Bible study was one of the things I prayed about and the more I thought, prayed and reflected, I became more and more convinced that what I had prepared was not what God wanted me to do. So I woke up Saturday morning, beginning again, mostly from scratch. I did have a verse that fit with the church's theme for the year (James 4.8)... but as I tried to prepare, the pieces weren't fitting together.

I had given the ladies an "assignment" last month - to come ready to share something God had showed them from His Word as they either read and studied or meditated on a verse they remembered/had memorized. However, I wasn't particularly hopeful that they would. As I have mentioned before, they tend to want to be taught and told what and how they should think, always prepared to recite the "right" response; individual mulling and wrestling with meanings and personal applications is kept private and, in my experience, not information easily volunteered. However, Bible study time was drawing near and since I had very little prepared... well, I began desperately praying the ladies would talk... In fact, I was praying they'd have something, anything, to say because that would have to be more than I had prepared...

I started off with a prayer request (funding to purchase the time to air Thru the Bible) and then told the ladies we'd work our way around the circle and each one needed to share, at least briefly, something God had/has been showing her relative to His Word. I would begin, but I was greatly looking forward to hearing from them.

Here is the gist of what I shared. Missos learning and working in French love to tell the story about a new missionary who was visiting patients in a hospital, hoping to encourage and pray with them. This missionary was just learning the French language and when leaving each patient's bed, wanted to say, "May God bless you." French can be tricky sometimes, because it has many "faux amis..." or false friends- words that sound similar, but whose meanings are different. "Blesse(r)" is a French word, a verb. It means to injure. The missionary should have been saying "Que Dieu vous benisse;" instead, what was said was "Que Dieu vous blesse..." To the patients, it sounded as though the missionary was cursing them - "May God injure you," and word quickly spread. Not many patients wanted to see the missionary that day.

It is a funny little story, but it led me to a hard and startling realization... not for the first time, but I seem to need to keep relearning it. Nothing comes into our lives that does not first pass through the Lord. Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote:
"You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies -- though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is."

God showers us with more blessings than you could imagine. Try counting them some time if you ever doubt it. Could it be, however, that sometimes those blessings don't feel like such good things? Is it possible, instead, that things which we'd actually classify as suffering, hardship, injury... that those, too, are blessings precisely chosen by God for our good, to grow us? To bless us? Those patients in the hospital didn't feel like that missionary was blessing them. But the missionary's heart was lifting them and their needs before the throne of God, pleas and prayers of blessing, including renewed physical health but also growing knowledge of the Lord, a restored relationship with the only Savior. Am I like those patients, sometimes... looking only at the surface or totally not understanding why God is allowing something to touch my life - and then assuming the worst? Or do I willingly accept the fact that my Sovereign Creator has the right to shower me with those things that feel like blessings as well as blessings that feel like injuries, trusting in the truth that God is good, all of the time, confident that He makes no mistakes?

The next two women to share are two among three who regularly attend Bible study and are literate. Pastor's wife, Amina, is a funny, outgoing, deep thinking, outspoken and well educated. She passionately wants to see her countrymen and women following and serving God, deepening their relationship with Him and living out, in obedience, the principles taught in His Holy Word. She opened up her Bible to 1 Timothy 6.17,18, and read:

"Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share."
She shared that if we fill ourselves with the concerns of the world, pleasing men and making money, and then try to add God in on top of that, He'll never be able to change the deepest parts and then, when our life is shaken up some, He'll be the first thing bumped off the top. She tried to live like that and it didn't work. Then she put God in first, and He has always been faithful to take care of her, her family and meet their daily needs, including bringing a job to her at her house while she was caring for their three children and her husband was away studying in France.

Rabi, also pictured above, struggles with infertility. She and her husband have prayed for a baby as long as I've known them, but God has not granted their petition as of yet. It never fails, though: she always has a baby on her back or on her lap while we are at church, serving the other young mothers and lighting up whatever place she happens to be with her ever present smile. She paraphrased Matthew 6:25 - verses where we are commanded not to worry because God will provide our needs and then shared a testimony of how God miraculously took care of her family when she was the primary breadwinner, but was convinced it was God's will (and her family agreed) for her to move from her home town to Niamey and marry her husband (they met at a camp for training young men and women to teach Sunday School). And she has seen God provide over, and over, and over again - so she is not afraid to leave her needs in His capable hands, trust and wait for His provision, His timing, or even to finally hear that His answer is "No."

"Marge," an older widow volunteered to share a testimony next. She is the oldest lady in our group and has possibly walked with the Lord longer than I've been alive. She has an amazing memory and is often the one who will recite the key points from Bible studies I've taught to the church the next time they meet. Her testimony was also one of God's provision. During the rains one year, a large hole formed in the roof of her home she had nothing extra to fix it. So she covered it with old cloths to keep out the sun and larger lizards and to try and slow down the rain when it came. Her children, sadly were either choosing not to or were unable to help her with this need, so she has lived this way for at least a couple of years (I think - I was trying to follow the Zarma with scattered interpretations). Instead of becoming angry and complaining, she chose to trust that God would give her grace when she needed it - if He had chosen for her to live with the inconvenience and the dishonoring by her children... and would someday provide for this need without her going out and begging others to help her. One of her sons recently decided to do something about it and has built her the nicest home she has ever lived in, and as he has chosen to honor his mother, God is continuing to bless him and his family.

Listening to these women share from their hearts was so encouraging, but it is the last two stories that have humbled me beyond belief as I think about the lives these two young women have led, their "uneducated," but pure, sincere and profound faith and trust in God... As well, I am totally awed by God's faithfulness to speak His truths into hearts in ways where His voice cannot be mistaken, even for those who don't have all of our western society "traditional" tools to study and learn about Him. Not only that, but when I look at how beautifully the testimonies of these two women built off of what God had been stirring around in my heart, I'm sure that I'm the one who was more blessed and had received more by our time on Saturday afternoon came to a close.

"Laura" is a beautiful young woman, probably not even in her twenties yet, and is building a business as a hairdresser. Her mother died when she was a preteen and an older brother and older sister shared the care for her growing up. However, their care was minimal and by any standard can be considered abusive. She rarely was given food to eat, was subject to continual verbal abuse and was essentially a slave in her siblings' homes. Her older sister finally agreed to apprentice her to a hairdresser; her brother was furious, assuming she would enter into prostitution and shame him and their family name. This made her fearful of talking to anyone outside of her family. Her birth family was traditionally Catholic, but no one in the family truly knew Jesus as Savior, much less as the Lord of their lives. One day, she was sent to the home of a customer to fix the customer's hair and a young man walked along with her, trying to engage her in conversation. She refused. He persisted - for several months. He finally tracked her down at her sister's home where she visited with him for a few minutes at the door. He wanted to marry her, but wanted to  let her know before he spoke to her older brother. Her sister found out, she assumed the worst and contacted the brother, so the first meeting did not go well. They asked for an exorbitant dowry and had all sorts of hoops for the young man to jump through if he truly wanted to marry their sister. He did all that was required of him and more. Then he and "Laura" married and moved to Niamey. She then shared that Christ, the bridegroom, does all that is required and so much more to make us His bride - He persists, He wears our disgrace, He paid an infinitely heavy price for the privilege of one day bringing us to the home He has prepared for us. 

The final story was told by "Angela" another young mother who is still just a teen herself. The very first sentence she uttered was, "I'm so thankful that God has made me suffer. Otherwise, I might have never known Him." Originally from another W. African country, she never knew her mother or even anything about her mother because her mother died while she was very, very young...  One day, a woman stopped by the house and and asked her father who she belonged to. He said "Her mother is dead." The woman volunteered to take "Angela" so her father would not have to be concerned for her. 

"Angela" left with the woman, joining up with a large group of other children, mostly girls her age (5 or 6) and was then transported from her village in Togo to Niamey. Slowly, all of the other children disappeared, and  although "Angela" never saw any money exchange hands,  she eventually realized that the woman was involved in child trafficking; for some reason, the woman decided to keep "Angela." She spent the next 10 or so years working in this woman's bar - first cleaning and then later, serving food and drink to customers. It was a hard life, working 18-20 hours every day, she rarely had enough to eat, was freqently and severely beaten and her only possessions were the clothes on her back. She longed to go to school, but that was never an option. Eventually, customers began demanding other services from "Angela," and thankfully, the woman who owned the bar decided to send her back to Togo, to her father. Although "Angela" does not know why, she is thankful and recognizes that the woman's decision protected her from a life of prostitution and also led to the defining moment in her life.

When she returned to her father's home, she learned that both his hands and feet were paralyzed and useless. Doctors could give no explanation; his friends figured one of his enemies had placed a curse upon him. When he had exhausted all of the local medical avenues, he turned to tribal medicines, the prayers of local marabouts, even witchcraft and sorcery. Without the use of his hands and feet, he could not work and had no way to earn money. Too proud to beg, as a last resort, he finally went to the church. I did not understand the details, but God miraculously renewed his body and he regained both feeling and complete use of his hands and feet. Because of this, he was willing to listen to the message the church was preaching and decided to become a follower of the Good Shepherd. "Angela," too, decided that was the way she wanted to live her life.

However, times were difficult and after a few months, she decided to return to Niamey and see if she could work for the woman she had worked for most of her life. The woman once again took her in and she began working at the bar. The other waitresses would stand around and flirt. "Angela" focused on her work and this attracted the attention of a young mechanic, a follower of Jesus, who worked on the owner's vehicles. It was not long before the two of them married and her husband is one of the deacons in our church as well as the choir director!

Amazing testimonies and reflections about an awesome God's provision - even when that provision seemed a season of want and need! And finally, a Bible study where I spoke less than the other women!

Several women of the church, taken just before we went on furlough in July, 2009.

As we concluded, I reminded them of the church theme for the year:

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."

In French that reads "Approchez-vous de Dieu et Il s'approchera de vous." As I was reading that through my French Bible Saturday morning, looking at the words one by one and meditating on them, I noticed that approchez-vous contained within it one of those drive-me-crazy French expressions that I had learned what it meant and knew how to use it, but really had no clue where it came from: appro{chez-vous}. If I want to say I'm going to come to your house, I'd say I'm stopping by "chez vous." At first, I just thought it was cool that I might have figured out the etymology of the word, since I am a word person and not knowing those sorts of things bugs me.

But then I was floored by another thought. Within the structure of language itself, God put, in plain view, His desire that we abide continually in Him, His plan that we have continuous access to His presence and that we make it our permanent place. What struck me is that God wants you (and me) to draw near to Him, and in so doing, to make His presence become "chez vous" (chez moi)... just as He draws near to us, making our hearts His dwelling place...

...A beautiful, God prompted thought with which to conclude
an amazing couple of hours with the women of our church.

Some names have been changed and unless specified, photos are not of the actual ladies.
Photo of French Bible from wikimedia.org.
Photo of young woman with checkered scarf from worldvision.org

1 comment:

  1. tears of joy! Thank you so much for sharing this!


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