Up until that question, our discussion, like on several previous Saturdays in the past 5 or 6 months, centered on marriage...
- Marriage, created by God in the context of relationship because He knew we'd need each other - is all about glorifying and serving God and is also all about serving another.
- The Bible gives key truths, commandments and principles that apply and we are to follow those.
- There is no formula where we plug in all the variables... or prescription to follow... or one size fits all pagne... for a God-honoring marriage - and sometimes the other best person to tell us wives how to be a good wife to them is our husband.
Then, Mamata, a matriarch who has no problem wearing the shoes of matriarch, hi-jacked Bible study. No joke!
She's a delightul lady, mother of 11 and grandmother of many more. She's a dear-to-me almost 70 year old lady I've gotten to know over the past year as I've been teaching her to read? She is the only believer in her immediate family. Her husband refused to have anything to do with her after she decided to follow Jesus. Her sons left her home in a miserable state of disrepair for several years... a large hole in the roof where rains rushed in during Niger's short monsoon season and the rest of the year dust dumped large deposits that she'd have to sweep out several times daily was proof of her offense. She's been refused food for days at a time, been mocked and excluded... she's had more than a taste of real persecution. But she loves her Jesus, with all of her heart, and she'll exclaim time and time again that she'd do it all over again, time and time again. Her persistance has won her a reluctant acceptance, respect and place back in her family.
This special woman has an amazing memory... for things she's learned orally... she'll often take sermons she's heard, studies in which she's participated... and repreach or reteach them to her family and the other folks who frequent her courtyard.
When Mamata "holds Bible study hostage," I've learned to just roll with things as they happen and listen really hard for Holy Spirit whispers as far as where to go next.
Mamata hijacked Bible study that Saturday about a month ago by giving a very long description of what happens when she shares church or Bible related discussions... both at her concession and with younger women in the church who find it difficult to always make it to Bible study. Then she asked a seemingly simple question:
"So what am I supposed to do when these ladies just won't listen to plain 'good sense?' They tell me I'm judging them and I have no right to do so, that if they are sinning in what they are doing, I am too, in my judgment."
Amina, the pastor's wife and my translator, and the other three ladies sitting there all jerked their heads in my direction. They were all looked at me expectantly...
Yikes! Talk about in over my head. This question was laden with cultural faux pas I don't yet begin to understand... and hard biblical truth for believers much more grown up than I.
At the same time, I recognized this immediately as an opportunity from the Lord. It brought to the surface a huge problem, something I'd hereto avoided, "fearin' to tread" on any toes. This group of ladies is deeply divided. While everyone is polite, smiley, laughs lots and seems very friendly on the surface, much gossip, slanderous thinking, criticism, judging and unteachableness also characterizes them.
Their lives look so different from the outside, but they struggle with many of the same things, the same hateful spirit, that any group of women, anywhere in the world -at least in my experience- must also combat.
This spirit divides instead of unifying and edifying.
It stunts instead of stretching and growing.
It kills relationships instead of giving them life.
It blasphemes instead of honoring, serving and glorifying the name of Christ.
Thankfully, God had already given me a story... and this group of ladies loves a story...
...so I told one.
It wasn't particularly riveting or action packed or even funny,
but it was very personal...
I'd noticed for awhile that a friend of mine had been acting differently towards me, well at least that was how it seemed to me. I wasn't sure why - and I've been known to blow things like that out of proportion, so the first thing I did was search my heart and my memory, asking the Holy Spirit to tell me if I needed to go to that person and ask forgiveness - but He never brought anything to mind. I never was convicted of any sin on my part. All I'd get from the Lord was "Wait and pray." I decided that perhaps it was nothing more my imagination and my own relational insecurity, uncertainty and doubt. The perceived-by-me distance hurt my heart, but I was determined not to take offense, to trust my friend (who'd shown herself worthy of trust), and recognize that other people simply need space and time because of other things going on in their lives and wait.
I hate waiting...
...the ladies all laughed at that. They told me that women from the America are always impatient and very bad at waiting, that we'd be happier people if we learned to wait well.
That time of waiting was a continual mental battle... I really don't like it when I can intuitively sense that things aren't right but don't have a clue what to do about it... and like I said, I'm just not very good at waiting and praying.
That wait finally came to an end when this friend asked if we could get together.
She clarified that there were some things she wanted to talk to me about; I was nervous (who likes to sit in the "hot seat," eh?), but also relieved that at least I'd know what had been going on.
While we were together, my friend gently confronted me.
She told me about something very specific that she saw in my life...
something she was afraid would injure me, affect our friendship and potentially, eventually, hurt my family and ministry....
It concerned her, so much so that she'd been praying about it for a pretty long time.
She didn't call it sin, but in her mind, I was engaging in behavior that could prove dangerous or worse; it was clearly something that didn't make good sense.
Remember Mamata's hijacking question?
I also disliked being in that position - being told I wasn't following good sense.
I knew I had disappointed. I knew I hadn't measured up. It is hard to know that someone feels like I've done it all wrong, especially when that someone is a person who's perception and wisdom I respect and value. The hardest part of all? The terrible fear that disagreeing will rupture relationship. I didn't want to lose my friend.
Beyond that, much of what my friend had said was true and clearly made good sense, at least most of the time. I wanted to agree with her...
as I then explained... I felt God had placed me right where I was, way in over my head, working beyond what I was capable of doing, serving without margin for this season...
God had asked me to walk this road for a time.
And what could she say?
My friend said as much. After all, how do you respond to someone who says, "I'm pretty confident I'm doing exactly what God wants me to do," especially if there isn't a clear condemnation of their action in the Bible. Who's going to argue with what God has told someone else to do?
She also listened, accepted and trusted. She still couldn't understand. I still don't know if she actually agrees that this might really be the path God wants me to walk for this season. But I felt she committed to support and encourage me during this time, as best as she could, even though...
I shared with the church ladies that I learned much that day-
about confrontation when a clear sin wasn't the issue
but good sense (or personal conviction) was.
And we decided that this was something we should all study together.
This past weekend, we embarked on that study - and I'll be writing about it in a few days.
Pray with me that
- God uses this study to challenge and unify this group of women,
- the power of His Word marks them with the immistakeable love of Jesus, and
- as a result, they finally, mightily, impact their communities and see the power of the Gospel - not just in their own salvation, but working through them and bringing others to salvation.
(Photo credit - I don't know... short term folks who travel through or serve for shorter time generously share their photos with us... all I can remember is a young gal named Faith, working down towards the Burkina border, shared most -if not all- of these photos with us. The first photo was taken by my sister last summer at literacy class.)