Unlikely Encouragement

“I’d rather have people hate me with the knowledge that I tried to save them.”~Keith Green

After a long week, beginning with my spending of Father’s Day fatherless and ending with my husband getting in a car accident, I found myself weary and discouraged.  Right before my husband decided we would go eat our favorite meatballs at IKEA for dinner, I sent a message to some of my friends back home for prayer that ended with the remark “I feel overwhelmed and done.”

Yes, I felt done, but not hopeless.  The tiniest bit of hope left inside prompted my plea for help to God – a Father who is faithful and good.  I begged God under my breath as we walked out the door of our apartment…

“Encourage me, Father. Please send encouragement.”

Our family piled into a taxi and took off towards the restaurant. When we were about half way there, my husband decided to stop the taxi and get out to say hello to one of his new friends.  He has just recently befriended a local mechanic that has worked on the car we are able to use sometimes and my husband has spent the last week hanging out at the mechanic’s shop in order to practice conversing in the language we are learning.

I figured we would just say hi and then be on our way, but God had different plans in store.  He had the most creative encouragement awaiting that would flood my heart following my submission and obedience to my calling in the Kingdom.

As I stood behind my husband and tried to keep my children from running into the busy street, I suddenly heard a woman call down from a window above us. I looked up and realized that she must be the mechanic’s wife and she wanted me to bring my children up to her house to say hello.

I smiled and of course accepted her invitation, but the situation was heading in the opposite direction of everything I wanted to do.  I wanted to go to IKEA for dinner and veg out with my family, not thinking about language and not having to engage anyone.  Again, I felt weary and done, but with an “ok help me Father” prayer in my heart I submitted to His plan rather than my own, and I followed her 12 year old daughter around to an alley and up a staircase to the mechanic’s house. I knew deep down that when it comes to loving others, it’s better to walk through the doors the Lord opens rather than ignore them due to how I feel in the moment.

As the 12 year old daughter opened the front door and I bent down to help my children take off their shoes before entering, I saw a grandma putting her colorful head scarf on and the mechanic’s wife rushing to meet me.

“Oh my, what in the world am I doing?” I thought to myself as I realized this is a family where the women cover their heads.  While covering isn’t the law in this country, it is definitely the norm in our neighborhood, and seems to be an outward sign that they are devout in their Muslim faith.  Still, after 8 months of living here, I do not have one national woman that is my friend in our neighborhood. Typically, the covered women will not look at me as I pass them on the street and if they do look in my direction and I say hello, they look at me like I am from Mars and keep walking.  I am used to being called “the foreigner” and although that is exactly what I am, I long for acceptance. Whether they are fearful of me or offended by me or simply taken aback that I have spoken to them in their language, I have never made any headway in reaching any of them.

And then, on one of my most weary days, the Lord would have me stepping foot over the threshold into the home of a family like the kind that I have longed to know but have only seen from a distance.  I was greeted with kisses on my cheeks and by being told I should bow to the grandma while kissing her hand and placing it on my forehead. I really had no idea what I was doing and smiled and giggled and did my best.  The family quickly appreciated my attempts at all things that are normal in their culture and as the grandma took my face and kissed it all over, I felt relieved that I had seemed to greet them appropriately in their eyes.

I sat on the couch and for almost an hour answered questions in only their language ranging from how much money my rent is to if I have a rich American brother that their 12 year old can marry. The youngest daughter who is 8 sat next to me and stroked my hair as if she had never seen an American. Yes, I was 100% out of my comfort zone and alone with this family since my husband stayed in the mechanic’s shop below to talk with his new friend, but the Lord was gracious and somehow helped my language to flow in a way that we could all understand each other.

After talking, the wife and daughters set up a meal for us on the ground.  The grandma motioned for me to sit with them and I just did my best to copy everything she did.  The grandma sat with her legs a certain way, so I did too.  She placed the table cloth over her lap, and so I did the same.  The grandfather took his fork and started to dig in, and so I just ate out of the same dishes they did and ignored my thoughts of “ewww, we are all sharing germs!” It didn’t take long for the grandma to realize that I was mimicking her every move and as I explained to her that this was all very different from America and I was so happy to be learning their culture from her, she laughed, patted my arm, and told her daughter, the mechanic’s wife, just how much she loved me.

As we continued eating bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a potato pastry, I was asked about my parents and if I miss them being so far away from them…

“Well, this is it,” I thought.  “This is the open door….Father, help me know what to say…” I prayed silently as I sighed and jumped right in to a moment that I was called to and chose to believe I was equipped for, despite feeling a bit in over my head.

I told them that my parents have both died – that my mother died from cancer and that unfortunately my father committed suicide. They were shocked and the first thing out of the mechanic’s wife’s mouth was…

“Why?”

What a loaded question to be asked about suicide.  What a difficult question to answer in English, let alone a foreign language.

“He didn’t have hope,” I told them. “I believe in and follow God.  God gives me hope” I said. (I used a name for God that is different than the name they call God.  This instantly told them I was a Christian).  “My dad didn’t have hope and so unfortunately he took his own life”

“We believe in Allah,” said the mechanic’s wife

“Yes, I know,” I said with a warm smile

They then proceeded to tell me about their neighbor who is an American woman, married to a national man.  They told me that she became a Muslim and reads their holy book. I wasn’t sure where our conversation was going, but decided if they were going to talk about their book, then I would talk about mine.

“I read the Bible,” I said politely, hoping my comment wouldn’t change the peaceful conversation we were having…

At this moment, the grandfather got up and left the room.  I felt fear grip my heart and a moment of panic attack my boldness.  But then, just as fast as fear entered, hope erased that spirit of fear that is not of God and replaced it with Spirit-filled boldness…

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control.So do not be ashamed to tell people about our Lord Jesus…” ~2 Timothy 1:7-8

“Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech” ~2 Corinthians 3:12

“You read the Bible?” the mechanic’s wife asked

“Yes,” I said

“Do you have one with you?” she asked

“I do in my purse,” I said

“Can we see it,” she asked.  “We’ve never seen a Bible.”

As I handed her a copy of the Living Water in her language, she opened it up and started rigorously flipping through it.  I will never forget how she bent over it and thumbed through the pages with eyes full of curiosity.

As the grandmother and daughter leaned in close and all three women looked at the pages, I asked them if they wanted to keep it. They said yes and the daughter put it up on a bookshelf. I could not believe that the Lord had just allowed me to so effortlessly hand them the Word of Life. It was the first time that they had ever seen it, touched it, or had the opportunity to read the Truth of the Savior who died to rescue them.

We spoke for a little longer before I had to leave.  Before leaving, the grandmother told me I needed a national name and they decided on one that means joy, brightness, cheerfulness, and rejoicing among other things. They asked me to come back later that night, but because I wasn’t able to, we agreed that I would return very soon to their home!

Just as I was leaving their house, I felt adrenaline surge through my body and my faith increase in the God who knows how to perfectly encourage His children. He had heard my cry for encouragement and He had answered!  It wasn’t necessarily through the sweet words from my friends back home or from venting to my husband all that was wearing me down that would encourage me fully.  It wasn’t locking myself away from the culture and trying to forget I was far from home or indulging in a meal at a restaurant that feels like America that brought refreshment.  What encouraged me was the exercising of my choice to obey God in a moment where my feelings didn’t want to. Taking the focus off of my circumstances and placing it on the lost souls in front of me is what changed my perspective and refreshed my spirit in the work He has called me to.  It was being stretched way beyond my comfort zone or abilities as I spoke and shared with a family that I had only met that day that would encourage me and show me that I am not alone but that God is with me.  He chose to place me in a situation where I would need to draw strength from His never ending grace and what this did was confirm to me my calling, my identity as His daughter, and that I am never ever alone. It was a beautiful evening of God leading me into a situation that would remind me that every weary part of living in a foreign culture is worth it.  No amount of homesickness can compare to the exhilarating joy that comes when you see people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus hold a copy of the Bible and know that God chose you to be the one to hand deliver it.

The task we as believers have been called to is not an easy task. In fact, it can seem like an overwhelming one.  Most days I feel in over my head, but I know that as long as I do what I can, with what I have, for whomever the Lord places in my path today, I have glorified the Father in heaven.

“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” ~Matthew 10:42, The Message

Please pray for this family!  Pray that they would open the Word that is now in their possession and read it! Pray that they would understand the Gospel and boldly pray that they would have dreams of Jesus and choose to follow the Way!

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