Friday, August 10, 2012

Volunteer Testimony: LHBC (July 2012)

I signed up for an "arts and crafts with women" trip to Niger. I'm totally comfortable with that. I ended up going to evangelize to women weighed down by the oppression of the Muslim faith.  That is completely outside of my zone of comfort.

I knew I would see poverty stricken children. I hate that, but I know that opportunity does not present itself equitably around the globe. I can accept that and not feel overwhelmed with guilt at the excess that is present in my world. I saw 2 day old babies with infected umbilical cords. I saw running noses and eyes swarmed with flies. I saw too many umbilical hernias to count. I saw children sharing a handul of rice for their mid-day meal. I saw distended bellies. I'm having a hard time with that; my heart hurts and I feel guilty about my overly stocked pantry and freezer.

I knew I would see children without the toys and new clothes my children grew up with. I'm ok with that. My sons didn't have designer clothes and they didn't have all of the latest toys and games. They don't judge people by their marterial goods, and I count that a parenting success. I was surprised to see toddler girls in headscarves playing with naked little boys and children wearing only a tattered pair of panties.  I did not expect to see children playing "jacks" with a pile of pebbles, rolling and chasing old tires, drawing with sticks in the dirt, hacking up rotting fruit with machetes (toddlers), or lovingly carrying a dead baby bird with no head. I'm happy that children the world over will turn unlikely items into a favorite toy. I was pleased to see that much of our American "throw away" clothing gets repurposed.

I knew I would experience sanitary conditions I was not comfortable with and experience new foods. I never expected I would become proficient at squatting behind a bush while a donkey cart drove by.  I never knew how much joy I would feel holding the filthy hand of my little Madjeeto for hours. I admit I didn't spend enough time rubbing my boys' backs as they lay across my lap, like Madjeeto did that day. I'm so ashamed I didn't know what a blessed opportunity that is to deeply pray for that child's future. I never dreamed that after spending an hour picking bugs and chaff out of pounds of rice, that I would enjoy eating a meal of rice, beans, and onions (with flaming hot Tonka seasoning sprinkled on top), from a communal bowl.  Just remember--right hand only.

I knew that speaking the name of Jesus has power. I didn't know how threatening that is to Satan in a village he has claimed. It's creepy how often, when we left the old testament stories and voiced the name of Jesus, the goats in the courtyards all started bleating, the babies began to fuss, little boys started knock-down-drag-out fights, and the Islamic call to prayer would blast from the loud speakers; sometimes all at once.

I knew that, in my USA/ Kentucky/Bowling Green world, encouraging other believers through their struggles and in their faith is easy for me, but sharing the gospel is hard. That's no different in Niger.  But I can now share the gospel from Creation to Christ from memory, with words from my heart, no script. My favorite days were the 2 days we spent in Yourizey Koira where we encouraged and discipled the believing wives of a group of brave believing men.

I knew that many people, in the states, complained about being persecuted for their faith. I learned that they have no idea what persecution really is. I doubt any of them have to find a new place to live before they can be baptized because they know they will no longer have a home after they are baptized. I doubt any of them have gone to bed hungry because store-keepers in the village refuse to sell to them after they have publicly professed their faith.

I knew that I could, by God's grace, push myself to do things I didn't think I would be able to do. I didn't know how hard it would be to sit on the ground for hours on end. My knees, my hips, my back, and my neck hurt, a lot!

I knew that "God's word does not return void." I never knew how desperately I would cling to that promise when women told us they believed what we said to be truth, but their husbands would never allow them to publicly declare that and be baptized.

I knew that folk Islam and social Christianity were both present in our world. I never knew that hearing, "I'm a Christian; I go to church on Sundays," and "I am Songhai; I am Muslim," would sound so similar.

I knew that some of the best conversations amongst women happened when they were sitting, working on household chores together. I didn't know this was a universal truth. I didn't know that our sweetest conversations would occur while sitting on a mat, under a shady tree, stripping basil leaves off the stems. I knew I loved the smell of basil, but I never dreamed how many unpleasant smells basil can cover.

I knew that I signed up for this trip as a step on my path to obedience. I didn't know I would need to be reminded that obedience doesn't mean I'm responsible for the salvation of the people to whom I present the gospel. The Great Commission means that I will speak the name of Jesus to those in darkness. I am obedient by planting the seed. As one wise team member said, "Our goal is not to move lost souls from -10 to 10. Our goal is to move them from -10 to -9." We have to trust that HIS sheep hear HIS voice. I didn't know how clearly you could see in listener's eyes that they are hearing HIS voice.

I knew I would be blessed. I didn't know how blessed and how humbled I would be. 

- Besty M, Living Hope Baptist Church (Bowling Green, Ky)


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