Early every morning, as I prepared to go out, I would put on a headscarf, and standing at the door, I would tell God that I would not go out of the house unless He went with me. I knew He promised in His Word that He would always be with me, and I trusted God that He would be faithful.
I just needed to hear myself saying that.
Living in an Iso village — where the air was thick with salty humidity, the smell of drying fish, cooking fires and garbage heaps — made me so aware of my dependence on God, but also so thankful for all the blessings in my life.
Life in an Isoni village
The days got steaming hot. Early mornings were the only times the heat was still manageable. And I could visit the group of female believers AND be back to make lunch — well, most of the times. Between noon and 3 in the afternoons, the streets emptied out and no living soul could be seen. Too hot to do anything, except dose off in the shade. Only a few brave chickens would sometimes be rummaging through the garbage heaps next to the road.
And we had only two seasons — during the very hot season we would sometimes have a slight breeze, and then during the extremely hot season there was nothing. Just thick air. And when it rained, the whole village turned into a sauna. When we had electricity, the fans were on. Always.
Telling Bible stories
Zahra was the first female believer.
Months before, she invited me to come to her house, and tell her Bible stories. Going slowly through the Old Testament, and then on to the New Testament, Zahra was enthralled with the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and Jesus. Then she told me about a dream she had of a staircase (almost like Jacob’s dream). I explained to her that Jesus was the only staircase to God, but she did not really understand. Only later, as I was telling her the story of Nicodemus’ night visit to Jesus, heaven came down to earth — and into her heart.
Zahra too, was now a new creation!
Soon afterwards, we had to go away for a few weeks, and we left with some trepidation — a new believer in a village of 10 000 Ms! On our return, we discovered that she had introduced seven of her family to Jesus, and they all believed too! Decided right then, that we should go away more often — that was when things happened, it seemed. Almost overnight, a small fellowship of female believers was born.
Almost everyday I would walk the sandy streets to their group of houses, to have a time of fellowship and telling them Bible stories. We did not yet have a printed Bible in Isoni — not that it would help much, because they were all functionally illiterate, and oral learners. So, what they were learning about God and Jesus was to be done orally.
I learned patience with a capital P. Some days, an hour could easily pass before we even started talking about Jesus. Interruptions were the biggest happening of the day! The fish mongers would often come just as everyone was together. Then everything stopped until they have bargained the best price for a few fish. Or, they had to hang up their washing first because it rained the previous day, or someone was sick and needed to go to the clinic, or a baby was born the previous night, or ...
A funeral as teaching opportunity
That day was just like all the others. The women slowly got together. Sitting on a straw mat in the shade, they started singing songs about Jesus. And then an M funeral procession went by. Usually, these processions were led by a hearse of some sort, with a home made casket. A few trucks, with the men on it, would follow. These trucks were packed with men, holding onto each other. As older men wanted to get on, the younger ones were thrown off. Yes, saw it with my own eyes. The average age of the men on the trucks slowly went up as they prepared to go.
As solemn as the situation was, I thought to ask them a question, and to use the funeral as a teaching opportunity. “That man who died, where is he now?”, I asked.
“His body is going into the ground, but his spirit is with God”, Zahra replied, and the others agreed.
I was devastated. After a year of teachings and daily intense discussions, they still did not understand. What did they really belief? Were they not baptised into the Name of Jesus, and professed that He was the only way to heaven (John 14:6, Acts 4:12)?
I hoped that Zahra just didn’t understand my question, and I asked again where the dead man was. She replied with the same answer, this time slightly more animated. I asked her why she said he was with God. Trying to suppress her irritation with my slowness in understanding, Zahra impatiently replied “because he believed Jesus was his Saviour, just as we do.”
An unknown Believer
I was stunned! Most of the people in the village were still M, and I thought I pretty much knew all the Believers.
“But how do you know he believed in Jesus,” I asked? Then she told me the story of the unknown fisherman who became a Believer:
Zahra had a small TV/video and a generator. She showed movies in her backyard at night, charging the movie goers a few cents. Usually they watched dubbed-over action movies, or movies about superstition and ghosts. Decided to give her our copy of the old movie the “Ten Commandments”. It was a great hit. But I wondered what they understood, because this movie was in English. She explained very patiently that while the movie was playing, she would translate on-the-go into Isoni! “I know all these stories; I just tell them what is happening”, she said. Way to go, Zahra!
Jesus Film in Isoni
When we had the Jesus film in Isoni, I eagerly gave her a copy, and she started showing that at night to the neighbours. The man who died, apparently came to watch the Jesus movie one evening. Afterwards, he stayed behind, lingering in the yard until everybody was gone. Then he started asking Zahra questions about this Jesus he saw in the movie, and later that night he told her that he also believed in Jesus!
“And that is why I am telling you that his body is going into the ground, but his spirit is with God.”
Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.