The woman is curled up, hugging her knees to her chest, lying on her side on the floor. There is a guard, so she can’t escape. She has been denied food and water for two days. She has been threatened with death. Her children have been taken away and beaten. And she is weeping.
Yet in the darkness and isolation of this room that serves as her prison, her pain and suffering turns to joy, and she smiles at the privilege of her suffering. She reflects on her connection with the Apostle Paul, who penned his letter to the Philippians from a jail cell: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel…” (Philippians 1:12).
Let’s call her Pauline:
Pauline grew up in central Chad. Muslim family. Muslim community. Islam was all she knew. She learned that Allah would love her only if she was a “good” Muslim; that all her good and bad deeds in life were recorded by angels; that Allah would weigh her works on a scale one day and judge her accordingly; that even if she lived her life as an obedient and submissive Muslim woman, there was no assurance of Allah’s mercy come judgment day. So she did her best. She married and had five children. When her husband abandoned her and the children, she went to live with her uncle. He accepted her, but grumbled about the burden that she was to him. Pauline’s life was without hope, without joy. Until…
One day, a foreigner entered Pauline’s world. A foreigner from a far-away place who spoke a different language and looked out of place. To Pauline’s surprise this foreign woman took great effort to learn her language and to make friends in her town. Pauline gathered up her courage one day and invited this stranger to drink tea with her. A friendship developed, and Pauline’s world turned upside down. She was introduced to a God whose love of her was not contingent on her performance. His love was unconditional. As a Muslim she had heard about Jesus as a great prophet, born of a virgin, who performed miracles. Now she was hearing about a Jesus who was much more! This Jesus is the Son of God, sent to earth with Pauline in mind. He willingly gave up his life as a sacrifice for her, taking the punishment for her sin on himself, so that she could be presented as perfect before God on judgment day. And she learned that by believing in Jesus, and confessing her faith in him, she would have eternal life in heaven.
Pauline believed and confessed. She felt full of hope and assured of life. She could not contain her joy. She shared her joy with her children and her friends. Then her uncle found out she had abandoned the religion of Islam.
At first the persecution was relatively harmless. He threw cold water on her while she slept, and threatened her verbally. One day he warned her that he would burn her alive the next day if she did not recant. That scared her a little, but she went to her new friend and they prayed together. The next day came and went. Pauline became bolder. Soon the uncle was directing his anger at her children. He started beating them, pushing them to the ground, dumping their food into the dirt, and threatening them.
Pauline grieved at the suffering of her children. She herself was ready for persecution, but to see her children suffer was so hard. Yet she took joy in the faith she now shared with her children.
Other women came to Pauline to hear her story. People asked her to pray for their sick children. Word spread that her prayers were powerful and effective. One day she prayed for a girl who was demon possessed. The girl was delivered. As is normal in the practice in Islam, payment was offered, but Pauline refused it, stating emphatically that it is God who heals, not her.
The persecution continued. Her uncle reported her, and the local religious authorities locked her up in prison. There she received a vision of Jesus, telling her not to fear, that she would not be harmed, and that she was to continue in the bold proclamation of her faith. The local authorities commanded her to stop speaking in God’s authority. She responded that she couldn’t help but share what she knew to be true. Their ultimatum: “Recant within a week or face the consequences.” Pauline said, “In a week, I will still be following Jesus and I am prepared to die.” She was released and she continued to boldly share her faith with anyone who would listen.
A few women came to her and confessed faith in Jesus. There were more miraculous healings. More visits to Pauline by women at night. Even the head Quranic teacher in her town invited Pauline to come and share her story with the women who gathered under her teaching. Soon there were ten new believers, then thirty. At last report over seventy people (all Muslim background) have come to faith because of the testimony of Pauline.
Pauline has been beaten, imprisoned, had a knife to her throat, guns to her head, been forced to watch her children beaten, has been denied food and water for days at a time… yet she shows compassion to her tormentors and boldly shares her faith and prays for the salvation of her people.
LBIM missionaries serve in Chad so that more people like Pauline can hear the gospel in a context where the gospel is not otherwise heard. This is why our missionaries invest years, learn languages, and live in a cross-cultural context—so that they can enter the world of people like Pauline and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we continue to ask the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers to work in these fields. Some of their stories will be like Pauline’s. Some will not be as dramatic.
But this is why we do what we do, so that the Word of God will go forth and have its way, so that the message of Christ will be heard, for indeed… “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? …faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:14-15a, 17).
Thank you for your prayers and support of our mission work around the world. Pray with expectation and anticipation of what the Lord of the Harvest will do in the communities where our missionaries serve.
Dan Venberg serves as Mission Mobilizer and Recruiter for Lutheran Brethren International Mission.