* This post is about my travels to Central Asia to minister to women this past fall. For security reasons I cannot mention the name of this predominately Muslim nation.
When I was about five years old and sensed that my Creator was calling me to Himself, I ran. There was a world map hanging in an old church building that stopped me dead in my tracks. Something came out of me as a small girl as I looked upon the nations with such an intensity that I lifted my skinny arms and whispered, “Jesus, give me the nations for you.”
Thirty often hard yet clearly glorious years later, I found myself on series of plane rides that brought me ten time zones away from my little family and into uncluttered skies where I sat peering out the window and looking down upon culture after culture. There are many times that I have known the summons of God, rode upon the intercession of the saints and could see with spiritual eyes the presence of angels all around me. This was perhaps one of the most pronounced times. For those of you who were praying, my gratitude continues to mount. Thank you. If we could but grasp the effectual power of our prayers, we would make it one of the greatest priorities of our lives.
So what do I tell you of these days? Let me first sketch for you a bit of the context. My church has had the honor of sponsoring the 5-year training of national pastors. These men were finishing their last training and graduation. They came with their wives by train and bus from all parts of their country. The women had never been a part of the training time, never gathered together,and never sat under the teaching/preaching of another woman. The hope was that they would feel a sense of personal renewal and thanks for their years of sacrifice. Renee (a dear friend, artist, and colleague) and I were invited to come and minister to these women. I taught in the mornings followed by discussion, the afternoons were dedicated to the arts through Renee’s teaching and the evenings were joint marriage and family teachings. We worked alongside other leaders. The presence and power of God is so often in proportion to the unity of His people. I cannot help but to believe that the Spirit moved so mightily in response to this fluid unity among us and desire to serve.
None of us could have timed the conference and graduation with the arrival of the full bible in the heart language of many of these believers just days before we came. I cannot express to you the joy it was to see the women open the Living Word in its fullness, in their own language for the first time. I held it with awe.
The time was transformational. God used the messages, art, conversations, fellowship and prayer to stir hope again, release new vision, understanding of a woman’s identity, and practical help. In a matter of days, I saw God bring women out into greater awareness and freedom through the healing and renewing of their inner-man. It seemed that a years worth of ministry happened in just one week. When Renee and I first arrived, delighted to find autumn birches outside our window, we put down our things and went into prayer. The Spirit brought me immediatley to 1 Kings 19: 11-13, giving assurance that we would take part of and bear witness to a quiet and beautiful yet mighty movement and manifestation of the Spirit. It was then that a longing filled me to be attentive and fully present for others in such a way that I contributed to their wholeness. There is something within me that desires for people to know they are not forgotten, that understands presence is a blessing and believes that we as followers of Christ are to function as ministers. Praise Him that no language or cultural barriers inhibited or intimidated me from engaging through conversation and prayer with these precious people from dawn until far past dusk.
A bold sister came to on the second day and told me her story. She was from a Muslim family and through a series of events, Jesus revealed Himself to her. She was forced to choose between her husband, son and the rest of her extended family or this Jesus. She chose Jesus. Promptly thrown out into the street in the winter cold with only the clothes on her back, she would not recant. Years later God gave her a godly husband and five more children. The oldest has had six heart surgeries and the youngest not even a year, born with cerebral palsy. “Angela, my sister, I must confess to you that I don’t want to live anymore. This is out of despair, for my life is so hard–all the Muslims in our village taunt us and tell us that our God cannot be real for look at how He is not listening to our prayers to heal! It is almost too much. This is out of also my longing to see my Jesus and look upon His face, for He is more precious to me than anything. What should I think, how should I respond, what should I do?” I cried with her, walked her through scriptures and prayed over her releasing hope and binding up the spirit of despair. I prayed healing over her little boy for the sake of the name and fame of Jesus in her village. Pray with me.
Because these women have suffered emotionally, physically and relationally they have a deep dependence on God. It was not hard for them to feel their hunger and thirst for more of the fullness of Christ as I sometimes find prevalent in ministering to Western women. The humility of these sisters was convicting as well as their reverence for God. They would not read the Word sitting, but rather quietly stood and often broke out in a hymn of response. I cannot imagine these women walking around with a Jesus T-shirt on or a cheesy bumper sticker. They live in awe and all of them said the greatest day of their history was their “day of repentance”. But what was lacking in their depth and commitment to God was a real experience of hope. Or better said, in their weariness, feelings of aloneness and what is often a legalistic form of Christianity, they had forgotten this for a bit. Peter wrote that in spite of persecution believers suffered, he believed they were blessed (1 Peter 4:14) and then he went on to list the four benefits of persecution: restoration, strength, firmness and a steadfastness (5:10). None of us can gloss over the brutal facts of our own current reality. We have to confront them. Our faith does not consist in naive happy thoughts. It is the rock-solid belief that God will prevail in every situation. We are blessed when we suffer because in this we are meant to experience the power of hope. This is what is in each one of us who carry Christ around–the hope of glory! (Col. 1:27)
I worked alongside of a translator, hand-picked by God. She ended up sleeping in the bunk above mine and we spent hours laughing, comparing cultural antidotes and praying. Eliciting her abilities not only through vocal translations, I also wrote resources for the women to take home. There is such a lack of resources for women as far as bible study, mothering, marriage and practical and creative ideas for building a home.
One of the last evenings, I was pressed to inquire into the marriage of my new friend. This struck something and I ended up grabbing two of our other teammates for some joint marriage counseling and prayer. God was gracious to enable me to lead her through prayers of forgiveness and confession. She awoke the next morning with waves of joy and lightness. We embraced before she left to go back to her husband and daughter, 2 1/2 hours away. Imagine my surprise when she came all the way back the next day after graduation, with her husband announcing, “When I got home yesterday, he took one look at me and asked me what happened. We talked for 4 hours. He had to come and meet you all. We have been praying for years to meet other believers of real faith. He wants to confess some things, he wants you to pray with him, he wants forgiveness, healing and freedom.” A small group of us sat with this couple and ministered to them through the Word and prayer for three hours. This young husband wept before God with a contrite and humble heart. When he rose, I admonished them to go out and celebrate, making a “stone of remembrance” for this time. He hugged me and said “You are a minister of God. That God would love us this much to send a sister from across the ocean to speak words into our lives…this is too wonderful for me. Pray for us, pray that we can find other believers, mentors to help us grow. We want the Spirit of God in our lives, we want our lives to be His.”
And the words of his dear wife, my translator: “There are so many things I have never thought of as a mother, as a wife, as a Christian. We don’t know these things here–there are no examples. I did not know that when I would be translating and then listening that the Lord would have words for me here too. I read a lot of books and I am very educated, but we just are so bound in legalism and certain ways of thinking. There is this difference between knowledge and wisdom I have never known before. There are ways of thinking I did not know. Never before have I experienced such love, wisdom, teaching and real fellowship. I have prayed for this for so long that I might just see it and God has blessed me and met me here. I leave with a lightness and with new hope. This is the first time I feel truly forgiven and made pure by God. Weights are off of me; I have never known I could pray in such a way. Pray for me that my faith can grow stronger. Pray for our people here.” Would you stop now and pray for this couple?
Another story that moved me was that of a young mother whom I perceived held herself with a measure of self-protection. She stood up at our last night together with the women and said in tears (someone told me later that this was only the second time she has ever cried), “I cried a lot this week. Thank you Angela for the teachings each day. The Lord allowed the Holy Spirit to speak through you to our hearts. He gave living words to us that were both true and practical. Your words were so alive! We need to know what to do; we often just don’t know what to do! We hear here that children just grow wild, like weeds. But you spoke to us a different, new word. You showed us the real story of Hannah and how she gave her child to the Lord and how this affected an entire nation. I am very concerned that Islam has great impact on our people. I’m afraid. This is growing so much where we live and we see it and feel it and it is hard. I now know that mothers need to raise children to impact their nation. I have never thought of this. We have a powerful role as mothers and we need much faith and wisdom and courage to raise our children and know how to intercede for them. I won’t forget this. We pray for a movement among our people; my husband prays for 1 million people here to come to Jesus. I confess I don’t often have the faith to believe this can happen. I want to have this faith. Please keep praying for me, for my family, for my church, for my country. Thank you . Thank you all my sisters here; thank you we can be together. I have never known something like this. Thank you for coming to us Angela and Renee, for being with us. For being with us. May the Lord bless you and your families a hundred fold.” Would you pray now just as she pleaded?
Here are some other words from these women:
“When I came my heart was heavy. Very heavy. There is no one to share things with except my husband. No sisters. I was weak before I came and embarrassed because of this. I learned a lot from Angela. I never knew about Eve in the way she taught and what God’s purpose was and is for women. I like knowing that I am a strong and mighty helper, a warrior in Christ’ strength. And so is my daughter. Eve created and cultivated; I can do this, I feel free to do this more. Hannah had great humility and the Lord spoke to me about coming to humility in certain areas of my life. I know now about prayer more and standing firm now that I understand more what it means in Ephesians. I have great freedom in my heart now (laughing). Renee, she was like a doctor that came to us. Really! Through our art project she showed me all my illnesses and also showed me the healing too with true words that cover all the events of my life. Jesus has always loved me. Yes, I leave with freedom and new joy.”
“I have come and have sat in on the teachings just for us as women and have regretted when I missed any because of my children. We as women do not get teaching from another woman very much and this has meant so much to me. I have learned so much; you came and gave us so much in such a short time that I will keep reviewing. I think new about Genesis and Ephesians and intercession and all the things you told us. I am thinking different. My husband even noticed this week that I was changing, even my prayers have changed. The Lord met us here. He mas met us. We have laughed so much together. I don’t feel like I laugh often at home. And the art, I will keep this and look at it again and again at how Jesus has always been calling me throughout my life and how I am so blessed to know him. All I want to do is serve him; this is all that matters and it brings me and my family such joy even though it is hard. I have written down your names and I will pray for you. Please keep praying for us, that we will not feel alone. And thank you to your church. We don’t know you, but we love you. Please pray for us. We need your prayers.”
“When I came here, I realized I wasn’t right on many things and I was not speaking honorably to my husband. The teaching last night and then Angela’s teachings spoke to me. I have had so many opportunities to hear so much truth. I am amazed the Lord would send you and bring us all together. I have not experienced this before. Thank you for your love for us which has strengthened us. I can go home with joy. And I am so deeply moved (crying) the Lord already gave Renee a word for and about us in 1 Thes. before she came; many believers do care for us.”
There are more stories of the conversations I had with several of the men and the times of prayer. There are stories of the joy these women had in receiving their first can openers, the weeping of one pastor as he held to his chest his first book of Systematic Theology, the making of “life books” in the afternoons with Renee in which each woman told her story, the encounters with others not even a part of this conference and all the wonderful cultural differences. These are precious brothers and sisters. When I told them at least 100 intercessors were praying for them that week, they covered their open mouths and with tears streaming down their faces confessed “we thought we were forgotten.” They are not forgotten. Please don’t forget them. Pray for them. Yes, it was an abundant time. Peaceful, yet more powerful than I could have imagined. I learned just as much, if not more, from these women than they professed to have learned from me. It’s all to God’s glory. We are honored to be a part of all that He is doing. How humbling. We all walked away with more of Jesus.
I am challenged to pray like this and invite you to join me: “Lord, I give all of myself to you. Take every aspect of my life and use me for your Kingdom to glorify Your name. I’ll do anything You want me to do, go anywhere you want me to go and say anything you want me to say. And I’ll make knowing you in true and restful intimate relationship my first priority. Father, there isn’t any gift that you have for me that I don’t want. If you want to use me in a way I am not used to, I yield myself to that. I trust you. Teach me and guide me as I dedicate my life to you.” Amen.
Thank you for your prayers and support. Together, we are a part of this quiet yet powerful movement and reign of God upon the earth.
Jesus, give us the nations for you!