It is rainy season again. My friend and I slip and slide down the muddy hill to Masese where we weekly study the word with a group of women who have become so dear to us. Every Tuesday we come, joyful and overflowing, or broken and weary, or anything in between and we don’t have to hide it because these women have become friends. We wear our babies on our hips and we wear each others’ burdens. We break bread together in each others homes and each week we crack open His word desperate for His filling, searching for His wisdom, inquiring together, “What do you have for us, God.”
It is beautiful, when I have eyes to see. It is beautiful, but my heart isn’t prepared for Masese today.
We sit in a circle in the dirt space between falling-apart slum buildings and I scuff the dirt under my sandals and let my mind wander as the women share prayer requests, each of them more devastating than the last. Last week, just two days after I held her baby in this very circle, our friend was poisoned and quickly died. We shake our heads in disbelief and we try to remember the good things she brought to this community without losing hope. But as we continue to share, someone else’s mom is slowly dying of tuberculosis and some else’s daughter was assaulted and far too many people that everyone knows have fallen prey to alcoholism and addiction and we see the way this so quickly destroys the lives around us. And how do we not lose hope, I wonder. I let my mind wander because I am weary. I don’t want to engage in this kind of suffering again today. I live just a few minutes away from here but my life is still so different. My hard looks like teenagers with rolling eyes and fragile hearts that are crushed with a few wrong words or glances. Their hard is rampant disease and rape and murder. I haven’t spent enough time with Jesus and today I just can’t seem to open my heart to that kind of hurt without despair.
I force myself to get down in the dirt and lay my hands on a sick friend and pray. My hand is wet and I realize that she is letting her tears fall, vulnerable, in front of me, in front of our Father. Her hurt is different than mine, but really, it is the same. We are the same. Both just as in need of a Savior as the other. Both willing Him, begging Him to come quickly. I ask Him to open my heart to right here and right now. I ask Him to make Himself known.
We sit in the dirt and let the tears fall. And despite my best efforts to harden myself to the suffering today, Faithful God breaks me, gives me eyes not just to see the pain but to know it intimately. These aren’t just people. These are my friends. These are people I know, people He knows. I know their names, their husbands, their children. He knows each hair on their heads and the deepest cries of our heart.
I allow myself to imagine us in the palm of His hand. I imagine his tenderness as He numbered those hairs, I imagine His hand cupping my face as a Daddy cups the face of His daughter, and I imagine Him looking into these women’s eyes and smiling, delighted in His daughters. I close my eyes and in my mind I hear the voice of my husband as he sits on our bed and strums his guitar, “for mercy for comfort we wait on the Lord,” He sings.
Today I feel like we are just waiting. Today, hope is something we fight for.
A woman I don’t know very well walks by our circle. I have heard stories of her. She sits on the ground against the wall of the little dirt church we meet behind and stares vacantly. Nobody is really sure if she is disabled or if she has just been abused by so many men that she doesn’t talk anymore.
Another woman who I know well and love dearly stumbles down the hill and nuzzles her head into my shoulder. She lived with us years ago as she recovered from alcoholism and her child recovered from resulting burns, but it is clear how drunk she is as she tries to communicate with me through language barriers and slurred speech. My eyes look into hers, blood-shot red, and I plead with her. She is such a good mother, sober. I ask where her little girl is, trying to remind her that being home alone is how she got so injured last time but she isn’t listening. She kisses my cheeks and stumbles away.
It is just days after they lowered our friend’s body into the ground because she was brutally, intentionally killed. Just a week ago she sat in this circle with us and now her body rots in the ground while we try to figure out who will check on her babies. The women look defeated. I feel defeated.
How do we find the hope of Jesus here? How do we proclaim that He is at work when we just can’t see it?
“Let us see you here, Lord,” I pray it desperately. He answers with Romans 2:8, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” These women, they persist. Against all the odds, when it would be easier to just give up and go ahead and call this place hopeless, they cling to their hope in Jesus and the persist in doing good, they persist in seeking His glory.
I trudge back up the hill with my mind full of questions. God where are you in this mess? Where are you? As I ponder, my foot slips and lands in a mixture that is surely part alcohol and part human waste. I choose to call it mud and begin to sigh, of course. Two strong arms wrap around me from behind and Santina’s laughter fills my ears. She is laughing at me because she knows how distracted I was and of course, of course I stepped in the hole. She pulls my arm and drags me to her home where she pulls off my shoes and scrubs them in a basin of soapy water. Water isn’t an easy thing to come by around here and I can’t believe she is using it on my sandals. She proceeds to wash my feet. She is washing my feet and I want to protest but I think of Jesus. Bent down, towel around His waist, arguing with Peter who just doesn’t understand. He whispers to me, “See? Do you see Me? I am at work here.”
My stubborn heart may not always want to believe it but I know that it is true. He is at work here.
Margaret walks up the hill in front of me still giggling about my feet and my grumpy-ness. Margaret, who I thought would die. Margaret who at 19 years old held her 4 year old and her dead baby and bled and bled all alone in her house with no one to help her and no one to call family. Margaret who moved in just as frail and sick as Katherine or Betty. Margaret who slept on an extra mattress in my room for weeks because I was so afraid of death that the couch seemed too far away. Margaret who lived. She walks up the hill her arms full of necklaces that now provide for her and her little guy, both happy and healthy back at home in this community, and her heart full of God’s Word which she loves to share with others. “I am at work here,” He whispers, again and again. “Can you believe me? Can you believe my promises?”
Of course I do. I read the words of 1 Peter now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. I cannot deny that I have tasted of His goodness. I cannot deny that I have seen and known Him working all things for the good of those who love Him, even the ugly, hard, unspeakable things.
For mercy, for comfort, we wait on the Lord. And He is at work here.
What is too hard today, friends? What is too messy? It is hard to believe sometimes but we can know that God is good in that place. We’ve tasted and known His goodness, even in the impossibly hard places. Romans 2 says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.”
Persist in doing good, dear one. Persist in resting in and relying on Him. Peace that passes understanding is promised us, and eternal life awaits us!