What do people who have lost everything need to hear?
That’s the question I was pondering back in June while preparing for our trip to Mozambique. What might they be feeling now, four months after the cyclone? What part of God’s message needs to be spoken into their hearts at this point? And how are they feeling about God anyway?
I wondered how I would feel if the roof had been blown off our house; if all our possessions had blown away or been ruined by the many inches of drenching rain and intense winds. What might I think about God as I looked back at the devastation everywhere in my community? How might I process the trauma of loss and what reassurance would I need?
I prepared a few talks, using a variety of scriptures, but once we got into the country and observed the damage, looked into eyes, clasped a few hands, and heard stories, I felt led in a direction I had not anticipated. I had many opportunities to stand in front of women who sat on mats, on the floor or on the ground, and speak to them.
I felt that God gave me words to share throughout our two weeks stay, but my words came most confidently on our last full day in Mozambique.
Sitting in a Chappa (small bus), outside the Dondo church, we waited for our pick-ups to be filled with bags of rice, blankets, bottles of oil, and donated clothes. Not a lot appeared to be happening at this early hour so when a semi-truck with a full load pulled up across the street, our eyes naturally watched as it awkwardly turned around and parked. We noted especially the two live goats tied to the very top of the tarp-covered load. We watched as the drivers pulled the bleating, traumatized animals from their high perches using ropes, down into a waiting wheelbarrow, filled with other goods to be delivered. Wondering if they would live through the day, our attention turned to other things. Already dusty, the street was filling with motorcycles, walkers, and the occasional vehicle; everyone was going somewhere.
Finally loaded, we started down the highway following the pickup ahead of us, its bed filled with bags of rice and 5 gangly teenagers eager for a day’s adventure. Turning off the highway, we came to a bumpy, dusty, road which necessitated a severe slowing down of our Chappa. Driving through villages that became increasingly primitive, we kept our phones close, cameras ever ready. There was a man walking his bicycle in the slippery thick sand with a load of charcoal, wrapped and ready to sell at the market. Women gathered at the river, washing clothes with babies wrapped on their backs. Villagers stared as we drove by, the teenagers loud singing attracting much attention, as well as the pale color of our skin.
Turning one last time onto what looked to be a walking path, we heard the singing. Lifting our eyes we found a big crowd of people standing under a wide spread tree singing loudly. Driving through the crowd as they sang and clapped us in, we parked under a tree behind the small primitive church. As we stepped out of our vehicles, we were pulled into the dancing and clapping as the welcome continued. The throng moved along, now piling into the small church each hoping to find a place among the rows of rough log benches. Our team walked in, as though we were in a movie from another more ancient day. Brian turned to me. “Can you believe this?’ he asked. I just shook my head. The sound swelled as more people entered as the dust, smoke, and African sweat mingled into an experience of pure wonder.
After introductions, the people were divided up. Sue took the children to a tent across the way. Amy and the teenagers gathered in the shade of the big tree out front. Brian, along with all the men, went out the back door and found their place among the parked vehicles in the shade settling on the grass. The women stayed inside with Kathy and me and our two translators. Some were widows, some were moms with babies.
It was now my turn to bring a message to these women, deep in the African bush. What had I learned about my Mozambican sisters in the two weeks we had been ministering in this country? What did these women need to hear? What would be a message that spoke to their hearts that would make a difference in their lives in the coming days?
I started with greetings from the church in America, especially our church, Maranatha. Many of our people, along with family and friends, had given generously so this bush church (and many others) could receive the gifts we were bringing.
With Bible in hand, I started to recount the story of Abram and Sarai from the book of Genesis:
Out of His great love for His people, God had promised Abram descendants - as many as the stars in the sky! God had spoken and Abram and Sarai were amazed and full of hope. But as the years went by, Sarai never got pregnant! Eventually, impatient for God’s promise to be fulfilled, Sarai suggested that Abram take her servant, Hagar, get her pregnant, and thereby hurrying everything along. When Hagar did indeed get pregnant, she made fun of Sarai which angered and hurt Sarai so much that she began to mistreat Hagar. It was so upsetting that Hagar fled.
There she was, this pregnant servant girl, alone and afraid, when the angel of the LORD found her sitting near a spring in the desert. They talked. He asked her what was going on and she poured out her dilemma to Him. He listened and then told her to go back to Sarai and submit to her. He informed her that she was going to have a son and his name would be Ishmael and he would be a wild man, living in hostility toward all his brothers.
Before heading back to Sarai, Hagar answered Him. “You are the God who sees me, for I have now seen the One who sees me.” And she named God, El Roi, the God who sees.
At that point in my little talk, I lifted my Bible and proclaimed that our God never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! “So if our God saw Hagar all alone in that desert, He is same God that sees you right here in this church today! He is the God who sees and He looks on each one of you with love, kindness, and understanding. Not only does He see you, He knows you and He loves you!” (At this point the women burst out clapping and laughing, with joy- filled smiles on their faces.)
This was the message they needed to hear. This was the comfort their hearts were longing for.
God sees you. God knows you. God loves you.
It is written in Isaiah 66:13, that God assured His people, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” I told them to look at the many mothers sitting with babies right there with us, and to remember how much they held and comforted their own children when they were distressed. That is a picture of God’s intense, fierce, mother - love for them, and for us. Again they burst out with shouts of joy, receiving this message fully.
I realized something at that point. Just as God had come to Hagar on that lonely day, so He was coming to these people here today in the form of us - this lowly team of five. We were His messengers in the flesh, His hands and His feet.
I asked each of them to put a hand up to their hearts and repeat. “God loves me. God loves me. God loves me.”
With beaming and beautiful smiles, in unison, each repeated loudly, “God loves me. God loves me. God loves me,” followed by more cheering, clapping, and joyful noise.
I’ve never been a part of anything quite like it. God spoke the words these women needed to hear and He used my voice. I was amazed that He let me bring that message to them. I kept my own hand on my heart feeling the truth of these words within my own soul.
After praying, I asked if they had any questions for me and one woman stood. She thanked me for coming and for bringing God’s words to them. She said she had been faltering in her faith. After the cyclone, things had been so difficult that she didn’t know if she believed anymore. But because of this word here, today, her faith was renewed and she joyfully welcomed belief back into her heart.
Oh boy. Rushing over to her with a tight hug, I prayed that God would complete this desire of her heart by truly renewing her faith.
In contrast to those goats being so violently lowered from the semi-truck earlier in the day, these people were gently lowered into green pastures by the soothing and refreshing Word of God. And I was there to see it.
This was an amazing day for me. Each family received a 22-pound bag of rice along with a blanket, bottle of oil and some donated clothes. A new plastic bowl was given to each person filled with cooked rice and delicious beans. They could sit right down and eat, filling the empty space with the warmth of food and the joy of God having seen, known and loved them in this concrete fill-your-stomach-and-heart kind of way.
There were also some hard truths to be faced on this day that was full of rejoicing and goodness. But that is the way of village life.
We keep these people in our prayers, asking God to continue to show His great love to them, even and especially these, so deep in the African bush.