Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Tribute to God's Grace

Our office manager has left us. I suppose that is a bad thing. For us, or for me it is a great tragedy as now I have to manage the office and try desperately to find a replacement before our entire operation implodes. But on the other hand maybe her leaving is not a bad thing. Not in the eternal perspective anyway. If I can take my eyes off of me for a second maybe her leaving is a great testimony to God's love and grace. Let me tell you her story and you can decide.

We started our aid agency in 1998 here in Gondor. I met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs guys filed the paperwork myself. It became clear really quickly that we needed a dependable national person to represent us to the Government and keep us in sync with the laws of Gondor. I was perfectly happy to hire non-believers for a number of positions but I really wanted our office manager to be a believer who would represent us well (with integrity and honesty, concepts that completely escape normal operations of business and Government here in Gondor). Now, interestingly enough our team had decided that we would not teach English here. We had taught English in other countries but had decided that the Boss was not leading us to teach it here. So, I was very surprised when after being here a whole five months that Gandalf and his wife came to me and asked to start an English Club. They said that the Boss wanted them to do this just this one time for a limited time- maybe six months. That is what they did. Gandalf said they were led to study the book of Job in English Club. Weird. They did it in obedience to what the Boss was saying and six months later three of the six English Club participants had become believers. You wont see that in any of the books on how to reach Muslims.

Gandalf's wife came to me and said that one of the young women who had become a believer would be a good office manager. I met with her but was not impressed. She was just out of University and she was from a small village outside Minas Tirith. She was so shy I could hardly hear anything she said which was not much. Her English was terrible and I didn't see how she could represent us to the Government or relate to other aid agencies. But there was no one else and the Boss was quite clear with me and with the team that she was the one He wanted in that position. So, in October of 1998 we hired Freedom as our office manager.

Our office was not too busy at first. Freedom spent all of her time studying English and talking to the office managers of other aid agencies to learn how we were to operate. She excelled. I was concerned that when it came to corrupt Government officials she would be overwhelmed but they loved her. She was quiet and non threatening to them so they would put their arm around her and say, 'don't worry dear little daughter we will get you what you need.' And she got our visas, our permissions for work, everything we needed. One day the secret police called her in. I remember when she came back from the meeting with them she came to my office and said, 'Strider, they asked me to be a patriot and spy on you and the agency for them. I told them I would.' I told her that was perfect. She should report to them all the good humanitarian aid work we were doing, and she did.

I told her that I wanted our office to be a place of blessing. Visitors should be warmly received and people with real needs should be prayed for. She was great at this. Within a year she was counseling with many people who would come in just to visit with her. She grew in grace and knowledge and was an inspiration to many. At the same time her family began to hassle her about getting married. It was past time now that she had graduated University for her to get married. She refused knowing that they would try and arrange a marriage with a Muslim man. This became a huge strain on her. She really wanted to get married but there were no available Christian men to marry- and I doubt her family would have agreed to such a marriage anyway. So, she remained single at a cost to herself that I am sure that I can't comprehend. She is a very beautiful young woman, over thirty years old now and virtually un-marriageable. I can see it in her eyes sometimes- the hurt and loneliness of that decision- I pray there is someone for her some day but I believe that she has given up on marriage entirely.

About four years ago now Freedom called us. We were to go to the village immediately because her mother had died. Her mother had in the last year accepted Jesus and become a believer which was a great comfort to Freedom especially as her mother protected her from the rest of her family in her decision not to get married. Now her mother was gone. The whole aid agency crew went out to the funeral. We were shocked by what we saw. Freedom met us at the door wailing frantically. This is traditional in Gondor but there was something wrong here. She was not wailing for tradition's sake. She was despondent and without hope in a way I had never seen anyone before. The loss of her mother shattered her in ways I could not understand. Local believers including her pastor could not understand it either. Freedom's faith was utterly devastated. She was a broken shell of a person. When she finally came back to work she would sit despondent. She never smiled. She was depressed beyond recognition and she blamed God for it all. She stopped going to Church. She did not counsel or pray with anyone anymore. She did her job- very inefficiently- and went back to the village to mourn. Traditionally this can last a year.

After one year however, nothing changed. We did not know what to do or how to help her. She did not want help and she would not talk about anything personal with any of us. Her Church which she helped start and lead went on without her. I would have been surprised if this lasted two weeks, as it was she did not come out of her depression for over two years. That is a long time to stay down. Last year however, she came in the office and she smiled. Slowly, she came back to us. One of her good friends turned from following Jesus and returned to Islam and then married a Muslim man. Freedom counseled her against this and then when her friend did it anyway Freedom continued to counsel her and help her. I was surprised and impressed.

This last Spring Freedom asked me if she could go on a special one month training opportunity. This training was for women to better minister to women in crisis. I gave her permission wondering if this would help her in her recovery or if I was just being taken advantage of. We often wonder this, you know. When are giving someone the chance they need and when are you indulging in someone who is lazy and useless. Freedom still was not going to Church but I took the chance. She went and when she came back she was on fire again to do ministry. She was praying with people and sharing with them again. Last week she asked if she could talk with me and I went to her office. She handed me her resignation letter and said that it was time for her to move on. I knew immediately that this was the right thing. It hurts us- and me in particular- very badly. I don't have another office manager and we are in the middle of a lot of work including reregistration with the Ministry of Justice. But the Boss is telling me that this is right. It is time for her to grow, to change, to serve elsewhere. I have every confidence that she will become someone very important in the Kingdom. I have been privileged to work with her this far and I pray that I have been a blessing to her, that I have been everything the Boss wanted me to be to encourage and grow her as she was becoming more and more His servant, His child, His Bride.


CCMS said...

What can I say? I love this blog and its refreshing news of the kingdom. The King's peace upon all of you!

From the Middle East said...

A beautiful story that has me broken in tears. Thank you.

Strider said...

Very kind words. Thank you both.

From the Middle East said...

I do not see a "contact me" button on your site. Please email me.

Paul Burleson said...


I'm always blessed and often deeply moved by what you write with regards to your life and ministry and the people involved with you. This is one of those "deeply moved" times.

We'll shoulder this need in prayer with you especially the need for wisdom.

Anonymous said...

From our time there, one of the people that we will always miss is Freedom. Thanks for sharing.