Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Bible Study in Uganda, Part 2 or Tami's Lesson in What Real Devotion Looks Like

(If you missed Part 1, read it here.)

Often while doing Bible study I try to get women to relate to the people of the Bible by asking things like, "How would you feel if you were her?" I work to tap into their emotions, hoping they will internalize the Word, make it their own. In Uganda, however, I found this difficult.

Questions like, "How would you feel if you were Hagar?" or "How does it help to know God sees you?" or "What does it mean to you that God hears you?" or "Do you ever doubt God?" made no sense to them. They stared at me blankly like they didn't understand what I was asking.

I believe there were a couple of reasons for that. I don't think they take the time to worry about how they are feeling. These are women who walk to Bible study, have no running water, no power, no modern conveniences. They spend a good portion of their day getting water, purifying it and preparing a pot of something to eat throughout the day. They are in the business of surviving. Who has time to feel?

The questions about knowing He sees us and hears us were second nature to them. If they weren't so polite, they may have looked at me and said, "DUH! Of course He hears us. Of course He sees us. What is there to talk about?"

But when I asked things like, "How has God answered your prayers?" or "Have you seen God's protection in your life?" they came alive. EVERYONE had a story to share about God's goodness. Each one recounted hard situations in life, yet all ended with a form of "God is good." One women told of a hip injury which kept her in bed for an entire year, but said "God is so good to me." Another told of losing all her children except one son who was later killed in the military, but ended with a smile saying, "Look what God has done. I am still here." One told of going to town with her children and when she returned her house was on fire. Later she found out her neighbor started the fire on purpose. Her conclusion? "God was so good to me. He provided a better house than the one I had before." So many stories of tragedy, of losing husbands and children to death, of accidents and illnesses, yet these were their testimonies of God's love for them.

One woman told of her son's struggle with seizures as a child and I was shocked I had something in common with her. Both of my sons were diagnosed with childhood epilepsy and have been seizure free since they were 5 years old. I could honestly rejoice WITH this woman and her child's deliverance. I knew her joy. I could nod in agreement that truly God is good.

They gave me a beautiful picture of trusting God with absolutely everything, but I would soon learn more.

The night before my final Bible study session, I sat by a Ugandan pastor at dinner. He talked about the Muslims in Uganda. He said they were making huge strides in evangelizing people to their religion because they were more strategic, more aggressive than Christians. "Too many Christians just sit back," he said, "We're too gentle."

I asked him if he thought that was because Jesus wasn't aggressive and he disagreed, saying Jesus sought people out. He traveled from town to town. He got into people's lives and got personal. I wondered if what He was meant was not that Jesus wasn't gentle, but that He was more intentional, purposeful. The discussion left me thinking about how God might be asking me to be more intentional and bold in sharing my faith. As I prayed about it in my room later, I felt God telling me it was a matter of making the most of every opportunity. I wasn't sure what that meant, really, until I started reviewing my lesson for the final day.

The subject was Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who prayed for a son and promised to give him to God for his whole life if God gave her one. God answered her prayer and Hannah stayed true to her word, presenting the priest Eli with Samuel while he was still a young boy. I wanted to talk about sacrifice and how God required that of Hannah. We were to look at verses which talk about other sacrifices God might require of us--things like our will and desires (1 Samuel 15:22), our money and resources (2 Samuel 24:24), our hearts (Psalm 51:17, 19), our families (Luke 14:26), everything we have (Luke 14:33), our physical bodies, minds and thoughts (Romans 12:1-2), our time (Ephesians 5:15-16). I intended to lead up to the question, "Does this seem like a lot for God to ask of us?" Expecting them to answer yes, we were headed to Isaiah 53 and its description of all that Jesus gave up for us. I realized I had an opportunity. We were going to talk about Jesus's sacrifices for us. God told me I should ask them if they knew this Jesus who gave up everything for them.

I must pause here and explain something to you about me. I have long thought I am horrible at evangelism. To be honest, I bristle at words like "evangelism" and "witness." They conjure up images of the little Mormon boys who stop at my house and assume I am lost and in need of what they have. I've struggled with how I am to share my faith in a respectful way. Asking these women if they knew Jesus was going to be strange for me, yet I knew I was supposed to. "Okay, Lord," I said, "I'll just do what you say and see what happens."

The next day took me off guard. After we looked at the verses on the sacrifices God might require and got to the question, "Does this seem like a lot to ask?", I was blown away at their response. The entire group shook their heads and said, "No. This isn't a lot to ask. Look what He has done for us." The women who had lost homes and husbands and children all thought God had done so much for them, they could sacrifice anything.

My immediate thought was, "Great. There goes the rest of the lesson. They already know it!" But I forged ahead and we looked together at the great sacrifice of Jesus. And though the majority seemed settled in their relationship with Jesus, I went ahead and asked the question.

"Do you know this Jesus, the One who gave up His very life so you could be united with God?"

Many, MANY heads nodded, but I kept going.

"If so, I say hallelujah, but if not, you can meet Him today. If you would like to give yourself to Him today, come up to the front and take my hand. We'd love to pray with you."

Most of the women stood and many came forward, but five women stopped before me. Kelly asked Davis to verify if these were first time believers or people who wished to recommit their lives to God and all five said it was their first time coming to Jesus. Kelly, Davis and I took their hands and had the rest of the women circle us. I asked Davis to lead us in prayer so as not to clog up the moment with translation. I'm not sure what he said, but he was passionate and toward the end said a few phrases in English just for me and Kelly about God's Spirit coming to us. I then asked the women to sing one of their praise songs and as they did I stood in the circle, arm in arm with Kelly and the others and just let the tears flow.

God did something beautiful and I got to be there for it.

In evangelical circles, bringing someone to Christ is the pinnacle of Christian experiences, but as soon as the women left that day, I didn't feel like talking about it. It was days before I even told anyone on my team. Something in me said to ponder it in my heart the way the Bible talks about Mary, the mother of Jesus, doing. As I did so, I realized my own insignificance. I got to be a part of an amazing experience, but it wasn't anything I did. All I did was do what God told me in asking them if they knew Him. GOD pricked their hearts. GOD brought them forward. GOD saved them.

When I was preparing to go to Africa, many people prayed with and for me, saying things like, "May God use you in mighty ways." Most would qualify this experience as a mighty work, but I don't. I did what God said. Period. He did the rest.

I didn't minister to those women. They touched MY heart. They showed me faith is believing God is good when life is not. They demonstrated feelings are irrelevant to knowing Him.

Their lives proclaimed real devotion.

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