29th Feb 2024

With tears still hot on my face, I share the sacred story of my friendship with Farida, who passed into eternity with Jesus in December a few years a go. 

When our family moved to Sub-Saharan Africa in early 2016, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child. I assumed that with five children aged 7 and younger, I would not be able to leave my house very much! So I asked God not only for a house helper but also for one who would start a movement. 

After several months of praying, I met Farida about a mile down the road from my house on one of my prayer drives. She was on a mat with an adult daughter and a younger daughter, selling deep-fried sweet potatoes for school children to buy. I felt prompted to stop, and I asked if any of them would want to work for me and help in my household. 

“I know a lady who can help,” Farida replied, offering me a telephone number. 

The lady who could help turned out to be Farida herself. At the time, neither of us knew she was also God’s answer to my prayer. 

Since we would be leaving for home assignment in only three months, which would allow almost no time for follow up, I told myself I would not share the gospel with her unless the situation begged for it. 

It begged. I shared. 

After working for us for several months, Farida came to work one day feeling furious with her husband, flinging intentions of divorce. I fully believed her, since it’s common for women in our country to divorce their husbands. 

I listened until I couldn’t be quiet any longer. Words of God’s fiery and zealous love for her poured out of my mouth. She smiled big and told me she loved what I said. I was thrilled she had taken to heart the news that God saw her and loved her. 

Our conversation went from the kitchen to the living room, where I asked her whether she’d like to watch the Jesus film. 

After we watched it, Farida agreed to share my words and the message of the film with her husband. When she returned the next day, she said her husband did not want to learn about the Bible, but he had blessed her to begin learning. 

Our first Discovery Bible Study (DBS) was downright ugly. She didn't understand the questions. She didn't understand the passage. She didn't understand my explanation of the passage. She couldn't remember the passage, so she couldn’t repeat the story. I was trying to stick to the program, but Farida had only a second-grade education. My husband and I prayerfully modified the DBS. And then we modified it some more. And some more. 

We practiced every week. I began asking the questions in different ways with different words to communicate what I was trying to ask. I also asked fewer questions. 

I would ask questions like: "With whom did you share what we studied last week?” “How did you obey last week's verse?” “What are you thankful for?” “How can we pray for you?” 

Then we would read the Bible text, and I’d ask questions like: “What do you like about this text?” “What did you learn about God and people?” “How can we obey?” “Who are you going to share with?" I would answer first, then Farida shared her answers. 

She not only faithfully worked at learning, she also shared what we discussed from our studies with others. She gathered women and children to listen to what she called the “fresh and very excellent” words. 

I never used the word Christian. I also said nothing about Islam. I made no demands or suggestions that she stop Muslim practices. Yet slowly but surely, her life and family transformed. 

Farida’s countenance blossomed and her demeanor changed as she grew to understand her new identity as a beloved, seen, and treasured daughter of the King. She was quicker to forgive and had more joy in the midst of hard circumstances. She also had more faith to pray and receive from God and bless others. 

She had open visions of Jesus encouraging her in her difficult marriage. She prayed for others, and they were healed. She witnessed women’s hearts soften as the words of God’s love invaded them. She herself was miraculously healed of acute and chronic problems, including high blood pressure, swollen legs, painful knees, and low back pain. 

Two other women, Noura and Mariam, were significant in Farida’s growth journey. 

I met Mariam when our prayer team was prayerwalking our neighborhood. After she heard a short presentation of good news about Jesus, she invited me to share it with her household. She also accepted my offer to come to her home to study God’s word with her household a few times each week. 

After my first DBS with Mariam didn’t go well, I asked Farida to help me. She rephrased my words and helped these uneducated ladies and children understand the DBS process. This gave her the experience of leading a study without the formal leadership responsibility. 

I learned so much by listening to the exact way Farida phrased the questions. This made our studies go smoother and made them more meaningful to her. But more importantly, her confidence in leading a study and sharing the gospel soared. 

Noura had been helping one of our teammates learn Arabic for months, and she soon expressed a desire to know more about the love of Jesus. Our teammate led Noura to our house, where she wholeheartedly decided to follow Jesus. She said with joy, “I want to follow Jesus and his ways!” Because she was educated, she was able to study the scriptures alone. Actually, she ravenously devoured them. She believed the words of scripture were better than anything she had heard before. 

For a season Noura, Farida, and I met weekly to study and fellowship. Noura’s ability to metabolize the scriptures, together with Farida’s experience obeying and sharing them, resulted in exponential growth for both of them. And for me, the meetings were a little piece of heaven on earth. Watching new believers discover Jesus’s great love and grow to love each other like sisters was a great joy to me. Their prayer times were intimate and powerful. 

Over time, I noticed that while Farida still celebrated Muslim holidays, she didn’t pray during prayer times. One day I asked her, “Farida, have you been performing salat?” 

“No, I pray with the words of Jesus now.” I knew that meant she was praying the Lord’s Prayer. 

It had been about six months since Farida started regular Discovery Bible Studies. She was obeying and sharing what she had learned with neighbors, friends, her children, nieces, and nephews, and visitors to her home. One day, curiosity overcame me, so I asked her directly, “Are you following Jesus?” 

She laughed as she said, “Of course.” 

“Since when?” 

She couldn’t describe me a clear moment or memory. It was just her way now, and it had been for a while. 

Eventually, Farida wanted to be baptised, but her husband wanted her to wait a little longer, for reasons he never explained. Meanwhile, she joyfully witnessed as some of her daughters and granddaughters took that important step of obedience. 

Her husband went on a trip far away, and she didn’t know when he would return. When the next rainy season arrived without his return, she and the rest of her household, along with some of her son’s and daughter’s disciples, were baptized. Farida testified of being healed; the chronic headaches and the pain and swelling in her legs were gone. 

In early 2021, we discussed her discipleship tree for the last time. The tree, which is like a family tree, showed that Farida was closely discipling five of her children, one nephew, five grandchildren, and four group leaders. In our city and some surrounding villages, we counted 73 people who were seekers or followers, comprising two generations of 15 groups. 

When attending long wedding or funeral visits, she was delighted to share and study with small groups of women day and night. She rarely followed up with these women beyond an intense two weeks of worship, prayer, and study, but she would send them home with a solar player with God’s word. According to her, more than 100 women had a taste of God’s love at those gatherings. They returned home as followers of their new king. 

As exciting as it was to observe the growing numbers of believers, the most sacred gift was having a front-row seat to Farida’s transformation journey. One day her son fell in an open well and lay there for three hours before he was found. She let her light shine by forgiving the owner of the well. And though many people told her to sue the man, she did not. 

Farida also often spoke with giddy delight of her husband and their restored marriage. They truly grew to love and respect each other, to be partners in life and in raising their growing family. Farida was sure that he was close to the kingdom. 

One morning Farida was late for work, so I called her. Her daughter answered the phone and told me Farida was blind and was having trouble talking. My husband took her to the hospital. 

At the time, I had an injured leg that prevented me from being up for more than 15 minutes at a time, so I couldn’t visit her. We were hosting some brothers from a nearby country, and after they prayed for me, I was strong enough to visit Farida in the hospital. I had watched her nurse her two sisters before they passed into heaven, so seeing her unconscious yet restless in her hospital bed was woefully familiar. 

God gave me courage to contend for her healing and strength to say goodbye at the same time, holding in tension both the faith-filled prayers and the loving release. I sat down next to my best friend and sister, remembering how I had shared life with her almost every day for five and a half years. 

I kissed her face and thanked her for loving me and my family as her own for so many years. I told her she had loved and served God so well, and I released her to him. And I said goodbye. 

She was fully alive in God’s presence by the next morning. 

At our family’s memorial celebration, my husband honored her with these words: 

Before we knew Farida, we knew she was an answered prayer. As we got to know her, we realized what an answered prayer she was. Not only was she a movement starter, but she was also a source of stability for our family and a symbol of home. When we thought of this country, we thought first of her.  

I’ll always think of her running toward us in the street when we returned from America. She was what God intended this Sub-Saharan country to be: Simple, hospitable, friendly, warm, hard-working, fun-loving, always ready to spend time to help and most of all – loving Jesus and his word. She was a mother, physically and spiritually. She was and is great in the kingdom of God. She embodied Matthew 5:3-10 so well. 

This verse will always remind me of my beloved friend:  

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives (John 12:24, New Living Translation). 

People spoke this verse over Farida at her death, and it really resonated with my family. We are already seeing the beginnings of a harvest of new lives. So it's more than a reminder. It’s a picture of her impact for the gospel in here, in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

 

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