During this season of Lent, we’re journeying together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.
Over the last few weeks I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry. Here is another international story, as written by one of our missionaries in the field (I can’t tell you his name because it would put him in danger. For the same reason, we can’t use the real name of the woman from this testimony, but we’ll call her “Mary”):
Mary* was born deep in the countryside of one of the poorest nations in the world. As a girl she learned from the time she could walk how to fetch water, cook, and farm until there were deep callouses on her little hands. She was taught that life for a woman meant two things: commitment to the local religion and bearing children. Before she was old enough to think otherwise she was tattooed on the face with religious symbols and promised in marriage to a man she didn’t know.
She began that marriage barely a teenager and became pregnant soon afterward. For reasons only known to him Mary’s husband then decided to leave her. She was ashamed as rumors flew. Eventually the entire village turned against her, leaving her alone in a communal society. Her only refuge was a friend’s family that tolerated her until she gave birth to a tiny baby girl.
Malnourished without medical care, Mary and her baby became very sick. They fled the countryside for a nearby city. Knowing no one, they ended up on the streets. Mary was on the brink of leaving her baby on the stoop of an orphanage and running away. She had stopped producing milk and the baby was days from death.
By God’s grace, however, someone directed her to a local Christian shelter for women and children. There, Mary and her baby were nursed back to health and given temporary housing. That’s when she began working as a cook for one of our Sojourn partners living in the city. She labored diligently and quickly became a beloved member of the household, but evidence of her suffering was written all over her somber face. She avoided eye contact with most everyone, especially men, and never laughed or smiled. She only responded to conversation with hushed one-word answers.
She expected it wouldn’t be long until she was hated and ridiculed like usual, and at best she hoped to just be ignored. These deeply rooted troubles only relented when Mary encountered the good news about Jesus.
At first it was hard for her to believe in such a man since almost all men she’d ever known were harsh and abusive. But the grace Jesus offered was irresistible and she gave in to trusting him. Slowly Mary began to smile and converse. She even laughed with close friends. She really began to grow. Then one day as she was cooking in her one-room home, her baby girl, now a toddler, fell into the fire and was burned severely.
This rocked Mary’s world.
She was terrified for her daughter, angry at herself for being neglectful, and faced with the bitter question of God’s goodness—why would he allow this to happen?! But as the baby healed up, so did Mary.
“She is not my child,” Mary shared. “She belongs to God and I trust him with a whole heart.” This experience shaped Mary more than any moment in her life. Despite the danger of persecution on her and her daughter, she now plants and disciples groups of women in the way of Christ.