After several hours of winding and weaving through the desert on the main highway, our driver abruptly turned off the road. As we continued down this path, the minutes ticked away, the bumps grew, and the mountains thickened. The “flattened” dirt was set out to resemble a rough path of some sort, and mile after mile, the deeper in we got. There was not another car in sight. Mountains of rock and sand as endless as the sea were all consuming to the eyes. Every once in a while, a tree would pop out in plain sight and you wonder how such life could ever sustain here in this endlessly dry wilderness. There were no snakes or spiders even, as they couldn’t survive in this land. It was dry and desolate.
Just when you think you’re so far from any possible civilization, that’s when our driver points up ahead and suddenly you see it – a few cube-like boxes of concrete walls and little brown faces that nearly blend into the landscape. The dogs are barking and the faces are moving closer at remarkable speed, and the anticipation builds. As we approached this village where we were to sleep for the night, my stomach began to twist into knots.
How in the world is it possible for these people to survive here? How is it that these beautiful women serve us all through the night and even sleep right beside us? How is it that they live here? How is it that they cook and clean, guard the sheep, marry, and have babies? How is this their home, the only existence they have ever known?
And how is it that when we tell them a miraculous story of Jesus’ love for them, they are quick to respond with, “Who’s that?” I've heard about and lifted up these groups of people who have never ever heard, but I never could have imagined what it would be like to reach out and grip her hands, drink her tea, love on her babies and exchange deep grins in the middle of this wilderness land laced with the glory of this Father who loves her, sees her and desires to be reconciled to her right here in this place just the same as He loves you or me.
“And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of Him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’” (Romans 15:20-21)
These men and women and their kids had never heard about this “Isa al-Masih,” this Messiah. Many of the B-people practice a “folk Islam” as they are often taught by stories and rules passed down from one generation to the next. Only certain parts stick and others seem to dissolve. This makes for a very broken understanding of who God is and what they are created for.
As we pulled into that village, there was a woman, cloaked in red and gold, waving us to a place to park the vehicle. She yelled things at our driver in a tongue unfamiliar to us, and it seemed clear she was welcoming us to stay. This was becoming a norm—to pull into a village and look for a person of peace. If they received us, we stayed, and if not, we kept going. As the sun lowered behind the mountains, it began to settle in that we are about to sleep here, under the stars. I have never felt quite so small.
We talked, drank tea, ate good food and told stories inside the wall of this woman’s home late into the night, all gathered around the fire. We got to experience life with these people. This woman (who we will call ‘Joy’) sat and listened to us the whole night. Even when she couldn’t understand, she just sat there, her eyes following the speaker and soaking it all in. As the other women and kids came and went about their evening, she didn’t move. Every now and then I’d glance up and catch her eye, she’d grin and we would grab hands. She was a woman of peace; there was no doubt about it.
Later in the night, we got to share God’s story of redemption with her. She asked many questions and took great interest in the topic. Her biggest question that night was, “ How could my old heart possibly become a new heart?”
The next morning, the ladies from our group took Joy for a walk away from the village. We hiked through the sandy rock and down a hill where no one in thevillage could find us. We found some shade beneath an Acacia tree and sat on some rocks in a circle. Soon our translator found us and we proceeded to share about how that old heart becomes new. For hours, we talked and she asked questions and contemplated. We couldn’t understand everything going on towards the end, as the discussion was quickening and intensifying.
Suddenly, our translator stands up and declares, “We have a new sister in the faith—let us rejoice!” Let us rejoice indeed! Our new sister Joy had accepted the Truth and placed her faith in God’s ability to remove her heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh! We gathered tight around her, gripping her tight and praying. We held hands all the way back.
Y’all, there is no greater joy then witnessing a woman hearing the name of Christ for the very first time and responding in obedience to that call. Miss Joy is one of eight believers in this desert, among a people group of two million. Next week, she will be getting married and moving to another village. Join us in praying and believing for our Father to strengthen her faith and for the Spirit to teach her from the Word, and that as she goes, she will make disciples.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise!! You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. I am the Lord and besides me there is no Savior”. – Isaiah 43