before i came to niger, april and i had a conversation about how much more real the Bible became to her by her living here. she talked about sheep and goats and how she now understood why Jesus used them in His parable about those who would be His followers and those who would not. we talked about cattle because when you see 2 cattle pulling a cart here, you get to really visualize what paul meant by telling us to be equally yoked. the cattle who are not always look very pained and struggle against one another. we talked about donkeys and walking through sand.
and i was excited to get here and to experience those same things for myself because i’m a huge fan of visual learning and i knew God would speak to me in that way here.
and then Christmas came.
and my supervisor asked if i wanted to spend Christmas in her village.
secretly, i had been hoping she would suggest that. because i couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Christmas in africa.
so we made plans to spend 2 nights in the village, sharing the story of Jesus’ birth wherever we went.
Christmas Eve came and in the morning we visited patients in a few neighboring villages. we told the story in two compounds and prayed with the families. we went to a third village and shared the story with a large group of people, and it was such a joy to watch their faces react in awe when they heard of the angels appearing to mary and joseph, and baby Jesus being born in the stables (which is not very different from where babies are born in the bush).
our last stop was the one to start the waterworks for this sensitive girl. i sat in a circle with believers from various villages in the area as members of the village gathered in the compound of a man who had been baptized a few weeks prior. in fact, a group of 6 men from this village has been baptized, so there was a level of expectancy with which they listened to the words the believers shared. though i don’t understand fulfulde, i recognize words, especially biblical ones, and as the story unfolded it brought tears to my eyes to hear the passion from the men who shared, as well as to see the intensity with which the group listened.
i was immediately brought back to my own introduction to the truth in the pages of the Word. i remember the days when i would devour the Scriptures in search of Jesus and His character. i remembered sitting in my dorm rooms in college with the $5 NIV bible i bought, size 10 print, and a highlighter and pen, marking and writing and bolding and commenting. and i remembered the feeling of newness and awe and peace and excitement.
i felt it in my heart and i sensed it in the presence of these men. they were sitting on the edge of their chairs and mats, grasping at every word they heard. and i sat silently with tears rolling down my cheeks, thankful for the darkness that hid my emotions from the fulani friends who never show theirs. and as they finished retelling the story, the men continued to talk about what it means to be a brotherhood, the children of God through adoption. and my tears kept flowing. i’ll tell you why.
fulani culture operates historically through a caste system. it is still very ingrained in their prejudice and way of life, though there are no current inherent rights or privileges enacted on the slave class by the noble class. however, intermarriage is highly unlikely and the impact of years of class distinction hinders relationships between the two.
this Christmas Eve, a mixture of slave class and noble class, new believers and discipled leaders, fulani, gorma, southern and northern americans gathered together and shared fellowship in a slave class village. the men talked about building each other up and supporting each other as they press on to endure in their new faith. they thanked and prayed for our teammate who had lived among them for 3 months and had shared the truth of Christ with them. so tears rolled down my face as i witnessed this body of believers breaking down ancient historic boundaries and prejudice to celebrate the birth of our Savior. and it was beautiful and the purist sense of joy i have felt in a long time. we sang “the first noel” in english, under the starry sky for them and said our goodbyes.
we returned to our compound and had tea and cookies as we sang carols from the baptist hymnal by candlelight. and again the Bible became more and more vivid as we sang amidst shepherds settling in for the night in their fields with their flocks. and as the cattle lowed and the stars shone bright, the peace and joy of what that night meant and continues to mean rested sweetly in my spirit.
for the past few years i have been praying for a simple life. to de-clutter both figuratively and literally. and as we sat in the dark, in the middle of our mud-hut kitchen deep in the bush of southern niger, i thanked God for how He has provided me this season of simplicity and stillness. of pure faith that comes from both fresh beginnings and new places, and through the weathered pages of my well-traveled, life-stained Bible.
Christmas day was filled with singing and dancing and sharing of the Word with two village gatherings before we headed back to the city. and though i did miss my church and family back home, our traditional evening of carols and coffee and sweet fellowship, my heart was peaceful, because i knew that if cultural walls could be broken down to celebrate Jesus and commit to the brotherhood of believers, my heart continued to be tethered back home with the brotherhood there. the birth of Christ. signifying God leaving all the Holiness and Glory of Heaven to be among His people. to grow and walk with them, to teach them and challenge them. to one day rescue them so that we can have adoption as sons and daughters. what a perfect reason to have peace. and simple joy.
(what child is this?)