by Christie Farley
Earlier this year I spent 12 days in a country far from my own. I knew it would be different. I knew I would not understand this land. I studied the region, the people groups, the politics, and the presence of the church.
When our plane landed in the Middle East, I asked God one more time for eyes to see and ears to hear what He was already doing in this space, what He had me there to be a part of, and for a hole in my heart that would be filled with the time and people I would encounter and experience.
Far from Home
We were told to walk single file out of the airport. Don’t leave the group. Don’t leave the line. Chin up, eyes open, I took it all in. Yelling, hugging, officials with weapons, nice cars, paint-chipped cars, men, women, children. We were walked to our tour bus and introduced to our interpreter for the week. Then we threw our bags in the back rows, sat one per row, and listened to the next set of instructions.
One thing I knew was that the airport was in a part of town that we didn’t want to be in for very long. What I didn’t know is that we would pass several men with AK-47s and would navigate streets of vendors with large metal rollup doors, most looking like chop shops for cars; there would be neon lights advertising invitations to car dealerships, restaurants, and every service a store can provide a passerby.
Once through that part of town, our leader visibly relaxed and began to affirm the team for a long day of travel and encouraged all of us to get a good night sleep as we began our work at 7 a.m.
Partnering with His Creation
Our work. The work the Lord had impressed on each one of us. Work that only each of us could do but together formed a team of world changers.
Our team was comprised of 8 women. Yep. All women. In the Middle East. Ambassadors for Jesus. I still have to read that sentence a couple of times to believe it happened.
Such is the case with most of the Bible. Unlikely scenarios. Curious people. Strange asks from God. And yet a continued and beautiful partnership with His creation to save His creation.
Unlikely scenarios. Curious people. Strange asks from God.
We were not there to save anyone per se. It was not an evangelistic trip in the sense that we had pamphlets and were converting hearts in shopping malls. Let’s be clear—the one night we did go to the mall, it was to walk the quarter mile floors for safe exercise and to buy Starbucks mugs. There were no Bible tracts, just the tracks of our shoes.
And just to be a little more clear—if you blindfolded me and put me in that mall without the 24 hours of travel to get there, I would have thought I was at home. Bright, clean, shiny global consumerism. Because that’s our mark on the world, wild west—our ability to scale a store of goods to a global level and then influence the youngest of wide-eyed buyers to purchase it all.
Let’s Empower Women
Our first full day was spent at the church. The largest church in the city. The largest church in the country. The country we were in is the size of the state of Delaware. If you’re like me, you’ll need to go Google Delaware for a visual. Go ahead.
This church has it going on. The pastor of the church had this to say upon our arrival. “Jesus has given women many gifts. I want to give them a place to use them. I want to allow room for the growth God wants in this region through all of the people in my church. Let’s share how we empower the efforts of the women.”
“Jesus has given women many gifts."
Sorry? I’ve come halfway around the world to a region most keenly known for the oppression of women in order to collaborate, share, and synergize about how to empower women? Excuse me while I have a one-on-one with Jesus to give Him a high five.
We sat in a circle and shared our experiences, answered questions with raw truth on both sides, and looked in one another’s eyes to remind each other that the call to mold hearts with and toward Jesus is the best work on earth.
Are You a Gift?
Later in the week we traveled out to refugee camps. As our group got out of the bus, I walked with our guide. I asked him if we do more harm than good by swooping in and swooping out in a matter of a few hours. I asked him what they feel towards groups of people like ours. Arrive, stand in it with them for a hot second, and then leave. He stopped and looked down. He was gathering his thoughts. I stopped with him and waited. He looked at me and said words I could not have predicted.
These refugees don’t think anyone knows they are here.
He smiled and shared that there are no groups like ours. Continuing to smile he said that these refugees don’t think anyone knows they are even here. When he went to them a couple week prior to ask if they minded having visitors, they cried. Continuing to smile, his look piercing, he shared that they are so excited we are coming to be with them that they likely did not sleep the night before. He gently grabbed the outside of my shoulders and said our group coming to be with them was like a gift.
I welled with tears. A gift? Think about places you go in your day to day life. Are you considered a gift when you arrive? I’ve not ever had anyone say my showing up somewhere was a gift. My life is so planned and intentional, so much of what I do is happily expected. Be a purposeful wife, mother, employee, family member, leader, listener. Honestly, I can’t think of a time when I was going somewhere and upon arrival sensed my presence was a gift.
Didn’t these people know they were a gift to us? A people to love, to listen to, to share the same air with.
Waiting for Those Who Will Listen
It was a journey to otherness I’ll do my best to describe.
The camps have been built by the UN: 10 ft by 10ft concrete slabs, 2x2 wood, creating a square frame for exterior and interior walls and simple roof lines. The thickest weather-grade tarps in white with navy UN logos wrapped the wood. Starting at the ground level and overlapping by 6 inches, the tarps went from ground to roof so that when it rains the water runs off into the rock-covered dirt ground. The rocks keep the loose dirt in place and the wet mud from puddling. When they want a window, they go outside, find a corner of the tarp, pull it to its opposite corner to create a triangle, and tie it. Voila—window.
They are broken humans—and they are waiting.
We were invited to sit on colorful mats. They shared their Fanta and hot tea. We met a man who owned his own business in his homeland, but in this new land he could not find work. We met teenaged girls who aspire to be teachers and doctors but had already experienced marriage and divorce. We met babies who have been born in this place that is not the home of their parents. We met the household cat. We met elderly people who looked heartbroken from head to toe. We met a mother who was wearing her best dress and all of her gold jewelry and hugged me so tightly I still feel it in my bones.
They exuded kindness and softness unlike that of their counterparts in the news. The juxtaposition was jarring, to say the least. These people are not a headline in a newspaper. They are not criminals, nor are they stealers of land. They are broken humans, some praying to the same God we know and love—and they are waiting.
They are waiting for moments with those who will come have tea with them. They are waiting for those who will listen.
I asked them what they would want us to share about our time with them. The warmest brown-eyed mother answered by jutting her chin out, making sure I was listening and looking into her soul, and said, “Tell our story.” And then she smiled.
See Others, Listen, Tell Their Stories
I cried on the hour drive back to the hotel. My dialogue with Jesus was that of thankfulness that the people we met have a structure and shelter from the elements; I asked for Him to renew their hope daily. I prayed for His will to be done beyond anything I could ever understand.
There are so many other splendid and heart-wrenching moments from this trip, but I will leave you with this: See those around you wherever you are. Ask Jesus where He wants you to step into a space to be a gift. Receive others as a gift. Tell each other’s stories.
posted on August 30, 2018
Meet the Author:
Christie Farley lives in Southern California with her husband, Blair, daughter, Sally, cat, Tommy, and dog, Clarke. She enjoys reading, writing, serving, teaching, influencing, and partnering in mission work with Saddleback. Often you will find her in the kitchen trying something new or strolling along the Pacific Ocean (because this side of Heaven, the ocean is heaven).
Photo by the author, Christie Farley