Aisha- part 1

We had seen each other before. Most mornings I passed her by on my way to school. She and a friend would sit on a concrete bench under a tree. Noting the consistency of our timing and location, I greeted them regularly. But I never slowed enough to make conversation.

Until the day I needed help with my homework. Both ladies were startled when I plopped down beside them and asked them to help me. With no context for this encounter, they were full of questions: Was I a student? Where was I studying? What kind of Arabic was I studying? What was my name?

The conversation was labored, but I finished the assignment and arrived at class, breathless and only a few minutes late.

A few days later, I was striding to school with my normal stoic street face when a lady in my peripheral became animated and shouted to get my attention.

Another beggar, I surmised, and turned to greet her without reaching for my change purse. But then I recognized her face, although she wasn’t in her usual place under the tree.

As we greeted each other in somewhat reserved familiarity, I studied her for the first time. She wore old clothes and the kind of shoes that most women only wore to the public bath house. Her face was enveloped in the odor of her breath, which I smelled as I embraced her. She was a tiny woman, not built for the hard work that life required of her.

Who was this woman? And what did she want from me? She insisted on walking with me on my way to school; she said she worked as a maid at a house nearby.

Her speech was complimented with gestures. “You—come—my house—to sleep.” She isolated her words with the intention of helping me understand. “Do you understand?”

I did understand, but said only, “God willing” which was neither a commitment nor a refusal.

Before we parted ways, she asked for my phone number. That evening she called me and together we weathered my first phone call in Arabic. We exchanged greetings and a few other bits of information among the numerous confessions of “I’m sorry; I don’t understand.”

She told me she would wait for me the next day on my way to school.

Let us become more aware

I shielded my eyes from the morning sun as we walked the familiar streets to church. My heart was quiet and my mind was ready to receive a word from Him. Any word. Yet, I was still grappling with the paradox of God feeling absent even when I knew He wasn’t.

“Let us become more aware of Your presence.”

The words became my prayer as we sang them together. And it happened. Not in a warm, fuzzy feeling, but in the faces around me.

  • IMG_5328The beggar who blessed me, my health, my parents, (and possibly everyone and everything that I’ve ever known!).
  • The moment of reconnecting with a lady I had met on the train.
  • The little boy who ignored my words until I got down to his level and placed my hand on his shoulder.
  • The church guardian who offered to drive me home from church.

It wasn’t until I was home that I realized what had happened. And I thought of Martin in Tolstoy’s “Where Love Is, There God Is Also.” Sometimes God’s presence is as quiet as the weak and powerless.

The quiet road

It’s been a quiet road. Not a lot of mountains, valleys, or even speed bumps. But sometimes the quiet is the hardest part of the journey. I feel alone sometimes. Well, a lot of times. The world at home continues without me… like it should and like I knew it would. But it hurts when I can’t be a part of it.

This week at the international church, the speaker brought a very real struggle into the open: it doesn’t seem fair that we have to be the ones leaving behind what we know.

But His call is personal. He instructs Peter to “Feed my sheep” and “Follow me” (John 21). When Peter questions him about another disciple, He pulls Peter’s focus back to the personal calling: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

See, it’s not a matter of what we have or what we leave behind; it’s a matter of following.

So, although the quiet road is lonely, I don’t have to feel something supernatural and emotional to be able to claim God’s promise that He is with me.

In a dry and weary land

Right now, perhaps you are imagining me in loose desert garb astride a handsome camel under the blazing Saharan sun. Well, now you have pictured exactly how my trip wasn’t.

The Sahara trip officially started when eight of us girls piled into a tourist mini-bus. “Oh no! People will think we’re tourists!” It took a few kilometers of riding the tourist bus through my own city to realize that I was a tourist. I had just traded in my student identity.

The changing landscape sang the mighty power of God as we bumped along in our bus along paved highways and skinny mountain paths.

There were tree trunks covered in brilliant green moss, flat orange plateaus with snow-covered mountains beyond, and startling blue lakes.
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We spent the night in a hotel on the edge of the desert. The next morning, a driver took us to the edge of the dunes. “Are these even real?” we wondered. The dunes looked exactly like the myriads of pictures one might find anywhere. It was almost anti-climatic to see exactly what I had expected.
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In the early evening, we started across the dunes on camels. The first 30 minutes may have been more enjoyable if a paparazzi hadn’t followed us to snap pictures of our camel train.

When we arrived at our desert camp, we ate a big meal and then strolled around outside of the camp to gaze at the expanse of bright stars that blanketed the dark sky. We contemplated the insignificance of man (Ps. 8) and then joined a group of other tourist around a campfire.
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IMG_5687The next morning, we watched the sun rise over the dunes and then rode our camels back to civilization. On the way home we made several stops, one of them to have tea with our driver’s family who lived far up in the mountains. The scenery along the way was breathtaking.IMG_5699IMG_5702IMG_5718IMG_5732
But it was wonderful to come home again!

First day of school

This wouldn’t be so bad.

I gathered my school supplies, double-checking everything at least once. Forgetting a necessary item on the first day of English class wasn’t acceptable. Where was my flashdrive? In my handbag next to the stapler.

Ready.

It had been almost three months since I had arrived in North Africa. Three days after arriving, I started teaching English to twelve students ages 13-16. Each class period was different because depending on which trouble-makers attended, the dynamics could swing wildly. I planned each lesson with trembling, trying to predict the mood of the class upon its execution.

I had signed up to teach English, not manage behavior.

But this semester would be different, right? I locked the front door and went in search of a taxi. At the school gate, the guardian’s familiar smile was hardly encouraging. I had seen that smile every day last semester just before my carefully planned lesson was trampled by misbehavior.

I worked with the other teachers in the computer lab to make copies. I hesitated to leave the lab, knowing that unprotected by chatter and laughter my stomach would begin its nervous churn.

What if this semester was just as stressful as last?

“Here is your class roster.” The director handed me a sheet of paper. I had been told I would be teaching a class of 5-7 adults. This list had fourteen names. But it was okay. They were adults. Easy, right?

Except that last semester I had heard several teachers complaining about adult ego problems. “Classroom management is still an issue with adults,” they had said.

“And could you sign the contract please?”

Fourteen students. And what exactly did the contract say again? I pressed the pen to the paper and then signed my name quickly. What would the semester hold?

I still don’t know. But I do know that I loved every minute of my first class with these students. And I know that no matter what problems I may face this semester, I have a God who has not given me the spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).