Her face was crushed when the taxi crashed; all her hopes were dashed. What she did not know was how God would show ways his love will flow to sheep in his flock and turn twisted plots, unexpected knots, into paths of grace when they seek his face and keep running the race.
I heard the call at the door, “Kaw kaw!”—the way people knock in Ferkessédougou. There outside the porch door was one of the Baptist Hospital nurses, Jonathan, with a young teen girl beside him. I invited them in, gave the normal cup of water to each one, and then Jonathan said, “This is Mariam, who has been at the hospital for treatment for two months after the taxi she was riding in had an accident. While she was there, she came to know Jesus. She is Nyarafolo so I am giving her to you!”
That was a first for me, and the beginning of a deeply moving story that began about 25 years ago. Mariam (to the left in the photo above) and I met together frequently for prayer. She needed much encouragement, since her father was a strong Muslim who was not at all pleased with her decision to follow Jesus. One day she came over to our house with deep anxiety. He had told her that he had pledged her to become the fourth wife of an old man in the community. What could she do?
Glenn and I were perplexed. We asked national pastors for advice, and they said we should “hide” her. A young man that we had sent away for training at the seminary in Abidjan, Abdoulaye, in preparation for future work in Nyarafolo translation, agreed to accept her in his family home to protect her. His wife Mariame was an outstanding young mom and had taught Sunday School with me at Tiepogovogo, so I knew that this young Mariam would be in good hands. She helped with housework and childcare, living there for a couple of years.
Then she came back to Ferke, staying on the other side of town, still not in touch with her family. She was attending the Baptist church in that district and met a young man there who asked him to marry her. It did not turn out as hoped. He got her pregnant then left for Mali. She gave birth to a little girl, and decided to reach out to her father for help since we were not around (evacuated for three years when civil war broke out). Things took an unexpected turn: her father was entranced by the baby girl, his new granddaughter, and took them both back into the courtyard.
Mariam continued her walk of faith, and some of her older sisters decided to follow Jesus too. But a physical problem was continuing. Her eyes were constantly draining fluid, and the medical treatments she received were not changing that. We had been trying for years to get the taxi’s insurance to take care of her medical bills without success. Finally, a reliable lawyer in Abidjan was able to partially crack the corrupt justice system and get some payment—but her father took the funds to use in other ways.
Tene, her daughter (the girl at the right in the photo), was growing up. When we returned she would often stop by to see me on her way home from school and get a welcome drink of water. Mariam was beginning to develop a small business, braiding hair. And then a young Nyarafolo man in her church began to court her. Even when he was completely informed about her physical issues, even when his pastor told him he was too poor and she was too poor to consider marriage, he was determined. Pedjouyaha married her and they found space in a courtyard where other members of his family lived.
She set up a small booth for her business. He was still looking for other work—he had been rising at 4 a.m. to catch transportation out to the sugar plantation to do hard labor. It was long hours, very low pay. So he found a job cleaning at a new hotel in town, but after two months of work, he still had received no pay. He came to us for advice. We had just heard that there was an opening for another guard at the hospital, and recommended him. He was hired, and is still there!
Two years ago Mariam was able to see a doctor specializing in eye surgery down in Abidjan, and went through six hours of surgery. The specialist finally found a small piece of bone (broken in that taxi accident) that was causing the chronic infection and constant drainage! Because Pedjouyaha was working at the Baptist Hospital in Ferke, the insurance that covered staff at that time paid for this procedure. Now, one gland is still draining and the doctor wants to operate again, but the insurance at the Baptist Hospital no longer covers expenses outside its own services. So they wait.
Nevertheless God is using them in another unexpected way. Tene is now a lovely teen with three younger brothers and sisters, one of them born shortly after that eye surgery two years ago (center in the photo, in her father’s arms). Then one year ago the couple was “given” a newborn to raise, a little girl whose mother (Pedjouyaha’s sister-in-law) had died while giving birth. So Mariam has been mothering her own two-year-old as well this baby now one year old (the baby in Mariam’s arms). It is common for families to expect female relatives to take in motherless babies, but the story behind this case is startling.
One month after taking in the little girl they named “Grace,” they had also been given a second baby to care for, a little boy whose mother had also died while giving birth! Both deceased mothers were sister-in-laws of Pedjouyaha. It turns out that the two women had hated each other, and they had each gone to a sorcerer to have a curse put on the other one. They had been heard taunting each other as their pregnancies advanced, “You are going to die in childbirth!” “No, you are going to die!” Both of them died, going into labor one month apart!
The two babies both became ill, just two days after the boy joined the family. Both were hospitalized. The boy needed oxygen. Just two days later, died. He was only three weeks old.
But Grace recovered and is still doing well, a jolly little toddler with fat cheeks who keeps getting hugs from her big sister, one year older than she.
This story reminds me of this meaningful verse:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (Isa. 40:11 NLT)
Isn’t the grace of our Lord evident in this story? Out of ongoing tragedies, the Lord has put together a generous family that has welcomed more than just their own children into their loving arms. They still live at a poverty level. With all the little ones to care for, and the eye issues and surgery, Mariam has had to drop her hair braiding business and make do selling some things. Pedjouyaha’s job as a hospital guard gives them enough to live on, but not enough for extra things. If it were not for the compassion fund that has supplied payment for so many of their medical needs over the years, they would be truly in despair. That is how the Lord uses his worldwide Family to take care of each other. Thank you, thank you to all of you generous hearts!
They continue to walk forward in steadfast faith, laughing with the children, caring for each other. And we are now praying that we will find out how much the remaining eye surgery will cost, and that there will be funds to pay for it. The Shepherd does provide for his sheep!