In Pairs or Threes
By Beth Toy
The dirt road stretched to the horizon where it got lost in a few tall shrubs and sky and clouds. There was an embankment and grass, a rich green tree or two, and every so often a bare limbed baobab with its enormous iconic trunk and few fruit pods hanging off the branches.
We walked in pairs or threes, praying for the people of this land to be free – free of poverty, of misery, but mostly to be free of the spiritual chains that bound them and kept them from knowing the God of all creation and the freedom from sin that comes from Jesus. The road we walked was the very road that captured tribes in East Africa walked in chains after they were kidnapped, laden down with jewels and ivory, and herded to the coast to be sold as slaves to other nations.
There was a lady by the side of the road. Joan, walking with us from another part of Tanzania, was able to speak to her in Swahili. Yes, this old woman knew of Jesus. She wore a colorful kanga, a patterned fabric that I see the African women in my church wear; her feet were bare, her hair was gray, her teeth were few. She wanted us to come and pray for her daughter. Her daughter was ill, in a wheelchair, and in need of healing. Surely the two white women and Joan could pray for her, and God’s blessing would come.
We stepped off the main road onto a little path that wound through the brush. Short trees and tall bushes were on either side; we passed a thatched roof with open sides that was about the size of my kitchen. Farther back we came to a hut. Same thatched roof, but this had some cane sides and dark little doorway. Smoke drifted out. We stepped into a very small room and found the daughter in a chair with wheels – not a wheelchair, as we know it, which would barely fit into this space, but a small chair with wheels. Behind her was another doorway to the rest of the hut, another small space. It was very dark and smoky. A toddler came out to where we were. He didn’t have on a stitch of clothing, and was quiet and large-eyed.
We prayed for his mom, for his grandmother, for the freedom for which they longed. It was awkward and strange and beautiful, and God was listening. We stood in the hut and smiled. My friend Stephanie asked a few questions: about the boy, about how long the daughter had been in a wheelchair. Joan translated. Answers were short.
We walked back out. The mother asked us to pray for her and for the harvest, for life and health. She asked if she could pray for us; all of this through Joan’s translation. I don’t remember anymore what I said. Probably that I would see Jesus, that I would be a blessing to my campmates on the trail. But she smiled and prayed for us. I didn’t recognize any words, but we spoke the same language. It’s the language of dependence; the language that the knowledge of needing God is the only knowledge that is essential.
I don’t know how to say what harvest we prayed for. Life here is hard. Possessions are few; the people live hand-to-mouth, with no place to store things and no belongings to store. The way she prayed for me – well, I don’t really know what she said, or even what she heard when my request was translated. I’ve heard of a language of the heart, a romantic language. But there is more than one language of the heart. The language that is connected to the eternal God, who makes the rain and the harvest, the planes and the campsites, who loves the people with excess and the people in want – that is a language that our hearts know and believe. The blessing of that time and place came in that language. “It’s a language we know by heart, and my heart knows it to be true.” Or so I have heard it said.
Beth Toy is a Young Life Staff wife, mother to three teenagers/young adults, servant to one dog, and teacher of 24 amazingly interesting fifth graders. She keeps waiting for God to call her to minister to Parisian dress makers and Italian shoe makers, but much to her surprise and delight, she has ended up in Africa twice. Her truest love in ministry is sharing life and hope with younger women who love Jesus.