becoming the answer to my own prayers.

I have the tendency to think that I am communicating better than I actually am. At times I have assumed that everyone knows what is going on in my head and in my heart, but really there is so much that goes unsaid, and so for that I apologize. I ask for your grace as I learn to communicate better and for your attention as I share a story that has been stowed away in my heart for too long. 

Off of the "main highway" in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan there is a rocky dirt side street. And at the corner of that side street there is a concrete building. And at the edge of that building sits a woman in a filthy, tattered burqa that seems to swallow her up and make her invisible against the concrete backdrop. Her name is Shamuel. 

[above photo: johanna lessing]

Each day as we drove by that corner our curiosity grew about the woman hiding beneath the burqa. Was she Old? Young? Crippled? What was her story? We were dying to know. One day as we were driving back from distributing food in a nearby village we couldn't wait any longer. We stopped the van and Johanna and a translator got out to bring her a bag of sugar, the only thing that we had left from the food distribution. My heart raced as I watched the covered woman greet Johanna with three masked kisses on her cheeks, followed by a hug. I don't know the words that were exchanged between Johanna and Shamuel that day, I only know that as Johanna climbed back into the van everyone began to cry. We felt an overwhelming love for this stranger. 

The next day Johanna and I packed up a traditional afghan rice meal, pilau, and together with a translator went to sit with Shamuel at "her" corner of the road. She wasn't there but a neighbor showed us where she lived. We knocked on the door and were greeted by her landlord who led us to a tiny mud room with a tarp roof which was Shamuel's home. He asked us if we were the ones who had brought Shamuel "a fattened sheep" the day before. A bit embarassed, we explained that we had only brought a meager bag of sugar. With a smirk on his face he explained that to Shamuel, that bag of sugar was a fattened sheep. We left the food for her along with a message letting her know we would come back again. 

Shamuel's rent was 500 afghani's (about $10 USD) per month and she begged in several places around the town, so it was difficult to find her. But we were intrigued about who she was and compelled, I believe, by the Love of God to find her and hear her story, so we kept going back. Finally we found her and invited her for tea at our house. As she lifted away her burqa to reveal her face I felt like a hidden treasure was being revealed. Surely she was God's most beautiful daughter with her small face, marked with the harsh lines of much suffering. We learned that she was a widow and had a son who had died in war. Her only living child, a daughter, was too poor to take care of her and could seldom visit, so Shamuel was alone. We were able to pray for her (with the help of our translator), and Shamuel prayed a blessing on us in return. With tears in our eyes and hearts pounding within us, we were so humbled and thanked God for this beautiful gem. She thanked God for her new "daughters" and on the day that we said good-bye she told us that she was so happy to have daughters in America. She is now connected with some friends who live in Mazar who are discipling her.

"Someone should do something about this".  I have lost count of all the times that those very words have crossed my mind or come from my lips in response to an issue that pangs my heart or about a situation that doesn't make sense. It would have been so easy to dismiss Shamuel as "just another beggar" or to have connected her with an organization or program. I have come to the realization that often times I think God looks back at me and says, how about YOU do something about it? How about you change this? How about you do that? And so I will. Because everything must change, and I believe it starts with my own heart.

poverty is so hard to see
when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town
where we’re all living so good
that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
from going through our trash
he says, more than just your cash and coin
i want your time, i want your voice
i want the things you just can’t give me
[derek webb]

eastcoastkimi  – (April 12, 2009 at 6:20 AM)  

thank you for sharing this beautiful experience diane! and for putting a mirror in front of my own laziness and assumptions that someone else will tend to those kinds of situations. you are right when you say it starts with our own hearts. <3 <3 <3 kimi

caitlin  – (April 12, 2009 at 12:42 PM)  

this made me cry similar tears to those in the van, thanks for sharing!

Lindsay and Casey  – (April 13, 2009 at 12:29 AM)  

Diane, I love that you visited the woman in her home and cared for her. I know I don't "know" your situation here or the woman you met, but this story makes me miss Afghanistan. I loved the land and the people. What you expressed here, that is what God has been doing in me... Telling me to stop waiting for "a call" and love people and step out and just do it. Thanks for sharing, I look forward to hearing more from you!

Diane Schallert  – (April 16, 2009 at 5:59 PM)  

it's really encouraging to see comments from you guys! it's easy to feel disconnected while traveling. i never really know if anyone is actually reading this stuff.

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