By Sharon Entwistle
Zemio Team Leader
Wrinkled, worn, and leaning on a stick, Weneyo winced as she lifted off the hard wooden bench. Her eyes squinted, trying to clear the darkness that was creeping into her vision and narrowing her sight. “The road seems farther now than it used to,” she laughed, “but I had to come today. My legs wanted to refuse me, but my heart told me I had to come.”
The whole church building seemed to brighten as words of praise to the One she loved toppled from her lips. Years of serving Jesus had taken its toll on her old body but had made her soul young and full of joy. She testified that her God had sent a little child to carry water for her that week when she couldn’t get it herself. She shook her head in awe as she told of Jesus moving a snake over just enough so she didn’t step on it. Oozing gratefulness, she told of a neighbor cooking a meal for her, of her other friends helping to re-roof her little grass cooking shelter. Then her voice lifted and she began to sing, “Merci Yesu, mi na fu merci foro.” Thank you Jesus, I give you thanks.
Suddenly the early morning prayer meeting took on a different meaning for me. If this widow in her tattered dress and fading eyesight can be compelled to hobble down a dirt path because she just had to sing God’s praise… let me bring a sacrifice of thanksgiving as long as I have breath! Once again, I was struck that, though I had come with a calling and yearning to share the truth of Jesus to those who have not yet heard, it seemed I was always the one learning and being challenged.
Two weeks after Weneyo uttered her holy words of thanksgiving, her peaceful hometown of Zemio erupted in blasts of gunpowder and hatred as rebels attempted to overthrow it. Our little team of missionaries packed a few belongings and hurriedly boarded a mission aviation plane to safety. Tears refused to stop flowing as we saw the faces of Weneyo and so many others we had grown to love drift before our eyes. Oh Jesus, what will happen to them?
Weeks later, airplane engines blared in the background again, as I stared at a well-used little plastic bag, wound with a worn string. Despite Eastern Central African Republic teetering on the edge of being overthrown, some members of our team, including me, had been allowed to return for a short visit. We said some goodbyes and tried to pack a few of our belongings. While there, I’d received this lumpy bundle, a package of fresh peanuts recently pulled from the garden.
Somehow, Weneyo had made her way to her little garden and had pulled some of the hard-earned fruit of her labor from the earth, bundled it up, and asked a friend to get it to me. “Tell her thank you,” was the message she’d asked to be delivered. “Thank you for coming to encourage us and for being one of those who God sent to care for this old lady.”
At a time when my own heart was screaming agonizing questions of “Why is this happening, Jesus?” a frail, needy widow worn by years of spending herself for her God was ministering to me. Comforting me. She was in the worst possible terror, rebels invading her homeland…and she was caring for me?
I grasped the tiny bundle between my fingers and prayed for this saint of God who had sent this gift of incredible love and sacrifice. I thought, “She has given more than all the others” (Lk. 21:1-4).
News only grows worse. Recently the rebels succeeded in their conquest, burning villages, pillaging the town, killing and destroying. And the people we love: some have run to other towns hundreds of kilometers away, others are hiding in the bush nearby. Those who were too weak or sick to walk stayed behind, some losing their lives in their homes as rebels set the grass-roofed houses ablaze.
I can’t stop thinking of Weneyo. I have no idea where she is. Did someone stop to help her get away?
I keep praying for her and for so many others. Daily, I am reminded of Weneyo’s strenuous journey to the prayer meeting that morning two months ago, compelled by the love of her Savior. I also remember her Savior’s promises, and my heart whispers the words, “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak, the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and preserve his life, he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.” (Psalm 41:1-3) Oh God, help me trust in you.
Please pray with me for Weneyo and thousands of others like her who have been driven from their homeland. Pray for believers who are suffering a persecution we can hardly bare to imagine. May God preserve his own and give them the courage to continue to praise His name. And may he give us wisdom to know how to stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters.
May we follow Weneyo’s example and echo her compulsion to thank Jesus, even when all else seems so hopeless.