Prayer is powerful. Bringing hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, and healing to the hurting; it also turns foreigners into friends and strangers into sisters. Let me introduce you to my friend and sister in Christ, Alem.
Henok describes Alem as “the most happy, although she is the least paid.” She knows the secret to happiness is not in a job or money. It’s in relationships; specifically her relationship with Jesus. Alem radiates the truth of Nehemiah 8:10, “the joy of the Lord is her strength.” This was not always her experience though. I sat with eyes fixed on my friend as she shared her powerful testimony.
After her husband died, she was lonely. As a single mom raising three children in the village of Korah, next to the local trash dump, life was unspeakably hard. Scavenging for food and items to sell was overwhelming most days. Somberly, she recalled “renting her 18 month-old daughter to a friend.” Upon further explanation, I learned the “cute factor” of her daughter increased the earning potential of her friend’s begging, providing Alem with a percentage of each day’s earnings.
During those days she wasn’t a big fan of Christianity. She wondered, “If God was real, why didn’t he help people living in such harsh and hopeless conditions? Why would he let her husband die leaving her to fend for herself? How was she supposed to provide for her children?” These unanswered questions left little question that if God was real, he did not care about her.
As she walked through the streets, she’d cover her ears if she heard Christians praying. Throwing rocks on their roofs at night outwardly expressed her inward disgust at such foolishness. All she knew to help her pain was to get drunk.
Then, eight years ago, everything changed. Illness invaded her body and left her bedridden; paralyzed from the waist down. The local pastor heard about her plight and came knocking on her door. Unable to open the door, she called out for him to come in.
The pastor entered with a visiting American missionary friend named Kim. While they talked, Alem was assured that “God will be good to you and you will be fine.” She was very skeptical. The longer they talked the more she realized she had no faith of her own, but she began to hope. Kim and the pastor laid hands on her paralyzed limbs and began to pray. “They prayed and prayed,” she said, and then asked her to get up. Alem says she “couldn’t even think about doing such a thing,” but they kept encouraging her to believe that God was real and he answered prayers and would help her.
Neighbors heard the fervent praying on Alem’s behalf, and so did heaven. God began to answer, giving Alem courage to pull herself up and stand. She recalled, “My legs were shaking, my body was shaking. I felt like a child trying to learn how to walk,” as the pastor and Kim held out their hands for her to come to them.
Amazed at what was happening to her body and in her heart, Alem was transformed that day by the power and love of God. Not only was she physically healed, but she was spiritually set free as well. Alem surrendered her heart to the Lord and found salvation.
“God planned that day for me to be saved. God can do anything. He can even turn stones into bread. There is a song that asks ‘How can there be water in the wilderness?’ I know how. God can provide. He can do it, because he did it for me and I am so happy.”
Alem’s story reminds me of a story recorded in the Gospels. Friends of a paralyzed man believed Jesus had the power to heal. Great crowds prevented anyone from entering the house where Jesus was teaching. In desperation, they cut a hole in the roof to lower their friend down on his mat and laid him at the feet of Jesus. Seeing their faith, the Lord forgave his sin and healed the paralyzed man.
When God looks at our faith, what does he see? Are we bringing our friends to him in prayer, asking for healing or salvation? Are we standing in the gap for others, especially if they seem to be in impossible situations like Alem was? It makes me think about Jesus’ words to his disciples found in Matthew 19:26: Looking at them he said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Several years ago, I would never have dreamed it would be possible for me, a fifty-something kindergarten teacher from the Midwest to travel to Ethiopia. Financial constraints, health challenges, and fear of the unknown kept me on the praying end of mission trips. Then God called me to go, provided for my every need, and gave me the opportunity to meet Alem.
Our visit was short, with just enough time to share some words of encouragement and pray together. The time we shared knit our hearts closer in love. The Lord has brought her to mind numerous times throughout the year between visits.
Alem’s joy is contagious and her courage is inspiring. Alem has fueled my faith with her story this year.
Gathering the women for a picture together before I left, I was honored when they asked me to be in it. I stooped down to kneel in front of them. Then, to my surprise, I felt Alem grab my shoulders and pull me up close beside her. She wrapped my arms around hers. The picture says it all.
The bond we formed through shared experiences and prayer during my visit brought us closer together than I could have ever thought possible. Five years ago we were strangers and foreigners, now we are sisters and friends.
What are you hoping God can make possible through prayer?