Thursday, September 27, 2012

Learning from One of His Valiant Ones

It’s been almost 12 years serving alongside my husband, raising our family, living in a place dry and dusty, difficult and destitute… It is hard to imagine anyone choosing to be here, at least not without the call of God pushing them. But I do. In fact, there’s no place in the world I’d rather be. It is here that God fleshed out for me what it means to be His woman of valor.

I could write about several women who’ve impacted my life: Mamata, struggling to learn to read at nearly 70 years of age, desperately desiring God’s Word and so she continues to plug away, despite ridicule and ostracism from her Muslim family. I could share about Aissa and Alarba, co-wives to a man who came to know Jesus not too many years ago. They, in an impossible-for-me-to-understand-situation, live and love and work together as friends, encouraging each other in their walk with the Lord, working side by side hour after long hour frying fish and donuts to sell in the market, and caring for their uniquely blended family. I could have… but didn’t choose any of those women.

I don’t even know the given name of the woman I chose. She’s always been “Salamatou’s Grandma.” I remember so clearly the Sunday morning I realized she was a rare “valiant woman, far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her.”  (Douay-Rheims Bible)

It was a Sunday morning I spent sitting outside the church since Elsie Mae (my then two-year old) couldn’t sit still any longer. I felt sorry for myself - sitting on an uncomfortable slab, dripping thanks to the 110’ plus heat, and since they’d trimmed the only tree… the only shade required pressing against the outside wall of nauseatingly odiferous pit toilets. I was tired and cranky. It’s hard work entertaining a bored toddler and African church services can be interminably long. 

Salamatou and her grandmother shared that rickety wooden “bench” with us. I was surprised that Salamatou was still alive. Almost two years earlier, Salamatou’s mama had died giving birth to her and grandma became mama. Six weeks older than Elsie Mae, malnutrition and a general lack of food had taken their toll. She was half the size of my girl. Her grandmother did her best, every day begging food and accepting whatever work she was able to find, seeking sunrise to sunset just enough for one more meal. I can’t imagine living like that… but I can imagine that my heart attitude under those circumstances would be far less than stellar.

But Salamatou’s grandma? She was old, her body tired, alone for she’d lost those she loved, abandoned by the rest of her family, and despised by most of her culture, yet her toothless smile was contagious. At one point I lost patience with Elsie Mae’s insistent demands to be entertained; she gently clicked her tongue at me and began to play with the two little girls. 

Dreary became delightful. Two precious little ones played games concocted by Salamatou’s grandma. They chased old cookie wrappers blown into the courtyard by the wind. They twirled in circles until so dizzy they'd collapse. They followed the leader, squealing with delight. They balanced spent phone cards on their heads, practicing the mind-boggling skill inherent to African women: carrying heavy burdens effortlessly and gracefully on their heads. Part of an old soccer ball sat in the corner of the courtyard. My friend prompted… the girls and I began a rousing soccer match. My favorite mind-photo? Little girls running up to Salamatou's grandmother, arms open wide for hugs, kisses and the sometimes tickle. 

I didn't get to listen to the preacher, unless you count Salamatou’s grandma a preacher. Her life relentlessly demonstrated what it meant to be a woman of valor, following hard after her Lord. Content with the impossibly hard life the Lord has given, she radiated gratefulness for every gift. She could have looked around and seen only impossibilities, frustrations and overwhelming odds. Instead, she saw opportunities and abundance. She didn’t mourn all that wasn’t; she prayed hard, worked as hard, and then received and relished without reserve that which God gave.

After some years out in the bush, they came back to Niamey for a short visit. She was still the same woman… only more so! That strong but tender, graciously long-suffering grandmother still sacrifices daily in ways I can't imagine just to have milk and millet for her precious child to eat – yet she exudes a noble, intrepid spirit. She’s allowed God to take the dusty, dry, desolate dinginess that could be her life – and write it into something beautiful… something inspired… something “precious beyond incomparable precious stones.” (Proverbs 31:10b, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

I’m sure most of you can think of someone like my friend… 

someone to whom you came, hoping to teach and to minister…

but instead found yourself on the receiving end 
of live-impacting ministry and learning.

Please share one of your stories in the comments? 


  1. Richelle,

    Thank you for stopping by my site Jottings from Jennifer. It's nice to meet you.

    How fun to see your connection to Africa. I grew up in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire for part of my life, and know people from northern Africa as well. Mmm, couscous... :)

    Jennifer Dougan

  2. Have many friends who've spent significant chunks of time in both of those places. Glad you popped in to say "Hi!"


  3. This is a beautiful story! Who comes to my mind is my maid, my most unlikely friend from my El Salvador years (10+ years ago). I was home with a toddler and a baby, and Noi came to my house three days a week. She was my closest friend really, and my husband insisted that she eat with us instead of in the kitchen. (This broke all social rules.)

    When we left El Salvador, it brought tears to my eyes to see that she had bought clothing as gifts for my kids, spending the equivalent of 4 days salary on us! The next time we returned to El Salvador, we tried to take her out to Pizza Hut, but she wouldn't go, which was painful for me. Class differences are too great there, and it was just too much for her to go to a restaurant with us. But I have always remembered her.

    1. Noi sounds like a wonderful friend. Glad you've had the opportunity to know and love her!