Over the last week, I’ve been having a recurring dream. Although it has different twists each night, the theme is the same. I am in distress and I must get out of Africa. And various obstacles are making it impossible to leave.
Perhaps this was from watching the Last King of Scotland*—the gripping story of a physician who got embroiled with Idi Amin and figured out he was in danger a little too late.
Or maybe, although I’m out of Africa, Africa doesn’t want to let go of me! As I told the church in Kenya, “We have Africa in our blood!”
I tend to think the dreams point to something deeper…a battle that still wages in my soul. My desire (fine-honed from the time I was a little girl) to be strong enough to do God’s work…and God’s gentle nudging in response: Robin, will you be weak enough?
Weak enough to leave Ssese?
The tests started the moment we hit Ssese Island, the place where we would help build a school and minister to the children. The pinnacle of our trip. Thankfully, I had brought an extensive first-aid kit!
The first 24 hours for our team saw one deep cut to a finger, several bloody scrapes, fever and nausea, headaches and severe jet lag. Teri Frederick (trained in first-aid) and I cheerfully ministered to our growing list of patients, both American and Ugandan.
Our second day there, we ministered to the children of Ssese Island with school supplies, clothing, and shoes, thrilling as they learned to brush their teeth for the first time and sharing the teachers’ pride, as each received bags heaping with teaching supplies.
In the afternoon, we walked a mile into the fishing village for a community visit. It was hot and every step was tortuous to me. An hour after we arrived, I asked to be driven back to the school. I couldn’t fathom walking a mile back. I’m just tired, I thought.
By dinner, an overpowering nausea had settled on me. By bedtime, my whole body hurt. I took every medicine I had given others, and none of it helped. It felt every nerve in my body was on fire. By morning, Dave made the decision to get me off the island.
Brenda and Roderick were leaving that morning and offered to take me to their home. Although they were incredibly gracious, the ten-hour trip across Lake Victoria, across bumpy red roads, and through standstill Kampala traffic was difficult.
At their house, both my intestinal and then my nervous system turned on me. Hallucinations came and went, my reflexes became hypersensitive, and I started experiencing what felt like shocks to my face and chest.
Via phone, a doctor suggested I had food poisoning, a virus and some kind of medication interaction. She gave me some advice, assuring me I would get better.
Three days later I was reunited with Dave. That night I had a vivid dream/hallucination that I was leading a school for 50 orphans. Dave tried (unsuccessfully) to wake me, and then listened as I droned on and on with specific instructions to teachers in “my speaker’s voice.” I woke up paranoid, confused and just a little miffed with Dave when he admitted being scared.
Could we go on to Kenya? Or did he need to get me home? Miraculously, I woke up a little clearer Sunday morning and went on to speak with Dave at church in Kampala. We decided to press on.
Weak enough to minister?
When we arrived in Kenya, we immediately went on a two-day, budget tent safari. This meant a long bumpy drive in a van to the Masi Mara, and then spending more long hours in a van seeking animal viewings. It was truly magnificent, but I was still fragile.
After a long drive back into Nairobi on Wednesday, we left for a family group event. There I found Jane (women’s ministry leader of the Nairobi church) and got some clarification on our schedule.
On Thursday, we would lead an all-morning staff seminar and have a dinner in the evening. On Sunday morning we would give a presentation to marrieds, and on Sunday afternoon, speak to singles, teens and campus students.
And, on Saturday morning, I would lead a seminar for women over 40, including an hour-long speech, and an hour-long question and answer session.
Just a few days in ago, in Kampala, I questioned whether I should even get up and share during Dave’s message (considering my fragile state of mind). Now, speaking by myself on Saturday seemed a little risky. Not only did I not have anything prepared, my mind felt like a dark hole…completely empty!
Then my daughter Bekah piped in, “Mom, you need to do your lesson on the Samaritan woman.” I was taken aback by her confidence.
“Really?” I said. She smiled and repeated herself with even more conviction. “Mom, that’s what the women need.”
That night, I pulled out my computer. I had given that lesson five years at a women’s retreat in Wisconsin. Did I even have it on my new computer? Ten minutes of searching and I found it and the accompanying Powerpoint.
A quick read-through assured me that the Holy Spirit was working through my daughter. It had three simple points:
A woman needs to be seen. A woman needs to be heard. A woman needs to be known.
The next morning as 140 radiant women filled the room, I prayed silently that God would give me the words he wanted spoken.
Weak enough to make a difference?
Fast-forward to the day we left. Although it was meant to a day of rest before we flew out at midnight, one woman who attended that woman’s day urgently requested a meeting. I’ll call her Leena (We agreed to change the names in her story.)
Leena traveled across town through public transport to get to where I was. She had a few questions but mainly she had a story to tell me about her sister Marie.
Leena was raised in a family with casino connections. She knew from the time she was a little girl that she would one day be a casino worker. But then God intervened and brought her the gospel. She became a disciple and found a new life.
Marie eventually became a casino prostitute. Although Leena prayed fervently for her sister, the gospel seemed to divide them. Marie wasn’t interested. As the years passed, Leena began to despair whether she would ever reach her. Yet she kept praying.
A few weeks before we came, Marie unexpectedly showed up at Leena’s doorstep with a story to tell. She had awoken in a hotel room having lost all memory of the two days before. Amazingly, her first thought was…it’s time for me to come to God.
And even more striking, she knew exactly what God wanted her to do, as if he was whispering it in her ear. “Marie, if you want me, give away anything you’ve gained through prostitution.”
Marie began sorting through her suitcases, making a big pile of fine jewelry, perfumes, expensive clothing and gifts for her son. Although it was painful, Marie gave away everything she bought through the money she made from sleeping with men.
Then Marie came to Nairobi to seek God. By the time we came to town, Marie had come to two worship services and been so moved by what she heard that she decided to study the Bible.
When Leena heard about the women’s event on Saturday (for members of the church), Leena urgently called Jane and asked for permission to bring Marie.
At the event, Marie and Leena sat by eat other, and as the lesson progressed, Leena began to shake. She couldn’t believe the lesson. Word for word, she knew it was written for her sister Marie. Was this the culmination of her years of prayer?
Leena told me that Marie was moved to tears, as she listened to my lesson about a woman who had been with five different men—a woman who was scorned and shamed as a woman, a Samaritan and an adulterer, who now was God’s ambassador to a nation.
Leena said, “You see Robin, you were brought here, all the way from Boise, Idaho, United States just for my sister. To bring her this message. That’s what I came to say.”
“Oh, there’s more you need to know,” I said. “There’s another part of this story.” Wiping away tears, I told Leena how weak and sick I had been. How Bekah was the one who chose the message. How God saw to it that a 5-year old message was on my computer.
Leena leaned towards me and said the words I pray I never forget. “Robin, this would not have happened if you hadn’t been sick. God needed you to be weak. He wanted to be the one to choose the message for Marie, not you.”
“Think of it,” I said. “This means that when I wrote that lesson five years ago, God had your sister in mind. God was already answering your prayers.” Now, we were both crying for joy at the power, providence and patience of our amazing God!
Weak enough to be strong enough?
But there’s more. Before we left for Africa, I got numerous people to pray for our health. Wouldn’t God want us all strong and healthy for the work there?
And believe me, I think it was important to solicit all these prayers. Who knows what would have happened without so many people praying! Even in our weakness, God protected us and shielded us in so many ways.
What I had forgotten, however, is that sometimes weakness is a part of God’s plan.
Like Joseph who was thrown into a cistern and later into a prison in a strange country, so God could redeem Israel. Like Paul, whose thorn in the flesh made him usable by God, a testimony to God’s strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It seems to me that on that Saturday morning in Nairobi, God had prepared me perfectly. And through my weakness (I had a small moment of panic before I stood up that I had hardly gone through the message), God’s strength poured out in marvelous abundance to a room full of women, glorious in their own weakness.
Jane told me later, “Robin, this message was exactly what our sisters over 40 needed to hear. Our culture tells them they can’t be seen, heard or known. You couldn’t have shared anything more relevant. This message could change everything for them.”
Leena told me that Marie walked out of that Saturday morning women’s seminar, with a new light in her eyes—with the dignity of knowing that God could use her weakness, her fall deep into the depths of darkness, for his glory.
Thank you women of Nairobi (and especially Leena and Marie), for showing me once more how in the hands of our God, the pain of weakness is far out shadowed by the glory.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed,but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Warning: The Last King of Scotland has brief nudity. Be prepared to fast-forward!Share on Facebook