Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
For the past two weeks we’ve had a new cleaning girl in the office while the regular one is on holiday. I really like Graça*. She always smiles and is very hard-working. On her first day, she came into our room with a bucket and cloth and began wiping down our tables. My team leader and I just stared, stunned. We’ve never seen anyone clean this room so thoroughly. Plus, our floors are always spotless. More importantly, she’s such a quietly cheerful worker. We all really appreciate her.
Yesterday the theme for our weekly staff prayer meeting was personal testimonies and challenges. Graça was asked to share about what God’s been doing in her life. Here’s her story:
She grew up in a Catholic family, but one day she was walking past a Pentecostal church and was drawn in by what she heard. The message was about sin, something she had never heard preached in her own church. She continued to attend the church, but her father was not happy about it. When he found a Bible that a friend had lent her, he soaked it in water and told her she could dry it to read it.
One day when she asked him for some money to buy food to cook for the family, he refused. He told her he would rather use the money to buy a knife to kill her. That night he called a family meeting and was holding a knife. He told her he was going to kill her for going to the Pentecostal church. She ran into her dark room, hid under the covers and began praying that if the God she had been learning about was real that He would protect her. In the dark, her father couldn’t see her, but he stabbed at the bed several times. He finally left, believing her to be dead and announced to the family that he had killed her. Her brother came in to check on her and when he realized she was okay he pushed their father out of the way in the other room so that Graça could escape.
She escaped with a younger sister, but they had nothing. No place to stay, no food, no money, no belongings. Eventually the pastor of her church learned about their situation and invited Graça to share in front of the congregation. People stepped up to help them, and they were taken care of until it was safe to return home.
During this time Graça was dating someone from her church. He wanted to marry her, so she asked her father if her boyfriend’s family could visit to officialize the relationship (the first step in the engagement process in Mozambique). Her father refused because the boyfriend was also from the church.
One day her father saw Graça in town with her boyfriend. When she returned home that afternoon he told her to invite the boyfriend’s family over. Thrilled, she thought that her father was going to permit the engagement. However, when the family arrived he told them to take her and all her belongings because he didn’t want her anymore. She said she was not going to leave, that she was not going to just live with them, but that she wanted to honorably marry him. But he kicked her out. I don’t know what happened to the boyfriend’s family, but for the rest of the day she stood outside her house waiting for her father to let her back in. He never did.
By this time, her older sister had her own place and was leaving town, so she gave the key to Graça. But once again Graça was on her own, yes with shelter, but with nothing else. That week a woman from church was praying with her and said that God would bless her soon.
Three days later one of my colleagues, who is a neighbor of hers, asked if she would like to work in our office for two weeks while our regular cleaning girl was away. She arrived very early that first day, ready to work hard, thanking God for the opportunity.
It has now been three weeks since she started working for us. Ana, our regular employee, is a recent widow. She has been living with her in-laws since her husband’s death, but they are not providing for her or her young daughter and have also threatened to kill her as they blame her for their son’s/brother’s death. She went to stay with her own family in a town south of here. We haven’t heard from her and hope she has decided to stay there. We fear for her security here. She doesn’t have a job there and her own family does not have the means to provide for her, but at least it’s safe.
As for Graça, we also hope she can remain with us. We remember Paul (formerly Saul) and pray with hope for her father. We are thankful for her life, for her testimony of God’s faithfulness, and for a daily reminder through her smile to be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.
* It’s probably best to give her a pseudonym.