The first time I met Rehema, I had lived in her country for one
what felt like an eternal hellish time warp edifying year. I tried to use a Kiswahili slang word that I had just picked up, and she laughed in my face. I knew that I wanted to be her friend because, as far as I’m concerned, real friends laugh in your face, put an arm around you, tell you that you’re the worst, and then love you anyway.
Rehema and I have been close friends for several years now. She has seen my worst, and I have seen hers. She has, on more than one occasion, sat by my bed forcing me to drink water when I was sick with malaria, and I have walked her through contractions in the middle of the night while driving her to deliver her second child. We have laughed until we cried, disagreed, disputed, hugged it out and a few times needed space, but through it all, we have formed a pretty beautiful sisterhood. She is my soul twin in almost every way.
Rehema was raised with three sisters, just like me. Our personalities are very similar, but our cultures and our backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Our differences sometimes spark robust conversation and a need for patience and humility on both parts, but we are committed to learning together. Last year Rehema joined our ministry for young women, Sifa Threads, as part of the leadership team. Working together in this ministry is so much work, so emotionally draining, and also so much fun. With Rehema’s permission, I am going to share two important things that I have learned from her. *The second thing that I have learned will come in the next blog post.
Learning from Rehema
A couple of months ago, Rehema and I sat across from a young woman, who was suffering from broken dreams, with no education, recovering from severe abuse, living in terrible poverty, having an absent family and sinking in a system which seemed stacked against her. This kind of conversation is an almost daily occurrence in our ministry together at Sifa. As an American, I often find it difficult to speak truth into situations like this. I know that the truth of Scripture is the same across any culture or any circumstance, but it often doesn’t feel right coming from me. While I share about the hope of Christ, I can watch the eyes of these precious young women move past mine and into their thoughts of what must be something like “it must be easy for you to have faith and hope as a wealthy American.” In many ways, they aren’t wrong.
It’s hard to hear someone talk about contentment in Christ who has
everything that you think will bring you hope: family, husband, security,
education, a vehicle, seemingly endless options in life, a home, money, support
from loved ones, a good school for their children, no worries ever about food
or basic needs being met…the option to return to
the place where all dreams
come true America.
But on this day, it wasn’t just me talking. It was Rehema too, and God used us to speak truth that neither one of us could have spoken entirely on our own.
Rehema, with tears in her eyes, pressed both palms against the table, and said to the young woman,
“Look at me and now look at Mama Kennedy (that’s what they call me)… Who do you see in front of you? Do you see two completely different women? Do you see
our differentcolor? Do you see our different backgrounds? Look at her education and look at mine? Look at the opportunities she has had being raised in America and look at mine having grown up in the village? You have two women who came from opposite ends of privilege and poverty, and we both have the same message for you: In Christ alone is our only hope. You can have everything…and still be searching. You can have nothing…and still, be searching. It’s Jesus alone who satisfies.”
The young woman’s eyes switched back and forth from Rehema’s to mine as she pondered what she had heard. I watched Rehema’s words sink deeply into this girl’s heart as she sat in front of us. Rehema spoke so clearly about the hope of the gospel despite circumstances because it is something that she has painfully learned and re-learned over the years. There we were, all completely different, all coming from opposite backgrounds and often thinking in opposing worldviews, but finding our hope in the same gospel. All equal at the foot of the cross.
What Rehema shared wasn’t as easy as it may seem. It came from experience. See, it is often easy for us to love those who have less than us. It’s easy to feel pity and guilt and even lavish generosity upon them. It feels good. What isn’t so easy is to love and serve and want good things for those who have more; those who have what we want. Isn’t this why we often find it so easy and almost euphoric to love “the least of these” on mission’s trips but then when we check our social media, we are filled with jealousy and resentment for the guy who has a perfect job, the girl with the perfect body, the people taking the greatest vacations and getaways from their already perfect lives?
Loving like Rehema
True Christ-like love, loves others despite differences in paychecks, despite how uncomfortable or humbling it may make us feel to be around that person. When we can’t love the people who have what we want, it exposes something in our heart. It shows us how much of our love is based on how people make us feel rather than on obedience to Christ. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and set the example of perfect love. We are called to love despite how we feel (Galatians 5:13).
This is what Rehema has done in the many years of being my friend. Rather than resenting me or judging me for my privilege (and by the way, all of us Americans were born with more privilege and opportunity than we will ever realize), Rehema has loved me. It’s a God-sized burden to know that you are the more indebted one in the relationship. It’s a God-sized weight to battle bitterness and jealousy when we watch others live lives and have things that we could only dream of having. But this is the love that Rehema has shown me over the years. I will forever be grateful, humbled, and taught by it.
Rehema’s acts of obedience in loving me has opened up a window for her to see into my life and see that, even in wealth and privilege, it’s only Jesus who brings peace and hope into our lives. Her commitment to love God and love others stretched beyond her circumstances each time that she chose to open up her heart to me. Every time she rejoiced with my children over their private school awards, while she and her husband struggled to afford school fees for their own children, was an act of love that spoke to where her treasure was. Every single time that she rejoices with me over my wins or weeps with me in my suffering, even if it doesn’t touch the severity of her own suffering, she shows God’s love working through her (Romans 12:15). It’s an act of obedience.
Rehema was able to speak
Had Rehema not been obedient in loving those who were hard to love (me) then she would have been tempted to live her life with the mentality of “if I only had _________ I would be happy.” And then what could she have offered when counseling young women, who have nothing?
Instead, Rehema loved, not perfectly but obediently. In return, her obedience and endurance produced character and spoke an incredible truth into her life that she was able to share with someone who desperately needed hope (Romans 5:4-6).
So what did God teach me through my dear friend?
- Following in obedience now, even when it seems mundane and pointless is God preparing us for his service. Years of obedience on Rehema’s part equipped her to be used in mighty ways in a ministry to young women who come to us with nothing and who need the truth that Rehema has learned. (Galatians 6:9)
- Loving those who are hard to love glorifies God, and it also changes us profoundly. It turns opportunities to be overcome by bitterness and jealousy into opportunities to grow in truth and to share that with others. (1 John 4:7-8)
- It seems like such a simple commandment to love others, but loving those who are challenging to love has four huge blessings:
- It brings glory to God
- It blesses others by showing Christ-like love
- It brings joy and freedom into our own lives
- It allows opportunities to teach others from what we have learned
Grace and Peace,