In a few days I will be on an airplane heading to Kigali, Rwanda. We will be staying at a Youth for Christ facility that is so alive with the presence of Jesus. This is my third time travelling to this country and I know I go back to visit the piece of my heart I left the first time I went. There is a group of women at YFC who have called themselves the Blessed Ones–they feel blessed because God has provided for them and their families. They are widows and women with HIV/AIDS who had no way to support themselves but the Director of this facility gathered them out of the slums and they have learned to support themselves and their families by sewing and jewelry. They have bible studies together and have learned about Jesus. Most have accepted Him as Savior, though some have not, but we love on them all. Being around them fills me with joy. We really have so much in common—we are all broken women healed by Jesus. Our time together is filled with fun and laughter, hugs and tears, shared activities, and hearts filled with love for God and each other.
This time I’ve been asked to stand before them and give my testimony. There will be a translator there to tell them what I’ve said because my Kinyarwanda is not very good. In Acts 22, Paul had no such hindrance as he spoke to the gathered Jews in their own language.
1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Paul begins to give his testimony. The crowd is silent as they listen to him share his encounter with Jesus and how he changed Paul’s life.
Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.
14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’
19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr[a] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
I know when I give my testimony it will not be met with the same reaction that Paul faced from the angry crowd. People react to Jesus. They either love him or want to kill him. Because we associate with him, we can get a similar reaction from people.
We are blessed here in the United States. We are not treated brutally for sharing about Jesus but that is not so in all countries. We read about all the times Paul was beaten and put into jail for going from city to city proclaiming Jesus and all that he did. We think that only happens in the bible, but Christians are persecuted today for their belief in Jesus—even more so as the end times draw near.
My encounter with Jesus was not anything as dramatic as Paul’s, but it was just as transforming. In his first speech to the Jews in the synagogue, Jesus told them he came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners, comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (taken from Isaiah 61:1-3). When I tell them my story, that is what I intend to share—the impact of those words on my life. I could make a checklist of those promises: did He bring me good news? Check. Did He bind up my broken heart? Check. Did he clothe me with a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair? Check. Did he bestow on me a crown of beauty instead of ashes? Check. Check.
To the outward eye, these women may look different than me. But in our inner person, we are sisters in Christ. We have been through trials and overcome them by the love of Jesus. His presence in our lives has given us value beyond what the world says. The last time we went, I got to hear some of their stories of how He changed their lives. I can’t wait to tell them mine.
Lord, I thank you for changed lives. I thank you that I can go halfway around the world and have something in common with other women. You have given us a connection through Jesus. May we sing His praises in whatever language we speak. It all sounds like a choir to You! In His name, Amen