There I was in a bustling Middle Eastern city, and I had somewhere I needed to go. I was busy—or, as my Syrian friends say, “buzzy.” Maybe even a little bossy.
I was getting ready for a conference for women who are leaders in their churches in Syria. Our American team was gathering soon to prepare for them. I was right to be excited—20 ladies from the U.S. would be meeting 22 ladies from a war-torn nation for five days of prayer, Bible study, leadership training, and friendship-building activities. I was to obtain a wooden cross and plenty of nails for a ceremony of confession of sin, all in a country where I spoke very little of the language and knew very few people.
Another pair of ladies was tracking down a keyboard to play for worship music. The list of specifications they carried with them was so long and precise that the shop owner asked if they were “CIA.” One trunk carried thousands of vitamins; another carried beads for bracelet-making, toys for refugee children, and supplies for giving our traumatized Syrian sisters massages and pedicures. Our team included everyone from a trauma counselor, a seminary professor, to a Mary Kay representative, and we were all to meet the next day at a site none of us had ever seen.
It was Ramadan, it was hot, and I felt pressure. My friend Grace, who lived in this city with a Christian ministry that had served the neighborhood for years, sent me down in the elevator to get going, promising to join me in a minute. She handed me a key: “Sometimes you need the key to get out. I’ll be down shortly,” she’d said.
Using the key, I got the door open to the street, no problem. But then I couldn’t get the key out of the lock. I tried and tried, but it wouldn’t even rattle. People would come by and notice me there, and make suggestions, in English or Arabic. Five or six tried, but couldn’t budge the key. They would shrug and walk away. My embarrassment and frustration were building. Then Grace appeared, and tried to help, but the key was still stuck. I started wondering how much a locksmith would cost in that country.
Just then a young Muslim couple walked up. They lived in the building and knew Grace, so they offered to help. The young man confidently grasped the key, but couldn’t do a thing. Then the young woman in her headscarf and long robe said something to Grace in Arabic. Grace smiled, and nodded, and made a reply in Arabic. Then Grace took the key and it slipped out of the lock with ease. Everyone laughed and we all went on our way.
“What did that woman say to you?” I said, mystified. “And what did you say back?”
Grace said, “She said, ‘Pray in the name of Jesus.’ And I did.”
God gave me that sweet reminder of the power of His name just when I needed it most. He knew I would need to pray many times that week for the power to solve impossible problems:
How to communicate, armed with an infant’s command of Arabic, with a couple dozen ladies who spoke very little English, with few translators around? He showed me that I could bring them cups of cold water, look at photos on our phones (“Bint—daughter. Zoj—husband. Antiya? And you?”), and offer with hand motions to go for a walk with them to the statue in the garden nearby. I can now attest that funny GIFS of squirrels and poodles can build bridges. So do stories told with henna symbols drawn on the backs of hands—all you need to do is show them John 4 in their Bibles, and “the woman at the well story” comes forth.
How to respond to some of them when they shared their feelings about some of the worst problems of their country—upheavals, persecution, shortages, proxy war? Christ came to all of us in prayer, bringing a spirit of forgiveness and humility. Our tears of confusion, fatigue, and mutual repentance were dried with sisterly hugs.
How to smooth the bitter shadows from the face of a Muslim-background woman whose town had suffered a recent chemical attack? God helped us listen as she told her story of suffering through a compassionate translator, direct her to the footsteps of Jesus in 1 Peter, and touch her face as she experimented with fresh cleansers and makeup, seeing her break into her first smile of the week. She now holds the “key” in her own hands.
Praying in the name of Jesus unlocks so many doors. What do you need to pray for in His name?
About the Author:
Leah Farish teaches college courses on law, language, and public speaking in Oklahoma. She also heads a nonprofit which encourages volunteerism. She and her husband attend Christ Presbyterian in Tulsa, when she is not working on behalf of women in North Africa or the Middle East.