Five pairs of eyes watched us in silence. Five daughters half-hidden in the furtive darkness of the ramshackle bamboo hut. Probably they had never seen foreigners before. Probably our clipped, studied pronunciation of the national language was to them an alien tongue. Curious– suspicious, they peeked out from behind a beam separating the guest area from the sleeping space in their home. Separated from us by a far greater distance than wood and shadow could show.
Our journey had begun that morning, when we embarked on a four-day motorbike ‘faith journey’, with only the bare bones of a route sketched out, and even less of a plan of where we would eat or stay the night. We had turned off the main road onto a bumpy dirt track which would eventually taper alarmingly round the edge of a mountain. Having just nearly crashed the bike in a rocky quagmire, I felt like I had already learned enough faith for one day.
Then the tropical downpour began. After miles of jungle, we suddenly emerged into the edge of a small village, where we rushed for shelter under the eaves of the first shack we came to. As we pulled in, the man of the house returned from foraging in the woods. He looked at us with surprise but invited us in, offering dried-out day-old rice: all he had.
While we ate he began to pour out his heart, telling us of his poverty, his anxieties for the future, the sickness that prevents him from working in the rice-fields and forces his wife to face the daily labour alone. Finally he shared his terrible fear that one day, when his five daughters grow up and get married—and ‘ownership’ of them transfers from parents to husbands—he will have no son to look after him, in life and in death: as an aging father needing care then as a dead ancestor demanding offerings.
His fear was real. His ethnic group are deeply enslaved to spirits, and conservative in their views on the value of women. Yet he loved his daughters. He cradled one gently in his arms and spoke softly to them all. He was not ashamed of them; only of his own failure to produce a son.
Before we left to continue our journey, I asked if I could say a blessing over him in the name of the mighty Lord Jesus who makes impossible possible. The One who has Himself walked the road of suffering and grief, who brings hope to the downhearted and love to the unloved.
“Oh! This Jesus, I’ve heard about Him before.” The man’s eyes had lit up, his voice animated. “It sounds like a good story. I’d like a book about Him so I can read it for myself.”
This may be the only interaction I ever have with this lonely father. He represents one person among millions, one ethnic minority among hundreds. Yet we were brought together to hear something of each other’s stories; to accompany and encourage one another on our journeys of faith. The short-lived downpour and unexpected welcome provided a glimpse of God’s ongoing interactions with us. A reminder that He paves His way—and makes His home—in isolated, forgotten corners; among downtrodden, destitute people; in lost and longing hearts.
Clara is a long-term Interserve Partner, living and working in South East Asia.
Name has been changed.
Overcoming fear and intolerance by working together
What better way to understand someone than to work alongside them? This gift helps run a business that intentionally employs people from two very different faith groups, who typically avoid any meaningful interaction. This business is creating a work environment and culture to address hostility and foster respect and understanding. And it all provides training and generates livelihoods for those from poor and marginalised backgrounds to support their families. By simultaneously combatting poverty and intolerance, this gift is sowing the seeds of lasting peace.