On a recent trip to Nepal with a work team from Bethel Church in Indiana, we studied the book of Philippians during team devotions. We all keyed in on the verses from Chapter 2 where Paul admonishes us to imitate Christ’s humility. He says beginning in verse 3 “… in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Later he says that Christ “… made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Despite the lively discussion on the passage, we had no idea of the living lesson that was in store for us.
As HCJB Global Asia Pacific Regional Director Ty Stakes strummed worship songs on a small travel guitar, we all joined in to sing praises to our God. I couldn’t help but watch Mahima who, even though she knew hardly any English, would join in 100%. Her face would light up, her hands raised in joy, and I knew her heart was pouring out praises to her Savior.
Several of the local Christians, only about eight or 10 of them total in this mostly-Hindu village, would sit with us as we read the word together each morning. We’d bounce worship songs back and forth, one in Nepali and the next in English. But Mahima most of all seemed to revel in the fellowship. Her whole posture was joyous and her smiles lit up her face and radiated into the space around her. Seeing her smile was like a strong cup of coffee on a jetlagged morning—both of which the team sorely needed.
Later in the week more of her story emerged. She had paid dearly for professing her faith in Jesus. When she became a Christian her husband and oldest son both shunned her completely. She was forced to leave home and find ways to care for her young son on her own. Fellow Christians helped her out when they could. So when our work team showed up, effectively doubling the number of Christians in the small village, Mahima was hired to help take care of us. She washed dishes, fetched wood and served our team in countless unseen ways. “Taking the very nature of a servant” with a joy that could come only as fruit from the Spirit of Christ in her. Mahima is living for something much greater than the suffering this world has brought her.
It is one thing to read stories about Christian brothers and sisters that are persecuted for their faith. It is much more powerful to see it face to face. It is yet again exponentially more humbling to have that saint wash your dishes and scrub the outhouse. I should have been washing her feet. I should have been listening to the lessons she could teach me. I should have been trumpeting her amazing faith both near and far.
But I got the sense she really wouldn’t have liked all the fuss. In all honesty, Mahima was joyful and smiling because she knows Jesus is much more valuable than anything she lost. It’s not that she doesn’t feel the struggles and pain that have come her way because of her faith, but rather that she feels the rewards that much more poignantly. When our Christian walk isn’t even a minor inconvenience to us it is less noticeable, unfocused. Faith that is challenged is stronger. And Mahima had it in bucket loads.
Don’t we typically want big faith without paying for it? I don’t want the struggles or the persecution that wring that kind of faith out of my heart with a painful twist. But the bible shows again and again that God uses struggles and persecution to nurture strong faith. I’m a weakling in comparison to Mahima.
I can still remember her tears as the work team boarded the bus to leave the village. She wept openly and clasped the men’s hands one by one to say goodbye, hugging the women team members fiercely. Her last act of service to me is the lasting memory of her fearless faith and hunger for Christian fellowship despite the persecution. Philippians 1: 29: For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. (NIV)