MALL FOR HER AGE, FATIMA, THE 8-year-old shepherd, skipped as she herded her goats in Tihama, a remote desert valley region in Yemen. Her long dress hung loosely on her hunger-ravaged body. As she tightened her scarf around her head to tame stray locks of hair, the freedom and expanse of the desert filled her heart with song.
To her right, as far away as the eye could see, Fatima spotted Mzaly village--her home. There, small boys played barefoot on the hot desert sand. Skeletal cows and goats tethered to dried tree branches huddled together hoping to shade themselves from the sun. Other village girls, like Fatima, tended livestock, learning early the responsibilities of adulthood.
Fatima can?t pinpoint exactly what happened next; after all, she was only a little girl at the time. She didn?t see the sharp thorny branch that deeply pierced the bottom of her foot, leaving a gaping wound and exposing her to a massive infection.
The searing pain brought her to her knees, and she curled up into a ball, hugging her arms around her frail body, alone and afraid. Several hours later, when the pain had subsided a little, she started crawling on her hands and knees the mile or so back to her home. Every inch was agony as she dragged her wounded foot. The setting sun brought new fears as scorpions and poisonous snakes scurried out from under rocks. Her dry mouth felt like sandpaper, and she found it hard to swallow.
Close to home, some villagers saw the child on the ground and carried her the rest of the way. Dehydrated and in and out of consciousness, Fatima deliriously tried to apologize for losing her flock. The possibility of losing the family?s livestock weighed heavily on her mind, and she prayed that the animals would be found.
As a child, Fatima prayed about everything, and often. That was 52 years ago. Today, she still prays about everything, and often.
Praying for a Miracle
On my journey to Mzaly in a four-wheel vehicle, we bounced about on the sandy dunes and rocky inclines. Occasionally I saw young boys laughing as they raced camels, seemingly without a care in the world. In the distance a young shepherd girl, old for her years, stopped to watch the vehicle, her curiosity piqued by one of the few outsiders to visit that remote region.
When we arrived at Fatima?s home, the 60-year-old struggled to catch her breath as her emaciated chest heaved with a raspy cough. She did her best to greet us as we entered her home, but years of hunger and sickness had left her weak. Sitting on a wooden bed made of tree branches and plastic sheeting, she rested her only leg on the dirt floor inside the dark room. Since her family was dead (she had never married) and she was unable to work because of her disability, Fatima had survived on scraps of food discarded by other villagers. In her society a physically challenged person isn?t worth much.
?How do you feel about that?? I asked.
?God is merciful,? she responded. I silently prayed for the same kind of trust and faith.
Telling me what happened in the desert all those years ago, she continued, ?My leg swelled up and went black. The pain was unbearable. Some neighbors cut it off to save my life.? She told how they held her down as they took off the leg. Anesthesia and medicines aren?t available in Mzaly, so one can only imagine the trauma it caused.
The dark room where that ?surgery? took place made my heart heavy. ?Since that day I get around by crawling on the floor,? she says matter-of-factly. ?I?ve spent each morning praying that God would send an angel to help me.?
Fatima?s eyes revealed that the years had not been kind to her. Decades of taunts and insults had done little to harden her heart to the suffering caused by her disability. Though her hands and one good leg were calloused, her heart remained soft and open to God?s leading. Fatima had a rich prayer life. And she knew--in the way that people of faith just know--that one day God would send help.
Angels in Work Clothes
Fatima believes that God sent an angel the day that we walked into her courtyard with a pair of crutches. There is no way she could have afforded them, nor would she have been able to get to a medical clinic that was giving them away. the journey was out of her reach. Without the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Fatima would never have walked again.
We stepped outside of her dark home into the bright light of the courtyard. The ADRA workers began to teach her how to use the crutches. She was nervous and a little embarrassed as the neighbors crowded around a rickety old fence made of branches.
A gentle desert breeze picked up, drying the tears that threatened to spill down Fatima?s face. When I looked closely at her face, I could almost see the familiar grooves of a pathway worn by decades of tears of loneliness and sorrow. Now I knew they were tears of joy and thanks.
Before taking her first steps to freedom and dignity, Fatima raised her eyes and hands to heaven in the style familiar to her faith and cried, ?Allahu Akbar!? (God is great!). I quickly cast my eyes down, somewhat shy, and I silently thanked God for letting me witness the miracle of Fatima?s rebirth. I was grateful that He had let me see His love combined with mercy as He responded to Fatima?s prayer of faith.
That day Fatima ?walked? upright for the first time in 52 years. Her dignity had been restored, and her faith had been rewarded.
Powerful, Practical Faith
For me, prayer is quiet and personal. For Fatima, prayer is something to be shared openly. God heard both of our prayers that day; I?m sure of that. I often wonder if I had been Fatima, would my faith have remained so resolute? Would I have graciously accepted the life that she has led regardless of whether God sent help? I?d like to think so. But I also know that we cannot know how we?ll truly react to a situation that we haven?t lived. What we can do is determine to go through it with Christ.
Fatima firmly believes that God sent an angel in the form of ADRA workers, but I also know that her faith would have remained strong to her dying breath even if we had never entered her village. She?s a woman of prayer. Standing in that dusty village listening to Fatima?s prayer of praise and thanks, I thought of our ADRA Angels, our prayer warriors.
Prayer is the life force that keeps ADRA?s ministry alive. When ADRA Angels kneel in prayer, their prayers provide us with the courage and strength to continue. In an increasingly dangerous world, we need prayer now more than ever before.
Questions for Reflection or for Use in Your Small Group
1. What aspect of prayer do you find hardest to understand?
2. One person prays for years, apparently without receiving any answers. Another person?s answers to prayer are like putting coins into a vending machine and pushing the buttons. In your experience, which scenario is closer to reality?
3. In your own personal prayer life, what brings you the greatest satisfaction? What do you find is the greatest challenge?
4. What are the highest priorities in your prayer life? For what do you pray on a regular basis?
Because of the prayers of ADRA Angels, I see God?s hand as we safely make it through yet another rebel checkpoint in a war zone. I see God?s personal appeal for help impact the hearts of our faithful donors as a tsunami decimates entire islands or a hurricane destroys a thriving metropolis. I hear the voice of Jesus speak through an ADRA worker as she delivers medicine to a sick child, and a worried mother is soothed. I know someone is praying when a child says, ?Without your help, I could never have gone to school!?
In my work at ADRA I couldn?t get through a single day without prayer. When I end a prayer with ?I pray all of this in the name of Jesus,? I am struck by the simplicity and power of those words. Peace comes from knowing that I stand before God covered with the cloak of Christ?s love. My shortcomings are shielded from view, and I am renewed with each prayer. And with that renewal come responsibility and faith.
ADRA workers gain strength from knowing that ADRA Angels pray daily for Jesus to guide our ministry as a whole, and our steps as we represent Him to some of the world?s most disadvantaged people. Through prayer our resources are multiplied, and we witness modern stories of loaves and fish again and again. We now have about 3,000 ADRA Angels, and we?re hoping to increase that number to 5,000. Imagine 5,000 people kneeling daily and praying for ADRA?s ministry.
Scripture tells us that angels are messengers, God?s response to human need. The words ?I will send my angel before you? are often followed by great victory and achievement. ADRA Angels help make that happen in 125 countries worldwide, aiding more than 23 million people.
As we left Mzaly, Fatima grabbed my arm and said, ?I don?t feel so alone now. Whatever God wills for a person, it will happen.? Then she walked back into her house, put her crutches to one side, and supplicated herself in prayer.
I thought about the gospel account, ?Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed? (Mark 1:35, NIV). He set time aside. He separated Himself from others and savored the moment of His commune with God.
Prayer is not something to pledge lightly. It?s something serious, something real. We rely on the prayers of our ADRA Angels. Knowing that they?re faithfully praying for us, we don?t feel quite so alone. We see answers to their prayers and ours, just like Fatima?s.
Tereza Byrne is bureau chief for marketing and development, ADRA International. To become an ADRA Angel, call 1-800-424-ADRA, or go to www.adra.org to sign up online.