While hiring household help could seem extravagant in western contexts, in North Africa, hiring a cleaning lady makes a lot of sense, Bethany said. Close proximity to desert dryness creates incessant dust, difficult to diffuse with a simple broom. Cleaning ladies have the right tools and free up time and energy for foreigners focusing on outreach ministry.
Hiring local ladies also shows compassion and love. “It’s a way of giving an income to someone who wouldn’t necessarily have an income,” Bethany explained. “The other reason is if you have someone in your house every week, you’re able to live your life out in front of them, and you’re able to share with them in a way you wouldn’t do with other people.”
Bethany’s cleaning ladies, like many lower class women in this North African country, are illiterate. In her experience, “they don’t respond well to theology, they didn’t study, they don’t know a lot about Islam.” Therefore, personal interactions carry more weight. “They respond a lot to what they see and to kindness.”
When asked how Sana*, the mother who first cleaned Bethany’s flat, came to faith, Bethany said her journey to Christ was gradual. Bethany, along with other Christian women whose houses Sana cleaned, shared consistently when she came and prayed with her every time she showed up to work.
Another experience that Sana includes in her testimony occurred when one of her sons got married. The family planned a rooftop ceremony but worried that rain would interfere with the event. During the preparations, Sana called her sister, also a believer, and her oldest daughter, Aisha*, into a room.
“We have to pray,” she told them. Together, the three women prayed to Jesus that the rain would hold off until after the wedding. Soon after, the bride arrived, the women served the food and the ceremony took place. As soon as the last guest left, it started to rain.
“These kind of things are very powerful for North Africans,” Bethany said. “When something physical happens like that after they’ve prayed to God, it makes their faith grow enormously. There are a lot of situations where they’ve experienced God and say, ‘Oh yeah, He’s answering our prayer.’”
Sana and her sister are now both believers. Bethany said she’s studied the Biblical prophets and New Testament with the women. They have also watched the Jesus film multiple times. In fact, Sana’s husband, a religious Muslim, has also seen the movie.
Aisha, who began cleaning for Bethany after the work became too much for Sana, has also spent time praying and sharing with Bethany over the last years.
“We pray every week, and she shares all her issues,” Bethany said. “I’m not sure where she is in her heart. There are some aspects of Islam that she seems into.”
Sometimes, when Aisha has an especially poignant problem, she asks Bethany to pray, admitting, “If I pray, I’ll cry.”
Recently, Aisha arrived to clean the apartment, and Bethany was struggling with some of her own circumstances. “I was very very upset about something,” she remembered. “When we sat down to pray, I started to pray, but I couldn’t pray. I just started crying.” Instead, Aisha “prayed the most beautiful, moving prayer, given my situation,” Bethany said. “Her heart’s warm to God, I’m sure.”
Sana and her sister’s faith has impacted their family. When the sisters were baptized, other family members who had not made decisions for Christ came to the service. “The fact that they’re Christians is not hidden from the sympathetic side of the family.”
However, the women lack consistent fellowship and still fear negative reactions from their husbands and grown sons. “It’s very hard for them to feed themselves [spiritually],” Bethany said.
“I used to have a small ladies fellowship with some ladies from this family,” Bethany noted. But sickness in the family and personal limitations have prevented meetings outside her apartment for the last couple years. “They need fellowship and discipleship… Apart from praying with other Christians, they don’t get regular teaching.”
Pray that Bethany would find ways to encourage the women in this family and provide the needed fellowship and discipleship. Pray that these women would be bold in sharing with other families and not let limitations imposed by their illiteracy hinder them from telling others about Jesus.
Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher, and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.
Credit: Nicole James · © 2016 OM International