Gulmira was a leader among the Muslim women at the conference, and her son was one of the most severely disabled campers. She spoke up that last morning, and she shared the story of her son’s birth — how the day he was born she’d gone canoeing, and it had started to rain. She’d had to help some kids out of the water and scramble up a bank, and then she’d gone home and showered, but she didn’t realize her water had broken and she was in labor.
By the time she delivered, her son had suffered oxygen deprivation. He was born with cerebral palsy.
She said she’d never told anyone that story before. She’d never told it, because the weight of guilt had suffocated her to silence. But she wanted to tell it today, because she now understood that her son’s life was ordained by God. For the first time in twenty-five years, she carried no guilt.
Her face was radiant as she spoke, and as she concluded her story she smiled and added, “Even my breathing feels different.”
(excerpted from this previous post)
To be ethnically Kazakh is to be culturally Muslim. Islam, whether devoutly practiced or not, is interwoven into the fabric of society and an intrinsic part of their identity. In many ways, it defines them.
Before I left for Kazakhstan, I received word that about half the moms planning to attend the conference fell into this category. They were eager to participate, because they knew all kinds of fun and interesting things had been planned for them, but they also knew Christians would be hosting the event. Understandably, they arrived with a degree of guardedness.
Despite their deep appreciation for A Friend at All Times, it was obvious on that first day that these particular women were banded together and perhaps a bit wary.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. As I considered the vast cultural and philosophical chasm separating me from these women, I felt very small and inadequate and desperately unequal to the challenge before me. And rightly so. Because I am small. And inadequate. The power to reach any other soul with the truth and freedom found in Christ will never lie with me. That power is His alone. And that’s a very good thing. Because He knows every beat of every heart. His love and redemption know no bounds. He is big, and all-sufficient, and nothing or no one can hinder Him.
What looks like a wall to me is a wide-open door for Him. He has full access wherever He wants to go, and sometimes He invites us along, ushering us into places we never imagined we’d go.
That’s exactly what He did in and through Gulmira. Not only did He meet her in her own deep need, releasing her from guilt, and lifting its weight so effectively that even her breathing changed, He also gave her an urgency to spread this good news.
After Friday morning’s final session, Gulmira approached me and (through Dina) asked when I would be traveling back to the US. When I said Tuesday, she asked what my schedule looked like on Monday. Because she had a plan.
We’d all realized Gulmira was a mover and a shaker among the Muslim women at camp. What we didn’t know was the full extent of her influence. We didn’t know that she directs a government-funded center that serves families with disabled children, providing medical treatment, therapy, and a variety of life-enriching activities. She also lives in a government-donated apartment complex, fully modified and equipped to meet the needs of these particular families. Such services and facilities are practically unheard of in Kazakhstan, and from what I came to understand, there’s a waiting list that’s not exactly first come, first served. But Gulmira is smack in the big middle of it. And she wanted me to come to her center and speak to the moms they serve.
She wanted them to hear what she had heard — that their children are not cursed by God, but created with purpose and dearly loved. She wanted them to receive the comfort and affirmation she had received. To have their burdens lifted and their hearts revived.
She wanted to open wide doors that had long been barred shut to people like me, and she had the authority to do it.
Needless to say, our team adjusted our Monday plans to follow Jesus through those doors.
And He met us there. Truth was spoken. Hearts were touched. Gifts were celebrated, and joys were shared.
Guarded hearts melted before grace, and friendships were formed that will hopefully keep these doors open and this conversation alive for years to come.
The holy one, the true one, He opens doors that no one will shut. And in my mind, I always see it just like that. A door.
But lately I’m thinking about this truth in a broader sense. Because Jesus holds all kinds of keys. He opens minds. He opens hearts. He opens understanding into mysteries. And He shuts the mouths of lions and lying lips and gaping wounds.
The holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, He has full access wherever He wants to go. And sometimes He invites us along, swinging all kinds of doors wide open, and ushering us into places we never imagined we’d go.
And when we follow Him? Sometimes even the widest chasm becomes a bridge.
* * *
It’s not too late to donate to this beautiful
and worthy work in Kazakhstan.
Gifts received before September will help
cover summer projects.
Donations can be made by check or credit card.
Please send checks to:
Include a separate note indicating the gift is for
“A Friend at All Times, Kazakhstan Young Life”
This category is not available for online giving at Orphanos,
but you can give by credit card at the phone number provided above.
Any amount is greatly appreciated.
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If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.
(With all my heart.)
photos courtesy Catherine Burns