One afternoon I was sitting with two beautiful young women at an orphanage in Ethiopia. They were trying to teach me their language, Amharic. They were quite amused that I had absolutely no ability to replicate the sounds of their language. One of the translators was nearby, and so I called her over to help me steer the conversation away from myself to them. (I can only take so much teasing, even in a foreign language!) “What is your story?” I asked them.
Tears formed in one girl’s eyes. “I have no story,” she answered. The other girl also began to tear up. In her broken English, she explained: “We have no mothers or fathers, so we have no stories to tell.” I knew that they did in fact have a story to tell about their lives, but I also understood what their responses meant. Because their lives were filled with sadness, because they felt unloved, because they had been rejected, they felt their stories were not worthy of telling. Holding back my own tears was no easy task. “Your stories are not yet over,” I said. “God has a plan for your lives.” I spoke a little more about God’s love for them and I hoped they heard my meaning. And while I knew my words were true, even to my own ears, they sounded insufficient for my intent. Had I communicated to them that they had worth and value? Had I communicated that they each had a story that was not yet fully written? Had I communicated that I was interested in their lives?
Two days later I learned that one of my sweet new friends had asked to speak to me some more. We arranged a phone conversation. “I want to tell you my story,” she began. This time I couldn’t hold back the tears. She shared about her life and abandonment, and I listened. She asked me to remember her, and she thanked me for showing her love. Once again I reminded her of her worth in God’s eyes, and I assured her we would stay in touch and I would never forget her. Gratefully, with the help of a wonderful bilingual Ethiopian woman who works for our church in Addis Ababa, we have already begun our communication.
We all have a past that is filled with individual events that make up our life story. Those past events—pleasant or unpleasant— are worth sharing because they help explain our character, and they may evoke compassion as well as communicate our needs. Yet they are not meant to be a conclusion. I have wanted to communicate to my young Ethiopian friends that God wants to join us in our stories going forward. He is THE Author, if we hand Him the pen. He wants to use our past events and give us a future story filled with hope, joy, and trust in Him. He actually wants to be the lead character in our stories.
Consider the Samaritan women with whom Jesus spoke as recorded in John’s Gospel. Before meeting Jesus, she went alone to the well during the heat of the day to avoid encounters with anyone, lest they remind her of her past which was filled with heartache and shame. After learning that Jesus was the Messiah who had come to give her living water, she “left her water jar and went away into town.” There she invited the people to come see Christ, and “many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:29-39). She had begun an amazing new chapter in her story. “Testimony” is simply the Bible’s word for “story.” Meeting Jesus and recognizing Him as the Messiah, had given her a new purpose that was far greater than gathering water at the well. This is what I have hoped to communicate to my young friend. Her story is not yet over. Together, she and the Lord can have so much more to tell.
As Christians, we will all continue to write our stories about what Christ is doing in our lives. Do we recognize them? Do we share them? Someone may need to hear your story. Sometimes He uses our past pain, and suffering to help others currently living in similar circumstances. God has given us unique stories for unique purposes. Every story is worth telling. Every story is worth listening to.
"Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." Mark 5:19