BEAUTY INSTEAD OF ASHES ‘Bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.’ Isaiah 61:3
In February I felt that God gave me this verse for the community of Katoogo 2, alongside a picture of revival and the phrase- ‘salvation will come through weeping’. I didn’t really know what to do with this so I wrote the verse down and stuck it in the front of Katoogo 2’s folder, keeping it in my heart and watching to see how and where God would move. Last week I was reminded of these verses as in the space of a couple of days many people started turning to Jesus in this community. The first of whom was mama Aisha who had recently lost her 18 month old daughter, the second, an abused 11 year old boy with alcoholic parents, and then a woman who had lost her husband to TB just a few weeks before. I guess I’ve started to tangibly see how God can replace mourning with joy and despair with praise. Not in a superficial pick-me-up, gloss-over-it kind of way but in a deep, profound, life-changing and intimate way that only Jesus can lovingly provoke.
On the 19th of May little Aisha was fighting for her life as malnutrition had wrecked her frail body. It was hard to know God’s presence as she was going into cardiac arrest and loosing blood faster than we could give it. Holding a tube to her mouth I was desperately praying, as were hundreds, if not thousands of you across the world. Yet, on the morning of May 20th I had to tell mama Aisha that her baby daughter had just died.
Placing Aisha’s body into her wailing mama’s arms revealed mourning and loss to me in a way that I had never known before. And to be honest over the following days well meaning statements about God turning all things to good caused anger to rise within me. The situation felt too painful and too unjust to see how anything good could grow from this loss. Over the following weeks we regularly visited and prayed with mama Aisha, and it was clear that life was not easy for her. Mourning her daughter and nursing her new born baby she was also fighting sickness and several painful infections. Aisha’s father had returned, but mama was concerned about his mental and emotional state affected by his child hood of being abused and dedicated to demons.
However each week sitting in their small mud house we increasingly sensed the Holy Spirit moving and something starting to shift. We somehow felt that mama Aisha would soon come to know Jesus and were often stirred to specifically pray for her before travelling to her community.
On Thursday we discovered just how much God had been pursuing mama Aisha and revealing himself to her, as soon after we arrived she started to share her journey with us. She shared that she had been trying to go to church for several weeks, but felt that something had been stopping her. She had got dressed up and crossed the road to the church several times but then had to turn back.
She even helped her elderly neighbour to the church but couldn’t bring herself to go in. She laughed as she told us, thinking about how funny she must have seemed. However that week she heard the worship music from her bed and couldn’t help but get up to start praising God. She wasn’t sure what had come over her but she went over to the church and stayed there worshipping until the evening. The day after she had a dream about her daughter Aisha. She dreamt that Aisha came to her door wearing white with lots of people around her also in white. Aisha was holding a Bible and told her mama that she was fine and happy doing God’s work. Aisha also told her mama that she knew they were having a hard time since she died but encouraged them to stop grieving and become Christians. She told her that Jesus is Lord. Mama was emotional sharing this with us and was very happy to give her life to Jesus when we asked her if she wanted to. She now says there is no other way but Jesus and that we can call her a daughter of God. She has found His peace.
Reflecting on this earlier today I was reminded that no darkness or pain is too great, nothing is too ugly, and no one is too far away to receive God’s healing. Nothing can separate us from His love, as He did not shy away but met all of the twisted, raging evil of this world face on. He stepped right into the heart of it, and through His costly act of passionate love He can gently turn our ashes- our heaps of burnt up dirt into eternal beauty.