After Sophie and Rebecca arrived, they spent all day driving through neighbourhoods, passing well-kept but seemingly abandoned houses. “We didn’t see a single soul, not even a man,” Sophie said. “Though we had lots of time praying for the many villages we drove through, we were a little disappointed at the end of that day because it didn’t turn into even a ‘hello’, let alone maybe time to sit with some women.”
As they headed out the next morning, Sophie suggested that they stop by the camel beauty show grounds on their way home, reasoning that some of the Bedouins would have already transported their best-looking camels to the site.
Entering the show grounds, they passed by paddocks in the car, admiring the camels. Then Sophie saw a special black herd in the distance. They drove over and stopped by the camels. The Bengali herder immediately greeted them, then, noticing a pick-up truck headed their way, he informed the women that the camel owner was coming.
“We needed to at least greet him…and not roll up the window because we’re looking at his camels,” Sophie explained.
When the owner pulled up to her car, he asked a surprising question: “Would you like to meet my mother and sisters?”
“I would love to,” Sophie responded. “I totally felt we could trust him… He was very appropriate and very polite, and I was just not wanting to let this chance go.”
Because they could not possibly sit in the cab squeezed in with the man, Sophie and Rebecca climbed into the back of the pick-up truck, bounced over three sand dunes and arrived in front of seven tents with around 30 women welcoming them.
They spent the whole day with the women inside the tents, drinking coffee, eating lunch and laughing. While they were eating, one of the women brought up how they blessed the food in Islam, which opened the door for Sophie and Rebecca to share about how they blessed the food and explain Christianity and what they believed. “I enjoyed the chance to get to know them, so then we talked about where they live, and they actually live in that area. So of course, we exchanged phone numbers, and we left later that night because we had to go back,” she said.
The next weekend, Sophie woke up without an alarm at 03:00. Realising it was the second day of the camel beauty show, she spontaneously decided to drive back to the area. She arrived at 07:00, enjoyed the early morning camel competition, and afterwards, drove over three sand dunes in hopes of finding the same spot with the tents of the women. She found them, and they cheered, amazed that she had remembered the way and returned to visit them again so soon. “I stayed overnight, and we had such a blast,” she recalled. “We had really good conversations, and they invited us to visit them at their home after the camel beauty show... It’s actually amazing to have a contact there, which involves several different families.”
“We have a passion and we have a calling to reach local people, but… sometimes it feels like it’s always this one-way street where you have to push yourself into these relationships,” she explained. “So these days when you say, OK, we’re going to get all our courage together and not visit the contacts we already know but just try to make new contacts from scratch, it’s actually the reward if you meet some.”
Sophie grew up in a Christian home but lived two doors down from her non-believing best friend’s family. “So I think I felt that I have to decide. I can’t be both,” she acknowledged.
Although she was ridiculed at times for her beliefs, “I felt like they are missing something that we have,” she shared. “They seem happy, but why do they feel the need to ridicule us for what we have? Our faith gives us love for even those who ridicule us, gives us security, joy and support during difficult decisions in life as we know we can always go to Jesus.”
Despite her firm decision to follow Jesus just before she turned 14, Sophie was equally determined to leave overseas missions to others. At age four, she gave away her favourite doll during her church’s Christmas toy drive—to be shipped to orphans in India as a way of sharing Christ’s love with them. Her mom tried to dissuade her, but Sophie told her: “If I give them something really expensive from me, I will never have to go there.”
Shocked at how Sophie had calculated her way out of missions, her mom wrote down the memory. For Sophie, the thought developed into a mindset. “I visited the Logos II as part of a school visit in 1994. Later, I went to TeenStreet and some other youth events, where it was always like, ‘Stand up if you want to do this or go there.’ I would always sit,” she remembered. “I liked missions. This is great, just not for me because I had done my part.”
Eventually, Sophie visited the OM ship Doulos when it berthed in her city. During an evening presentation, a man gave his testimony “and he basically took away all my arguments why I wasn’t fit for missions,” she said. Then he asked people who felt God was challenging them to stand up.
“I thought to myself: ‘That’s so ridiculous because I’m never going to stand up for these things,’” she shared. “Inside of me, I knew I was supposed to. It didn’t mean pack my bags and go into missions but stand up and acknowledge that there’s something going on that I need to pray about.”
The speaker waited and waited and waited. Sophie stood.
The next summer, Sophie joined the ship. She gave God two years. “Then I was on the ship for three, and when I left the ship, I already knew that I would come [to the Middle East] because we had come here on the ship, and I really felt that God was telling me to come back here,” she said.
Two long-term workers in the Arab world sailed on the ship from Sri Lanka to the Middle East while Sophie was onboard. “They really were, at least for me, able to plant the excitement of praying for the people,” she remembered.
She also met secret believers from the region who visited the ship. “I was very fascinated by what they go through for their faith and how much encouragement we could be to someone who is so disconnected from community or from other believers,” she said.
During one outing in particular, Sophie visited a workshop that matched her professional experience in Germany. The local employer offered her a job on the spot, telling her that he could only provide service to men and young children because he didn’t have any women on his team. “That was the moment where I thought: ‘Oh, I don’t have to be a nurse or a teacher to be useful overseas long-term,’” she recognised.
Indeed, Sophie’s job provides her visa and her purpose in the society she serves today. “I’m actually every day in touch with the local people,” she said. “That’s why I don’t feel my job is just a platform and taking away time from my ministry; it’s actually opening a lot of doors.”
During the coronavirus crisis, Sophie’s company reduced staff to maintain social distancing. Sophie is still employed but had to take her annual leave while the country is on lockdown. “On one hand, that is a pity, as this means I will not get to travel home this year at all… and I can’t even use the time to make visits to local people,” she shared. “But praise God for WhatsApp! …It is a good time to talk about fear versus trust, worry versus hope, facing death versus eternal life. I am thankful for this unexpected time of rest, where the speed was taken out of our lives and for the opportunity to connect via phone and social media chats with my local friends and contacts.
Published: Monday, 11 May 2020
Credit: Nicole James