Who through faith... enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:33-34
The above passage is describing mighty heroes of the faith from the Old Testament. Yet to me it could just as well describe the women of southern Africa. Over the past few weeks I've been richly blessed to be allowed to do in-depth interviews with 35 South African women from various communities. The trust they gave me in sharing their most painful memories, hard stories, and ultimate victories in Jesus is something I cherish. I love each and every one of them deeply; we have all grown together over these past few years as we've studied God's Word together in depth. However, these hours and hours of interviews were also one of the most difficult times I've ever faced. As a professional social worker and counselor for many years, I have heard many stories of hard lives. But what these women, and the 65+ women I interviewed in Swaziland in past years, have faced in their lives boggles my mind. Almost all have faced racial oppression, physical/verbal/sexual abuse, hunger and poverty, untimely death of at least one loved one (and usually more) due to violence or disease, sexual discrimination, poor medical care, lack of education though desperately wanting it, single motherhood, political violence, and hard physical labor for inhumanely little pay or as virtual slaves. By the end of each day I was ready to quit, feeling I couldn't face another day of interviews. Story after brutal story was almost more than I could bear. I kept going only through God's grace, my husband's tender loving care, and the encouragement from the women themselves, who said they really wanted their stories to be told, and not forgotten. Most of all, I pressed on because of admiration for these African sisters of mine. In spite of multiple blows throughout their lives, they pick up the pieces, and endure. They are strong and work hard. They have forgiven. They serve others. They have joy, and praise the Lord with a passion. Their hope is in Jesus. They are MY heroes.