Her eyes are set deep, dry leathery skin wrinkles out from them in every direction, as I look closer I can almost feel as though each line across her face tells a story of pain, of suffering, of struggle beyond what I am able to understand. Hawa moves her hand across her face and wipes away tears, then rubs them onto the flowery pattern on her skirt.
“Praise Him” She says, with a warm smile fighting it’s way through the tears. “He is to be praised for what he has done in my life.”
I want to rip her words up and throw them on the pale food stained carpet beneath our feet. Praise Him? How can she praise God at a time like this, how can she even think of thanking God for anything when all of these terrible things have come to her?
“You don’t have to continue if this is too hard for you” I say, leaning in closer to her while looking deep into her eyes.
She says something to Nasrawit our translator who then relates it to me. “She says that this is important, and that she wants everyone to know the story of how God has never stopped looking after her.”
“Ok,” I say, looking back to the nearly illegible scribbles on the tear stained notebook in my hands. “Tell her that she can take time if she needs to rest.”
It started an hour ago, the three of us sat down in this room drenched with hot Ethiopian afternoon sun and my heart has not stopped pounding in my chest since we began. I want to scream and shout, I want to go back in time and rescue her from the terrible things that have happened, I want to protect her, and yet for some reason at the end of every new and harrowing story she ends with the same words.
“Praise Him. ”
I asked for this, I wanted Hawa to tell me her story so that I could share it with you here, but as she goes further I feel as though this story will change me forever.
“My faith is to small” I think to myself as I try to keep up with the heart wrenching details of the story that are being translated into English for me.
Hawa left home when she was only 12 years old, after nearly two years of telling her parents that she wanted to attend school, only to be told “no” time and time again she decided to take things into her own hands.
“I could see that my father would never allow me to go to school, so I ran away.”
The problem was Hawa’s father was the town witch doctor, and just as he had promised, he put a curse on her after she left, immediately Hawa started to get sick, and after arriving in Addis Ababa at the home of a distant relative her condition only got worse. She was taken to the hospital but was told that the doctors could not figure out what was wrong with her and so she was sent home with orders to rest.
“I had not even started school” Hawa said, with her eyes turned towards the ground, “and the exact thing that my father promised was already happening to me.”
“If you disobey me you will become sick,” Her father had told her, “and attending school is strictly forbidden.”
“It was then that God showed himself to me for the first time,” Hawa said, “And He has never let me down since. A Christian woman lived next door to the home that I was staying in, and one day when everyone else was gone she came over and asked if she could pray for me, she said that God had told her that He wanted to heal me.”
Hawa having never heard before of Jesus or God agreed to let this woman pray for her.
“By the end of the day I was completely healed, everything that was wrong with me went away and right then I knew that I had to learn more about this God who the woman was talking about.”
A few days later Hawa went to church for the first time, and gave her heart to Christ, a short time after that Hawa moved in with the woman from next door, and lived there for many years while attending school.
“I was only twelve, but God showed Himself to me and changed my life forever” Hawa says, with a big smile wrapping from ear to ear that pushes the deep set lines in her face upward.
“Praise Him” She adds. “Praise Him”
“Can you ask her to tell me if she ever heard from her family out in the village?” I say, and after a few moments for the translation Hawa starts in again.
“When I was 16 I decided that I wanted to go visit my family, I thought that if God was so powerful and real to me in my life, that I could show them what he had done for me, and he would help them as well, but when I arrived back in the village my family would not even talk with me. My father told everyone that they were not allowed to even look at me, and that I was no longer his daughter any more, and so I lived on the street for a year while I tried to find work. “
Nasrawit pauses for a moment to let me catch up and when I finally stop writing and look up at her she continues to relay the story that Hawa is telling to her.
“After that first year I found a man who offered to allow me to live in back of his home if I would cook and clean for him, I was so desperate to not live on the street any more that I agreed to the job. But I quickly found out that he was not a nice man, and one night he grabbed me and raped me. I did not want him to touch me, and I screamed but no one could hear me, and so I was not able to stop him.”
Hawa stops, the emotions are flowing faster than she can control and her hand grips tightly to the bamboo arm of the chair, almost as if she can’t bear to relive these awful moments in her life.
“Please tell her that she does not have to keep going” I say again, but Hawa continues, she understands enough English to know what I am saying. “I want to” She says, as she looks at me with tear soaked eyes.
“I became pregnant from what he did to me, and I tried to tell people what had happened but the man denied it, he said that I was a liar. I could not work for him any longer because I had blamed him of this crime, and so I moved back onto the street where I gave birth to a baby boy.
I lived on the street and worked as many small jobs as I could, at times I was able to keep steady work at a construction site hauling rocks, they paid me 10 birr (around $.50 Cents) for 12 hours of work, it was enough to buy a little food for me and my son. We moved from place to place, often getting told to leave one area or another, but we never had a real roof over our heads. As the baby grew I began to love him more, I started to be able to see him and not think about what the man had done to me that night, no matter how it happened, he was still my son and I loved him very much. I wanted to do the best I could to take care of him. But I was failing.
I worked for ten years in my village, living on the street with my son the entire time, I never made enough money to send him to school or to rent a home, but God watched over me and my small family, we survived despite the hardest circumstances. I always wanted to be a mother of many children, I always wanted to have a big family and to take care of kids, yet here I was living on the street raising my one and only child”
I lean back in my chair, try to stretch the cramp out of my fingers from writing, and my eyes fall onto the face of the woman before me, I try to consider the hardship, the sleepless cold nights on the street, the desperation of not being able to afford more than a little food each day.
“Praise Him” She adds, almost as if she can read my mind, as if she can tell that the most unbelievable part of this story needs to be repeated before I can believe it. Before me is a woman who has seen the worst this world has to offer, has felt the pain of her family disowning her, endured the shame of becoming pregnant out of wedlock and knowing herself what truly had happened. And yet she sits before me and keeps repeating two simple words.
“One day I woke up, looked around at the terrible place where my son and I were living, I had not had work in several weeks, and we were planning to spend the day out on the street begging for food. I looked at my son, the beautiful smile across his face, the way he looked up at me and I could almost feel him asking me if this was truly all there was in this world. I decided then and there that I was going to tell God that I wanted something different, and so for many days I went to church every day to pray, I begged God, I asked him to change things.
I want to do more for you! She cried out, pleading with God to take her out of this terrible place where she lived and to use her for good.
I still want to be a mother! She added, I feel that I have more love than this to share, but here I am in this terrible place, and only you God can change this.
After several days of begging God for all this I finally had an answer, I felt that he told me that I was supposed to call the man who had raped me, I did not know why but God was telling me that I needed to call him.
It took me a few days to find out how to get a hold of him, finally I was able to get someone in his family to tell me where he lived and to give me his number.
When I finally got up the guts to call him I almost hung up as the phone rang. I thought I was crazy for doing this! He answered the phone and right away it was almost as if he had been waiting for my call. He said, “I have been wanting to talk with you for many months. I am a Christian now, and wanted to tell you that I am sorry for what I did.”
Hawa is nearly crumpled on the floor in tears as she tries to get through this part, her breathing is rapid and I resist the urge to reach out and wrap my arms around her.
“We talked for a very long time and he kept telling me over and over again, I am so sorry for what I did, I wish I could go back and stop all that from ever happening, but now that I know where you are I want to meet my son, I want to be a part of his life, I want to tell him that I am sorry, I want to be his father.”
The last word almost chokes in her mouth as she says it, like she can still not believe her own ability to forgive him, like she can’t understand the bigness of God, and the beauty of redemption that has come into her life after all these years.
“I moved to Addis so that my son could get to know his father, but I still did not have work, and although he gave us a little money each month to help me with our son, I had to find something to provide for us, at this point I felt that God was moving inside me, and I prayed again for several weeks. I went to church each day and begged God for another breakthrough, this was great for my son to know his father but we still needed something else or we would not be able to survive.
It only took a short time before my prayers were answered, a woman called me who was a friend of the same woman who had helped me back when I was a child, the one who I moved in with when I was only twelve years old and was sick from the curse that my father had placed on me. She gave me great news, she told me of a new organization that was looking for strong Christian women who could be a mother to children who were orphans.
I could not believe how perfect it was! Not only would this be an answer to prayer for our daily needs, but I would get to be a mother as well! I quickly called and set up an appointment with the staff at this new organization and was told that they were willing to hire me and start my training right away!”
Of coarse you can guess the rest of the story here, Hawa is now one of our mothers here at Bring Love In, she has six children who she calls her own, her faith is stronger than ever and when she says ‘Praise Him’, she is able to thank God for what he is doing now, not just what he has promised her as in the past.
Hawa is an answer to prayer, but more than that I pray that her story becomes an anthem that we sing, her faith in God becomes an example that we follow, and that our voices would gather together and say, Praise Him! Right here in the middle of what we are facing.
I am reminded of what Paul wrote in Romans 8, how he spoke of the birth pains that this life would be full of, and the hope that we have in Him, then I love how he hits with this powerful question; “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!”
This verse does not promise that we will not suffer, or see hardship in our lives, but rather that we have the power through God to conquer, and the that none of it will separate us from him! Hawa not only endured but through it all she praised God!
Praise Him! Praise Him! Praise Him!
I nearly stumbled out of the room that afternoon, forever changed by the faith that Hawa has in God, unable to get her story out of my head I have begun to ask God each day, “Teach me real faith like Hawa has, teach me to praise you in the middle of my life no matter what the circumstances are” I am far from understanding what this will look like, but I know enough of what I saw in her that it has me gripping tight to the One who can change me from the inside.