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Miriam lay on her sofa, nervously stroking the bottle of poison with her thumbs. It was midday, and the sun mercilessly beat on the tin of her roof. She hung her feet over the edge of the hard couch and actively played through the events that had led her to this point of desperation.She is the third wife of a man who lay dying in a hospital bed not far away. Upon learning that he was HIV positive, the man’s first two wives beat Miriam severely, blaming her for his infection with HIV. The man’s family was so enraged that they were threatening to take most of Miriam’s possessions, including the sofa she was now lying on. She had learned that the land on which she lived was not actually hers. There was debt after debt after debt against the property.
After Miriam recovered from the beating, she went to a clinic where she learned that she, too, was HIV positive. Miriam’s exile from the community was complete as people began to distance themselves from her. She was distressed and did not want to live.
Her thumbs ran back and forth across the poison container with increasing speed and force, the bottle’s paper wrapping was coming unraveled. Miriam opened it and closed her eyes. She put back her head.
As she was about to pour the poison into her mouth, a small boy covered in dust ran into her house and told her that Mama Josephine wanted to see her so that they could pray.
Josephine Kiarii, a partner in WBC’s Heart for AIDS Initiative, was scheduled to speak at a school on the other side of her rural community. As director of the Hope for Life Center, she is an active and respected leader in the community. This day was not going well for Josephine. She was running unusually late, and when she approached her car to begin the drive across town, she discovered that her tires were flat. If she was going to make her speaking engagement, she would have to walk.
At a brisk pace, Josephine wound her way through the community and across the highway. When she was almost to the school, a woman from the community who is living with HIV stopped Josephine and asked her to pray. Josephine felt a small whisper in her heart, telling her to take the time, the school children could wait a few more minutes.
After Josephine finished praying for the woman, the woman told her of someone else in the community—someone named Miriam—who was also living with HIV and was very depressed. She asked Josephine if she could go with her and pray for Miriam. Josephine weighed her options. It was important to pray, but it was also important to speak to the school children.
Then she saw a young boy she knew. He was playing on the ground and covered in dust. Josephine told him to go to Miriam’s house and bring her so that they could pray together
It could have been as much as a year later when Jeff and Jill Walser, members of a GO Team of eight from Wheaton Bible Church came to visit Miriam. Still a bit jet-lagged from their travels, they slowly made their way with Josephine to Miriam’s house. The group from the US, in Kenya on a 14-day mission trip, was visiting the homes of those living with HIV/AIDS in order to encourage them and also to help restore some of the dignity that had been stripped away by the stigma of being HIV-positive.
Jeff and Jill entered Miriam’s home. They sat on a hard sofa and started a conversation with Miriam about all that had happened in her life. Miriam began to tell them her story; it was therapeutic for her to be able to share her story with these visitors.
She told of her husband’s sickness and death, of her struggle with HIV, and how, through her son’s involvement in Josephine’s ministry, they both had accepted Christ. Josephine sat quietly in the corner, thinking that she knew the story. Miriam continued and talked about how over the years she had become a leader in some of the HIV/AIDS care groups and that she was using her resources to help provide for others.
The conversation started to wane, and Miriam was asked what seemed like an easy question to keep the conversation going: “How did you and Josephine meet?” Miriam paused; she looked down at the ground, and then she looked Josephine directly in the eye. “I was sitting on that couch,” she said. “Everything I have told you was happening in my life, and I did not want to continuing living because of it all. I was ready to take a bottle of poison and kill myself when a young boy covered in dust ran in and told me that Josephine wanted me to come and pray.
“I hid the bottle and the note I wrote for my son, and my life began to be transformed that day.” Josephine seemed astonished. She had seen Miriam and her son come to Christ. She had walked with them through so much, and yet the details Miriam was disclosing about the poison she did not know. She had never heard this information before.
She looked Miriam in the eye and with authority asked her where the poison and suicide note currently were. Miriam slowly walked over to the wall, picked up the bottle and note from behind a picture, and handed them to Josephine. Jeff and Jill were silent, not knowing what was going to happen next.
After a period of continued conversation and prayer Jeff, Jill, and Josephine left Miriam’s house. Josephine clutched the suicide note and bottle of pills as they slowly walked away from Miriam’s house. When they got a safe distance away Josephine stopped walking and opened the letter that Miriam had written for her son. The note explained why she was going to kill herself and why she was sorry, and then, in what amounted to a plea, told her son in the final sentence of the letter, “After I die I want you to run to the church. They will take care of you and they will love you.”
Since the time when she wrote that note, Miriam has been transformed. She has accepted Christ and now is part of the church where those in distress can run! She has become a leader in her community, and shortly after the GO Team left, she took part in training called “Farming God’s Way.” That training has taught Miriam and others like her how to use some of the resources that God has given them
as a way to provide for themselves and their families.
Often we don’t get to see how God is transforming lives through the ministries we support with our prayers and gifts overseas. Sometimes, even our ministry partners, such as Josephine, don’t know the full extent of the transformation God is using them to bring about. But this time we got to see.
We got to see how God used flat tires, a small, dusty boy, the obedience of Josephine, and the efforts of a short-term mission trip to help transform Miriam’s life—how He used a simple question to help Miriam communicate the full telling of her transformation story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Misner is Pastor of Global Mobilization at Wheaton Bible Church.