It’s not always easy to make friends cross-culturally. Honestly, I can at times feel like a fish out of water, yet the friends I have made I hold dear. A few weeks ago, a dear friend and sister in Christ got married and soon after moved with her husband to Nigeria. As we anticipated Sheila’s wedding, I had time to reflect on the last five years that I’ve known Sheila – all that I’ve learned from her, all the moments we’ve spent serving together in ministry and her friendship.
My kids love Sheila, “Auntie Sheila” in our house. Very regularly, Josiah begs to stay up late to see Sheila and the other ladies who come for Monday night Bible study. Of course he does! Sheila has a heart that exudes love, compassion, humility and joy. She holds him, plays with him and is even comfortable scolding him gently when scolding is necessary. Sheila is, somehow, family to Josiah and Norah.
I remember our first year in Rwanda, meeting Sheila in cell group and getting to know her in a larger group setting. She was obviously gifted at organization and communication and was trusted with much responsibility in the group. One evening, I was driving her to visit a friend at a local hospital and I remember sharing testimonies of how we came to know and follow Jesus. I quickly found a kindred spirit in her in our similar testimonies of how from a dark place in our teenage years, Jesus called us to receive His love and work on the cross, and follow him. We also shared a desire to see young single ladies in our local Rwandan church fall in love with Jesus. Sheila was also especially accepting of me, an awkward American “missionary,” and she has at times shed light on the culture of Rwanda and the church that I wouldn’t have otherwise understood.
Early in knowing Sheila, she shared her desire to reach out the the young ladies in our church. Over three years ago, on Sheila’s initiative, we started a Bible study together to reach young women in the church. On occasion we organized other events to try to connect the older generation of women with younger ladies. The Lord truly gave her a vision for this ministry within the church, and I had the joy of trying to support her and help her see some of her ideas to fruition. I’ll miss her visionary heart and relentless faith already!
Most recently we had an overnight to connect with some young ladies from the church, have fun, fellowship and grow together. Sheila named the event, “Beautifully Messy.” We made a few messes to illustrate the point, but mostly this was one of Sheila’s last opportunities to share her heart with the girls. She shared that our God is masterful at taking our hurts and messes and turning them into something beautiful for Him – something that will bring Him glory. And as he does that redeeming and renewing work, he then calls us to reach out to those around us with the message of Christ’s love. Within her message, she also shared a lot of her own testimony of God redeeming her and calling her to trust Him and live for Him through much struggle, uncertainty and pain. I was so honored to host this girl’s overnight and to hear Sheila share from her heart.
Please pray for the young girls in our church. As Sheila leaves, pray that the Lord will raise up more young women to lead this generation to the cross of Christ. Also, please pray for Sheila as she begins this new season of life in becoming a wife and moving far from home.
Sheila, I love you and miss you already. You are absolutely beautiful in Christ!!