People slip so easily into an endless sea of faceless humanity. Their names and stories are quickly forgotten as they are reduced to mere statistics-numbers overheard on the five o’clock news and forgotten by dinner time.
That girl you see on the left? She’s a statistic.
You see, she’s just one more. One more Senegalese girl whose boyfriend was hitting her and cheating on her when I met her.
One more Senegalese girl who was convinced that she deserved it. That she wasn’t worth any more than that.
One more Senegalese girl who is trying to earn her way into heaven-and who lives her life with a gnawing, ever-growing dread that she is not good enough.
The problem with statistics is that they are comprised of individual stories. And this is Fatou’s.
Christy and I met Fatou last year, and were instantaneously struck by her soft, brown eyes and hesitant smile. She was haltingly open-speaking with surprising candor about her abusive relationship with her boyfriend, fears of one day marrying a man that she would have to share with three other wives, and an ever-growing certainty that she was going to hell. I remember a long, sun-soaked afternoon about a year ago spent sitting at my kitchen table with Miriam [whom you’ve met before] and Fatou. Miriam is a devout Muslim, and is always covered from the top of her head to her feet. Sitting beside her in stark contrast, Fatou was wearing a tank top that April day. I’m sure you’re intimately familiar with the fact that Muslim women are expected to be covered at all times-and clearly, Fatou was not. Gently, I asked her why she and Miriam were dressed so differently.
In a moment of mind-numbing, blunt honestly, that sweet girl looked at me and shrugged her frail shoulders sadly. “If there really is a heaven and there really is a hell, I know I’m going to hell. I can’t be good enough-why would I try?”
Fatou had simply surrendered in a hopeless fight she somehow knew she could only lose. Somehow she understood that one day when she stands before God, she won’t be “good” enough for Him to accept her.
Christy and I shared the gospel with Fatou countless times last year-coming at it from every angle we could think of. I remember the evening that she turned to me and said, “You have such a good heart. I want Jesus to clean my heart too, so it can be like yours.”
Here’s the thing about Fatou. She believes the gospel-all of it. She believes that the Bible is true-that she can never be good enough for God to accept her, but that He loves her so intensely that He sent Jesus to be good on her behalf, and to absorb the punishment for her sins so that she could be reconciled to God.
So what gives?
Fatou was raised by her grandmother-a Muslim woman who vehemently threatens that should Fatou ever decide to follow Jesus, she will curse her and expel her from the family. She is afraid that even after her grandmother is dead, if she chooses Jesus, “her spirit will curse her”. Something in Fatou’s broken heart has resonated with the irrational love of Jesus-but right now, that longing is not enough to cause her to walk away from her family.
Thus, Fatou is crippled by the paralyzing terror that comes with knowing that she stands to lose everything that is familiar to her if she chooses Jesus, and a certainty that there is no hope if she does not.
A thinly veiled ache emanates from her soft, hopeless eyes that seem desperate for more. Several weeks ago, Fatou commented to Michelle “I just want to follow someone that will give me something to believe in!” And given that she feels like she cannot follow Jesus, she’s been looking to different cult leaders [known as Marabouts] within Islam in Senegal.
She visited the house of one such man last week to participate in a dark ritual making her one of his followers. After eating dinner, followers are asked to verbally give the Marabout their soul, and then to physically bow down to him.
Fatou later commented that immediately after she repeated the ritual vow, she felt sick. Somehow, she knew that she could not give a mere man her soul-”because God created it”. And when asked to bow down to the Marabout, that sweet, feisty Muslim girl snapped, “my heart refused”.
Fatou’s mom died three weeks ago. In an animistic twist to the folk-Islam Fatou follows, she believes that her mother’s spirit wanders the earth for forty days after her death-and even feels the unspeakable pain of her own body slowly decaying in the ground. Feeling the weight of her dead mother’s soul on her painfully inadequate shoulders, Fatou has spent hours every day tearfully begging Allah to accept her Mother into Paradise.
Fatou is torn between what she knows to be true-and the demands of her family. Her search for something-anything that might replace Jesus within Islam is proving absolutely futile-the other day in a bout of frustration, she exclaimed “I don’t understand! Why don’t all Muslims follow the teachings of Jesus!?”
Christy didn’t have a good answer for that one. :)
Fatou is studying the Bible with us every Tuesday morning, and has determined to ask her Grandmother why she doesn’t follow Jesus.
To the Western mind, this might sound simple. You believe-just follow Jesus. But consider for a moment the simple fact you and I probably don’t understand what the gospel costs the way that Fatou does. Jesus demands every piece of our lives from each of us-Fatou understands this in a painfully tangible way. The gospel has not been cheapened for her the way it can be for those of us in the Western world that will only ever experience a shadow of the “cost” to following Jesus that Fatou will. And Fatou has yet to understand that the cost is worth the reward.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him… -Phil 3: 7-9a
If you would, pray with me that this becomes her story. That she would indeed consider every other piece of her life insignificant next to knowing Jesus-and that she would find herself in Him. To Jesus, she is not “just one more”. Fatou is treasured by God Himself.
And He knows her name and story.