No Laughing Matter

I was awakened by laughing, raucous laughing. Could my ears be hearing right? Who was laughing? Were they laughing at the silly white woman, waking from a deep sleep, who came from far across the ocean at 40 something years of age to follow a challenge...a whisper ...a call?

How did she get here? What could she do? Was she crazy? Someone was definitely laughing, , but who?

As the bright African light shone through the window, I realized it was the birds. At first I thought it was the funny, awkward-in-flight hornbills who wobbled at take off making you wonder if they might drop on your head, but soon I discovered it was the “Ibis”. I remembered, “I, I ,Ibis”! That was the bird they chose for the letter “I” when I was working as a teacher’s aide at the elementary school in Ukiah,California! But I had never seen one. However, I had arrived in their home area and it sounded like they were mocking me.

How did I get here? Well, that’s a bit of a long story. But I will try to keep it brief.

God worked in an unexpected way in my life before He actually issued the call, or maybe I should say challenge, to go to Ethiopia. For goodness sake, I had to get out my atlas to find it! I knew it was on the African continent, but since I was never going there, it had not been crucial for me to have a more accurate or definite location.

So, God had “Africa” on the back burner. And we know God is very patient...

I will just give you a brief bio so you can get a better idea of how unlikely it was that I made the almost 24 hour trip to a downcountry place called Dilla, in Ethiopia.

I was raised in an upper middle class family in the foothills of San Bernardino. I went to school with the kids who lived by the golf course. I always had a new wardrobe when school started. My Mom saw to it that I went to “Margarita Otero’s charm school".

As I was entering junior high, my world came crashing down when we moved to Grand Terrace. There the little girl (me), who had been galloping all over the playground, grew up. I was introduced to swimming and dancing at the local country club in the summers and met my future husband in 7th grade. We began dating in 8th grade and continued to be a couple through high school, except for our sophomore year when his family moved to Texas.

I had always dreamed of going to college. No one in my family had gone to college and really no one knew how to make it happen for me. So, I got a job as a long distance operator and rented my own apartment. That was a big deal, and not a very wise deal for a young 19 year old who felt kind of lonely out there in the great big world.

Well, I will let you read between the boyfriend and I got married and began our family. We soon had a beautiful little girl, Teresa. We had wanted to get married and planned to since we were 15 years old. Now we were able to share life together. We were so happy and so in love. Each day, Jay, my husband, would go “hang drywall” , sometimes as far south as Orange County or San Diego, wherever he could find work. He was very good. Soon we had our second child, Jay III, and moved to our own little 2 bedroom in Colton, California.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but God strategically placed us there, because just around the corner was a little Southern Baptist Church that had a big heart for the lost. I didn’t think I was lost, but maybe I was. However, my husband knew he was lost!

Well, one day a white-haired 75 year old man from Texas (and from the little big-hearted church) knocked on our door and Jay answered. That was the beginning of a new life for him, for me and our children.

Jay had not committed to Christ that morning, he had only agreed to attend the church around the corner with his family on Easter Sunday. I was amazed, but elated, that my husband would do such a thing. As a child I had gone to church for a year at my grandmother’s church and loved it. I loved the songs and the singing with others. I was baptized because I wanted to follow Jesus. You see I couldn’t understand how anyone wouldn’t want to follow Him. Was this part of a wooing by His Spirit or salvation? Well, it was a definite building block for what happened next.

That Sunday, we heard the gospel so clearly. The memory is vivid of what happened next. I heard the truth and it was like the proverbial “light bulb” lighting up in my head. I believed it. My husband not only believed it , he told me he was going to go “Up” for the altar call. I asked if I could go with him. So together we went forward and God changed our lives.

Okay, now I need to speed things up.  We began to grow. I taught kindergarteners, he taught junior boys. He became a deacon, then was called into the ministry, licensed to preach and soon was off to study at California Baptist College. I started and got my ministerial training at Bible Study Fellowship.

We began our first pastorate a short time later and 10 years after our first child was born we were surprised with our third, a son, Mark. Life was wonderful. Jay graduated and took a position at a nearby church. He would go on later to finish seminary and pastor a church in northern California (Ukiah) until he went to be with Jesus. Ukiah was where God placed me for "just such a time". He was about to do something I would never have believed if you had told me.

I spent four years as a widow before I met Phil Lewis. Both of our spouses had died within months of each other, but we had never met. A mutual friend invited me to a Christmas concert she was doing with Phil’s church.

Well, to make a really long story short. God put our lives together after Phil returned from an 8 month mission trip to Ethiopia. We married 6 months later. I had always supported missions, but I had it in my head that I was a “Pastor’s wife", not a missionary. I had been studying Henry Blackaby’s book, “Experiencing God” and found every principle listed in it was at work in my life. That book, along with Oswald Chamber’s “My Utmost for HIs Highest” and “Daily Light”, was what God used to speak to my heart. I did want to go and see what my new husband’s passion for this people was all about, but surely God couldn’t want me to go there as a full time missionary, could He?

God’s word made it clear He was inviting me to get involved. The final decision came after I realized how easy it is to say that "I am a Christian and when I die I will go to Heaven". However, it takes faith to believe that. I began to realize, if I could believe God would take me to Heaven after I die, then why couldn’t I trust Him to take care of me in a foreign country? That was the last mental hurdle I needed to jump. I was tired of doing things “my way”, what I refer to as “bumping my head against a wall”. I wanted to “experience “ God's powerful work in my life.

I will never regret accepting God’s invitation to get involved with His work among our beloved Ethiopians. I saw and heard wonderful things that the Lord was doing. It was a life changing nine years. It was an adventure with God.

Phil taught Biblical Studies and I taught English to students who needed a clear understanding of our difficult language so they could understand their professors and study the theological books that were only available in English. We both gave “Chapel Talks”. I was able to use my Bible Study Fellowship homiletics and it was exhilarating to see how the Spirit worked.

I desperately cried out to God to help me create the English class curriculum and He answered in mighty ways, using “Daily Bread", an NIV Study Bible and a simple grammar book. The last time we visited I was so encouraged to hear students tell how much these classes helped them in studying for their Master’s Degrees a few years after they graduated from Dilla.

Eight young men also worked with me using “Hooked on Phonics”. It was a joy to see them grow. Most of them went on to college.

We were so blessed to visit our student’s home areas during Easter break. We traveled many miles on buses crowded with people along with the live chickens they were taking home for the feast.  There was even a goat tethered on the roof of the bus! There were so many incredible experiences, definitely out of my So Cal comfort zone. I was growing right along with my precious students. What a mighty God we serve!

In closing I would just like to encourage those who might feel timid about stepping out and following the Lord in this way. One thing I realized is that it is something that really anyone can do. If God invites you, please don’t say , “No”.

God wants you to join Him and it delights Him to show you what He can do!

It really is not a laughing matter.

By Darla Lewis, retired Missionary to Ethiopa