By Mark Walker, Senior Pastor Seaside Vineyard, NC / Missions Leadership Team
Tabitha came into our lives in June of 2009. She wandered in on the very first day we met in our brand new effort to plant a church in the nation of South Sudan. She had spent her entire life in and around the town of Bor, but she didn’t look like she was at home. She had been abandoned and was alone. Disheveled and evidently struggling in a day-to-day existence, she was so depressed that she couldn’t look us in the eyes. Sometimes the need for healing doesn’t present itself as anything other than a desperate need for a Savior. We prayed over her for quite a while and after she and I both sensed a healing, we hugged and departed. To be honest, there was never a thought that we would have found such a sweet friend. These enriching encounters make the trips not so long.
On our next trip, just four months later, a totally different person greeted us. Her life had changed. The church had adopted her and restored her purpose and value to the beautiful caregiver she had hidden deep inside her. She had been healed. Thoroughly.
She became known as “Mama.” Her tendencies granted her that name rather quickly - to the church, because she would give of herself so continuously - to those around the church because her tender eyes and gentle spirit made her instantly trustworthy. To us because she mothered us so affectionately each and every time we returned. Cooking for us and praying over us, she served us unselfishly. And to our surprise, she would plunder our bags looking for our dirty clothes, using the ‘sniff test’ so she could hand-wash and hang them to dry.
In December 2013, civil war renewed its grip on the toddler nation and rebels ambushed the town of Bor. Hundreds lost their lives that day – including this precious lady. Tabitha was found in the doorway of her home that the men of the church had built for her. They cried when they told me they had to leave her there. It’s tragic to think that she wouldn’t have had a gathering of friends to celebrate her and cherish her with sad goodbyes – war strips those opportunities.
But we remember her. Thousands of miles away and as best as we can, we remember her. Her picture and her story now hang in our reception area as a permanent part of our church.
I can’t imagine her running in fear. Tabitha had been released from its grip. But as she had prayed so fervently for us for all those years, I can imagine her looking her killers in the eye with her godly gaze, praying for them and not having fear, but certainly causing it.
Tabitha will always be with us. She will forever be a representation of our work in South Sudan. She will be our celebration of healing and new beginning in a tough place at a terrible time.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants - folks like “Mama.”