Written by Jonathan Partee
For the past year and a half, we have been requesting intercessory prayers for our work here in Ethiopia. We have asked for prayers for our health, our safety, and our ministry. We have requested prayers for the health and salvation of those here who do not know the Gospel message. We have petitioned for prayers for the poor and destitute who constitute such a large proportion of the population. However, for our February prayer letter, I would like to mention a prayer of mine–a thanks to God for the Valentine He gave me.
My blonde Valentine does not look big and tough, but she has a tenacity and a strength that belies her size. For successful cross-cultural adjustment, one needs a positive outlook, a sense of humor, flexibility, and fearlessness. Sara has proven herself to have a giant’s portion of each of these. Maureen, the academic dean of the Evangelical Theological College where Sara teaches, offered this evaluation of my Valentine: “Do not be fooled by her bookish exterior. Underneath that surface lies the strength of a bush woman. Whatever she needs to face, she will take it on and run it over.”
As a male, I can travel around Addis Ababa with minimal problems. However, Sara, because of her gender, golden hair, and fair skin, is hassled by scammers looking for money or the insane looking for a focus. Thankfully now she has a car, but before she often, and fearlessly, travelled by herself across the capital city using public transportation. In the past year, my Valentine has been slugged on the street, eaten raw potatoes and goat under the African sky, driven through swollen rivers, ministered to big, blue-black Uduk women, drunk milk flavored by ash (and worse), slept in a tent surrounded by wild animals, and much more. My Valentine holds the “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” showering record, having shared a shower with five cockroaches, four beetles, three toads, two spiders, and almost one chicken. (I must admit that I was the one trying to chase the chicken into the shower because I thought Sara needed some excitement in her life.)
My Valentine, while camping, has waked up to the sound of flexing sheet metal and looked out of the tent to see our Toyota Land Cruiser covered with mean, big, brown baboons. We tried to scare them away, but they were not in the least scared of us. They eventually moved on but not before chewing on the weather-stripping on the right side of the car and bending the front license plate. My Valentine hardly mentioned what could be construed as a traumatic event, although later she asked me not to put her travel bag on top of the spare tire since she had seen how many monkey butts had been on it.
On the same trip, we encountered some cute little monkeys with white muttonchops on their faces. They were playing in the trees while we were preparing our New Year’s dinner. I had walked a short distance away from the camp to drain some canned corn when Sara called out to me. I ran back to camp to find her trying to scare the monkeys off the table. They had dropped down from the trees and were preparing to eat our dinner. My guess is that few other Valentines ever had to beat monkeys off their New Year’s feast.
My Valentine has travelled more hot, sweaty, jarring Ethiopian bus miles this year than any other member of the Sudan Interior Mission, including me. She has endured strange illnesses, numerous encounters with food poisoning and abundant parasitic insects. She has travelled within spitting distance of the war-torn borders of Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.
My Valentine lives in a one-room apartment with barely adequate bathroom and kitchen facilities. On many occasions, she has gone without water and electricity. Her drains do not work, the stove provides only lukewarm heat and her “curtains” are bed sheets and beach towels. Her shower is a basin only one inch deep surrounded by a duct taped piece of plastic–so a flooded bathroom is a common occurrence. Sara has taken all these problems in full stride–situations that would have sent many people packing for home.
Nevertheless, when our Ethiopian friends tell us about the most important witness our lives are making, I always hope they will mention my professorship at Addis Ababa University. Or perhaps Sara’s teaching at the Theological College. Maybe it could be the Bible studies we host in our apartment or our Sunday School class. However, without fail, the Ethiopians tell us that the most important witness to our sincere enjoyment and positive attitude toward the people and culture of Ethiopia is Sara’s smile.
My Valentine is married to a guy who, right out of university, headed off with her to the Horn of Africa. He is 31 years old, earns less that $4,500 a year, has no house, no 401 (k), and only a 15-year old, rusty Honda to call his own. Sara is his wonder and his blessing.
“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” Proverbs 31: 29-31
Happy Valentine’s Day, Sara
And all my Love