An Unspeakable Joy (Guest Post)

image1 image2An Unspeakable Joy

By: Janelle Keith

When first meeting Claire (October 2015) in South Africa, she was telling me of a group of ladies she had met at the local dump. She explains her introduction to them in this post ( ). It was from this initial experience she was moved to love on them and teach them about Jesus. My heart leapt with excitement when she told me about this group.

Our team was there to do children’s ministry and light construction work at some local care centers. After sharing the vision and how the Lord had prompted Claire to start a women’s ministry, I couldn’t help but interrupt her story to ask if I could meet them too. It surprised her to think I want to go with her.

A few days later Claire took me to meet the ladies for the first time. It was wonderful to have opportunity to share a short testimony of how God had gotten my husband and me through a difficult time with cancer many years ago. They sat listening to God’s faithfulness translated in their language. I’ll never forget the peace I saw rest on their faces. There were some tender moments as the power of God’s healing came to life in our small circle sitting under a barren African shade tree.

I stayed behind an extra week that trip while the American team returned home. Claire invited me back the following week to speak encouragement to the ladies. I shared how it was important to connect your identity in Christ and not to their current circumstances of poverty. Many were focused with eyes locked on what the interpreter was saying. Claire shared some concerns later about how the ladies were holding on to hurt and offense over territorial competition, jealousy and resentment rising among the group.

Knowing our lives move in the direction of our strongest thought I couldn’t imagine having the reputation of making a living in a dump. With such a negative label surrounding the ladies, I immediately prayed to ask the Lord how I could help them learn their identity. I asked Claire if there was a new name for the new Bible Study group. Claire replied, “No. Do you have any ideas?” I said, “Not yet.” She smiled knowing I would seek God about the group’s name.

Several months earlier before traveling to South Africa I read a story in the Bible about a woman named Lydia’s in Acts 16. She was a prominent merchant in Thyatria dealing in purple cloth. As a devout woman it was noted in the text that “She worshipped God”. The Bible footnote said that her affairs for business gave her no time for religion. However, Lydia organized riverside prayer meeting. Perhaps she met other Jewish clothe dyers, and with prayed with them as a “thing” to do in the cultural religious system. Then Paul, the missionary, came to town and recognized her deeper need to encounter God. He spoke to the group and saw the ignorance of those gathered. The Lord used Paul’s message to open their closed hearts to receive Christ as Savior. Lydia’s faith was born through the Word of God. And her faith affected their entire community.

Remembering the ladies at the dump I recognized their same spiritual ignorance. Giving them a new name made sense to help them rise above the resentment and jealousy and give them a better idea of how Christ saw them on the inside. I knew in that moment God was giving those lovely ladies a new name of Lydia’s Circle to spark a hunger for more of Him.

I told the idea to Claire and she loved it! The next day as I returned to travel home I asked Claire to explain the Lydia story to the ladies group. The women responded favorably to their new name, accepted the idea to learn more with Bible Study and since many have come to know the Lord. I continually pray about their new faith that God would grow and flourish their lives. There was one thing I never noticed about these ladies though. I never saw them hide behind the shame from what they do to earn their meager income.

When I returned in March of 2016 I visited their group again and their spiritual walk had grown by leaps and bounds. Not only in number but in their sharing of faith and prayers. When I first met them they were shy and withdrawn. Now the ladies of Lydia’s Circle share more and more of how the Lord is working in their lives with faithful provisions and many answered prayers. On that trip our team was inspired to collect funds so each woman could have their own SiSwati Bible.

In November (2016) I returned once again and as soon as our team jumped out of the car, I felt incredible joy as our eyes met. Their feet started to dance and their voices were full of praise for God! Although they were sashaying in their own language I could feel the Love that only God could plant deeply rooted in our hearts. It was such a rejoicing time for us all. There’s is a spiritual faith connection we share where hope helps rise above the labels of our past to grow us into godly sons and daughters. Stepping away from our past moves us closer to the best God has for us. Having experienced some hurdles of shame from my own past, I was familiar with how shame could damage self-esteem. I was surprised once again when I noticed how vulnerable yet teachable the ladies were.

Shame can take on many forms. It hides in the shadows of the most successful, confident, and high-achieving woman who struggles with balancing her work and children, as well as in the heart of the broken, abused, and downtrodden woman who has been told she will never amount to anything. Shame hides in plain sight and can hold us back in ways we do not realize. The simplicity of connecting of our identity with Christ speaks to a deeper love which overshadows any shame from our past and dispels unworthiness.

We can all be free. After all, Jesus died to finish the work shame started. Once you run your hands over the nail scarred hands of Jesus, He replaces shame with a joy of the Lord that dwells in every circumstances, even those that leave you in the dumps. Jesus joy is the cheerful essence of Heaven given for us to have but also carry within our hearts to release to others. The Love of Christ is a true joy generator. It’s not only something to obtain but a place to remain.

I will always go back to my friends at Lydia’s Circle who meet every week under a barren shade tree to learn more about Jesus. I am excited to see their destiny unfold with the addition of Lydia’s Market, their handcrafts they make locally with the resources they have available. They make some amazing and very durable rugs! I believe that God will bless their efforts to expand their influence to give them a hand up for a better life, making a big impact in their homes and their community. The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they simply make the best of everything.

Empower a Woman. Impact Generations.

Lydia’s Mission empowers and teaches women skills in rural South Africa to feed, educate, and care for their children by earning a living wage. When a woman begins to grasp her value in Christ through discipleship and Biblical training, her life becomes the first ripple of hope…that will last for generations.