By M. Elizabeth (Betty) Craig
When I was just a baby, some gypsies came to our village in Brazil. Mother said they admired me because I was pretty and was always smiling at everybody. They asked my mother if she would give me to them and offered her jewelry in exchange. Of course, Mother would not agree to such a thing even though she had eight other children.
Mother was convinced the gypsies put a curse on me when she would not give me up. She said there was something strange about me and I was unlike all her other children. What else but a curse would be the reason I was dumb as a child and could not utter a word?
My mother like all the others in our village attended the Catholic church, but she mixed occult beliefs with her faith. Our neighbors tried to help by telling her to feed me certain foods or make me a special drink, but nothing helped. When I was five years of age, I spoke my first word.
When I was seven, my mother decided her children needed to go to school. We attended the school available to us although it was quite a distance from where we lived. The other school children mistreated us because we were the only family of black children. Mother decided she had had enough of that and said she wanted to move to a larger town where we could go to school and be treated like all the other children.
My father did not want to move because he had never been away from his land. He was not an educated man and had never been to school. He couldn’t understand why we had to move away because Mother wanted us in school.
We finally moved and my father had to sell everything to buy a piece of land and build a house for us in that town. I thank God for the sacrifice he made. All of us children, my brothers, sisters and I attended the new school.
When I was nine years old, missionaries came to live in our town. They began a Bible Club, a children’s program. I wanted to go to the Club but we Catholics were not supposed to go. The priest was very much against the Protestants and I was quite involved in the Catholic church along with my family. It was a large church as everyone in the town belonged to it.
When the missionaries began work in our town, it was a big shock for everybody and a scandal for the first people who became born again Christians. Their families did not persecute them, but the priest did. He used to say a lot of things against the missionaries.
I knew my parents would never agree for me to go to Bible Club, so I told Mother I was going to my friend's house. I enjoyed the Club, but didn’t go back.
I was just starting high school when my father said he could no longer pay for my studies. He said I needed to quit school or support myself if I wanted to continue my studies. I found a job with a lady who needed help with housekeeping and her children. I didn’t know she was a born again believer, or I would not have gone to work for her.
My employer used to tune her radio to Christian programs, but when she was not there I turned to a station that played popular music. As I listened to the Christian programs, the Lord began to speak to my heart that I was a sinner. At that time I did not think I was a big sinner because I was a pretty good Catholic and not like many of my friends at school. Anyhow, the Lord began to convict me. He showed me that I was one of the hypocrites that Jesus talked about. Like a whitewashed tomb, I looked very good on the outside but my heart inside was far from pleasing to God and not good enough for heaven.
I began to go to church with my employer on a regular basis to help with the children and of course, heard God’s Word preached Sunday after Sunday. For over two years I went to the Catholic church in the mornings to sing in the choir; in the evenings I attended the evangelical church.
At this time the resident workers left, but others came for the Sunday services and ate lunch with us regularly. Every one that came to the house tried to convince me that I needed a Savior. So many tried to put me on the right way.
One Sunday evening I heard an excellent speaker. I don’t remember a word of the sermon. I only recall that at the end of the service, we sang a song that went like this: “I died, I died on the cross for you. What are you doing for me?”
I had been reading the New Testament all week and had come across the verse, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts (Heb. 3:7). When we were singing that song, the words of that verse came back to me. I said, “Well, Lord. You have done all that for me. What am I doing for you?”
About a year earlier, a worker from Mozambique had come to that church. He challenged the young people to consider serving in Africa, but especially in Mozambique because they, too, speak Portuguese. I believe God called me to cross-cultural work that day, although I had not yet publicly confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I said to myself, I won’t be a born again person because I do not want to share my faith in a foreign country. In my mind going out as a single worker meant giving up marriage, and I wanted to marry and have a family.
We continued to sing, “I died, I died on the cross for you. What are you doing for me?” Again the words came, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. I finally said, “Lord, I have been hearing Your voice for about a year. Today, I want to give myself to You.”
The pastor invited any who wanted to accept Christ to come to the front of the church. I went forward and he prayed for me to confirm that the Lord Jesus had received me as His child. He said, “I have heard about you for years.” Then he turned to my employer and said, “You are going to set aside a time every day when you are going to read the Bible and pray with her so she can grow.” Because she worked outside the home, the lady did not have much time. However, when she came for lunch she would pray with me and assign me different Bible passages to read and memorize.
I told my mother that I had given my life to Jesus Christ and I was no longer a Catholic.
Mother replied, “I was expecting that.” I am thankful that my decision did not create any difficulties with my family.
I continued to read and study the New Testament. I memorized many verses from the Bible: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:1-2).
As I studied the Word of God, I prayed, “Lord, that new life I have, I want to live it for you no matter how much it costs me.” The Lord heard my prayer and even before I finished high school, I knew I was going to work somewhere in Africa.
The pastor who was preaching the night I publicly confessed Christ as my Savior, gave me the addresses of three Bible schools. I wrote to all three of them but said to myself, The first one that sends me a reply, that is the one I will attend. I received only one reply—from Bethany School in southern Brazil, a branch of Bethany College in the U.S.A. I studied very hard at the Bible school and graduated in 1981. During my second year of studies I was writing reports on Portuguese-speaking fields in Africa, but the Lord kept impressing Senegal on my heart. I resisted for two years because it was a French-speaking country and predominantly Muslim. Finally, I obeyed God’s call and applied for service with the mission agency, the same group that brought the gospel to my village.
I arrived in Senegal in 1984 after a year of French studies in Switzerland. I learned Creole and worked with the women, teenagers and children in the Zuiginchor church. Then I was assigned to help another single worker in eastern Senegal.
In 1986 I met Gary Craig, a young man from the U.S.A. We were engaged in July 1987 and married in Brazil during my first furlough in April 1988. After a time of English study in the U.S.A., we returned to Senegal to work in church planting.
In 1991 God blessed us with the birth of a daughter, Abigail. My husband and I spoke French even after my English study, but with Abby’s arrival, English became our household language. Our second furlough involved splitting our time between two countries and two sets of everything: families, churches and the mission agency's sending bases.
During our third term in Senegal we worked at the mission headquarters with its many duties and also helped in a local church. We thank God that the churches have been able to grow and develop in spite of the rebel activity in the south. Some new ministries have started and recently a number of trained young people and couples have taken on church leadership.
We are once again on furlough enjoying fellowship with our families. We are still praying for some relatives. They are what I used to be, decent and religious, but not seeing their need of a new life in Jesus. Only Jesus can make people clean and give them real life now and for eternity.
Reader, you probably have plans for your life. Your family and friends have ideas and plans for your life. But God has plans for your life and His plans are the best. Seek your Creator daily; give Him full and unconditional permission to do what He wants to in you and with you.
I thank God that He gave me courage to obey Him. When I responded in obedience to His call to serve Him as a single person in the land of His choosing, God gave back to me what I had given up. He fulfilled the desire for a mate and family.
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