Praying for the Sick

Having written about Umayyatu, and prayer for her parents, I should say a few words about that first visit to our partners’ village.

I had been told that the Fulbe were cattle herdsmen, so I preached a sermon on John 10, talking about Jesus the Good Shepherd. This was my first experience preaching through a translator, as well as the first time I have ever preached “in the round.” That is to say, the people were all sitting down in a semi-circle, with me more or less in the middle. Not knowing the custom, I stood to speak, and Aminu, my translator stood beside me. (These days I know better, and will remain seated when I wish to speak there.)

Anyway, as I recall, the sermon was not great (or even that good, if the truth be told). Nothing really new there.

But I did have the thought (thinking here along the lines of 2 Thessalonians 1.11-12), before I left our house in Gembu, that the folks in this village were a long way from any medical services, and that it might be good to take along a little bit of cooking oil just in case there were a need to use it there.

So after speaking in the service I asked Pastor Aminu if he thought it would be a good thing to offer prayer for the sick with the anointing of oil. He said it would be a good idea, and he translated my offer to the people.

As it turns out, there were many sick people in the little hamlet, hidden away in multiple compounds. The Wakili – the spiritual leader who, along with Aminu, had invited me there – asked me to come to his own compound first; one of his wives and his youngest daughter were both ill and had not attended the service.

With Pastor Aminu translating, I explained that what I was about to do was not a kind of magic; there was nothing special about the cooking oil. The power to heal rested in God himself; we were simply obeying him when we prayed and anointed people in his name (cf. James 5.13-16). Having said that I put a little dab of oil on my thumb and made the sign of the cross on Fadima’s forehead, praying in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for her healing. I was then taken to Jamilatu’s room and did the same for her.

While there was no visible result from these prayers, the effect on the people was striking. Suddenly we were beset by requests from many of the other folks there, asking us to come and pray for sick loved ones. Others simply wanted us to come and pray for God’s blessing on their compounds. So we trekked from compound to compound, anointing with oil, praying for healing and well-being. We must have gone into about a dozen or homes in that space of time – there were not many that we missed.

At one point two little boys were brought to us, and I asked my son Robert if he would anoint and pray for them, which he did. I must confess, that was a proud moment for me.

The ride home after all that was terrible. Feeling an emotion that Elijah would probably identify with, all I wished to do was crawl under the nearest rock big enough to hide me. All I could think of was those poor people behind us, suffering from all manner of disease, and who knew what would happen to them now. If God did not hear and answer our prayers, what would become of them – and their faith?

When we arrived home I found myself a solitary place and prayed long and hard once more, for God to hear our prayers, glorify himself, and have mercy on these poor people.

It was another two weeks or so before I had any word from Pastor Aminu. I tentatively asked him how things were in the village (“Lord, I believe, but help Thou my unbelief!”), along with those for whom we had prayed. He reported that all was well in the village, and – to my great relief – said those we had prayed were all doing well.

I had no great faith in myself or my prayers during that trip; but am happy to say that God once more proved himself faithful. He is a loving and powerful God, and I am glad to serve him.

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