Last year we struck up a friendship with one of the Bible school teachers, Abel. He spoke English, so that was quite helpful in our first months of struggling to master Portuguese.
Abel grew up as a pastor’s kid, and as a young adult attended a Bible school run by Teen Missions. He stayed on there to become a leader and teacher in the same course where he had been a student. There was a local girl, Judite, who caught his eye, and though she was young he asked her to wait for him, and she agreed. Later on he had the opportunity to go to the USA, where he traveled around and preached at different churches all over the country. He kept writing and calling that special girl in Mozambique, and their relationship blossomed. When he got back to his homeland he married her.
Their first child was a little girl, but she was born very prematurely and only lived a couple days. Abel and Judite were heartbroken, and doctors told them they shouldn’t have any more children because Judite’s health was so poor and she was very weak. They refused to take that for an answer, and prayed fervently for another child, and a while later she discovered she was pregnant again. Doctors warned her that she needed to stay on complete bed rest the entire pregnancy to give her and this baby a better chance of living, so that’s what she did, with Abel waiting on her hand and foot. He cooked, he cleaned, he did all of his work and hers too (and Mozambican women work HARD!). When family and friends offered to help him, he refused, saying that it was a joy and not a burden to serve his wife like that, and that it was his expression of love to her. Their baby boy, Bethel, was born healthy and strong, and Abel decided to raise him like a Biblical Nazarite, keeping him set apart for the Lord. He never cut Bethel’s hair, but decided that at age 7 he would let the boy decide for himself if he wanted to continue in the Nazarite way.
At one point their relationship faltered, and Judite left for a while. When she came back to Abel, she had AIDS, but he still welcomed her back with open arms and heart. Shortly after that, they began taking in orphans and children in need, caring for them and becoming family for those who had lost theirs. Abel made minimum wage working as a Bible school teacher at the Iris base, but still managed to make ends meet for their growing family, which eventually included 25 orphans in addition to their precious Bethel. For many Mozambicans, when they take in orphans they treat them like slaves, forcing them to work hard and not letting them go to school or play, but Abel and Judite were a true father and mother to all the children they took in.
That was how things were when we met him in January 2009. In March, the leaders of the base suddenly left and we were found put in their place, and since we knew we were inexperienced we really wanted help and counsel. We asked Abel to be co-director with us; as a Mozambican he knew the language and culture better than us, as an older man (well, older than us anyway) he commanded more respect, and we were very blessed through our partnership. Over the rest of the year, we spent many, many hours with Abel, resolving worker disputes, meeting with government officials, praying about direction for the base, fellowshipping over pizza (Abel’s favorite food from his time in the States), laughing together over ridiculous situations, crying together when his mother passed away, and enjoying a close friendship.
Shortly before we left for the States to have our baby, we found out Judite was pregnant again too. I shared some of my prenatal vitamins with her, knowing her health needed all the help it could get. I looked forward to coming back to Mozambique and having our two little children grow up together as best friends. I crocheted a baby blanket for her while we were on our long road trips. I bought her some nice cloth diapers.
We were heartbroken to find out that just before it was time for us to return to Mozambique, Abel had been asked to leave Iris. There were many horrible accusations made against him, and the leaders over us decided he needed to go. Our base had a nasty history of leaders being taken out by lies and false rumors spread to damage good people’s reputations out of jealousy, so we’ll never know this side of heaven if what was said about him was true or not. Regardless, he was gone from our lives just like that. I never saw Abel or Judite after we got back to Mozambique. I never got to see their new baby girl, Marvelous, who was born right before we returned. I never got to give her the gifts I had brought.
After giving birth to Marvelous, Judite had bad hemorrhaging that continued for months. She grew weaker and weaker, and though we never saw them we occasionally heard updates on how she was doing. The last thing we heard was that she was in the hospital, but seemed to be improving after receiving a blood transfusion.
We just got the news that Judite died today. There are no words to describe the sadness, regret, and frustration that brings… I wish I had spent more time with her last year, we saw Abel every day but I should have made more effort to go to their house and spend time with Judite. I wish I could have seen them this year without causing a scandal on the base since nearly everyone here believed (or started) the bad rumors about Abel. I wish I could have been there for her when she was growing weaker, I wish I could have helped her in some way.
Life is so fragile, especially here. Thousands, millions, of people die in Africa every day, and no one in the rest of the world knows. I just felt like Judite’s story needed to be told. She was an amazing woman of God, soft-spoken and gentle, shy but generous.
I know there aren’t supposed to be tears in heaven, but I think I’ll have some in my eyes when I give her a hug when I get to see her there.