Some wanted to know how to deal with being persecuted for following Christ. Some seemed happy with a smile, a touch, the assurance someone cares about their hopes and struggles.
One, a 15-year-old girl, said nothing. She wore a look of despair on her face, which seemed much older than her years. As Nicole and her translator coaxed the girl into whispering a few words, they learned she had been married, at age 12, by her family to a village man. Her father was dead. Her husband is an alcoholic. And she has yet to conceive a child. That doesn't bode well for her in a village culture that puts a high premium on mothers producing sons.
"She wanted us to pray for her because she can't have a baby," Nicole said later, standing in the sweltering sun outside the church. "I'm thinking to myself, 'You've got more problems than not having a child. You're still a child.' I know the culture is different, but it's very hard for me to accept that. I hugged her and we shared the Gospel with her. We just have to make sure encourage her, because she's really lost. You can see it in her eyes."
On another village visit, she was asked to pray for a woman said to have a demon. That's not the kind of thing you encounter every day in the affluent Memphis-area suburb she and her husband Adrian* come from.
"I said, 'OK, this isn't what I signed up for, but I'll do it.' So I prayed," she recounts. An Indian ministry partner experienced in such confrontations with spiritual darkness stood with her, then stepped in and commanded the demon to depart.
To understand how far Nicole has moved beyond what she "signed up for," you have to realize she came to India not kicking and screaming, exactly, but with trepidation. "It was my fifth choice," she reports, after more comfortable overseas postings in Europe and South America. She would have preferred even Russia or China, the other potential options for her husband, vice president of a major multinational corporation that does business worldwide.
But two years or more in India?
Spouses of top business executives who live in challenging places overseas often hunker down in their homes and cocoon-like circles of "expat" friends, making little effort to meet local people and understand their cultures. Nicole could have done that. On certain difficult days, she admits, she has done it. But deep down, she sensed all along that God would send them to India.
That didn't make it easier. She spent the first month or so in India in a state of semi-nausea, "just from the smells and stuff." Nicole has struggled for years with stomach problems. Back home in Tennessee, there were lots of days when she couldn't even leave the house.
"With me, it was partly food-related and partly anxiety," she says. "Two or three years ago, I couldn't have done this. It was control issues with me, and over here you have no control. You have to realize God is in control."
Traveling from the major city where they live to isolated villages for ministry takes her lack of control to an even higher level: "I'm completely at the mercy of God and the believers we work with. Most of the time I have no idea where we're going next."
But that's the kind of helplessness God can use. Nicole still steers clear of spicy Indian food, but she's learning how to trust God with the big stuff -- like journeys to unknown places and standing before crowds of Indians to share what Christ has done in her life.
"People are the same everywhere," she says. "They worry about their children, just like we do. They have the same problems we do. So there's a common bond. Being a mom, I can talk to these ladies about their children. That opens the door to talking about Jesus."
And she enjoys the opportunity to express His love to a young, frightened village girl desperate for hope.
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*Name changed. Erich Bridges is IMB's global correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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