A WORLD CHANGER AGED 12
by Esther Gayfield
There are only a few people that have the “it” factor. “It” being a characteristic that destines one for great things;
sometimes as big as changing the world! To me, 12-year old Mahala* is one of those people.
I first saw Mahala confidently marching to the podium of my church in Beirut. With perfect poise, she gave a 10-minute sermon with testimony, Bible verse and practical application. This is a routine practice for her. This girl is a world changer, I decided, and I had to get to know her!
Mahala is from Syria, where only 29 per cent of women even receive a high school education. It is far more common for young girls to be pulled out of school and married off at 12 or 13. No standing in front of a crowd and preaching for them! Mahala’s poise, confidence and faith in Jesus are even more remarkable considering her journey.
Mahala was only six when the war began. Her family had already tried to escape by leaving their city home for an obscure existence in the country. Here they lived in darkness, without electricity or any light for a whole year. The war disrupted everything, including the chance of an education for Mahala and, eventually, her safety.
GUNS TO THEIR HEADS
Opposition forces came calling one day, looking for Mahala’s older brother who had long left the country. They grabbed Mahala and her siblings, roughed them up and held guns to their heads, threatening to kill them if they didn’t find men to serve with them!
Finally, when they realised there was no one left in the household to do so, they left, but only after ransacking the house, stealing valuables and traumatising the family.
Enough was enough, Mahala’s father decided. He knew that the next time could involve kidnapping, the taking of child brides and rape. That was when the decision was made to come to Lebanon at any cost. Like many, they are in the country illegally.
Mahala’s first months in Lebanon were spent living in a small room under a staircase in Bourj Hammoud with 16 other family members. The conditions were worse than those their animals on the family farm in Syria had known. So traumatised were they by their experiences, it was six months before they even ventured outside of their tiny room.
The first trip out was when Mahala’s mother and aunt attended a women’s meeting at the Life Center, Beirut. Soon the children were attending the Life Center too. Here they started to experience life as kids again while they had opportunities to learn and play. Still, the family was warned to keep their ears closed from any talk of the Christian faith.
Then, suddenly Mahala’s father fell ill and was diagnosed with an incurable illness that couldn’t be treated. His blood count was low and rapidly dwindling as the illness took its course. Eventually, he became bedridden and slipped into a coma.
It was during this time that Mahala (then 10), her mother, and siblings decided to give their lives to Christ, making their declaration of faith as a family before the church. Afterwards, Mahala requested that they go home and pray for her father’s healing. There, she lay her hands on him and led the family in prayer, commanding the sickness to leave his body. She confidently announced that he would be in church the next Sunday testifying of his healing. Indeed, that is exactly what happened! He stunned the doctors by making a full recovery from his illness and even returned to work.
Mahala’s faith went from strength to strength after that, as she began to attend school and learn to read the Bible for herself. Her mother considers her the spiritual mentor to the family. Her father’s testimony of healing and recovery brought other family members to the church and eventually to faith as well.
The ripple effect of Mahala’s faith continues as one of her uncles has been witnessing in some dangerous places within the refugee community and he has seen many families believe in Christ. Despite getting bullied at school, Mahala is outspoken about her faith. “What do I have to fear?” she asks, “They are the ones that will be fearing after death if I don’t tell them about Jesus.”
I can already see where the groundwork is being laid that could turn the tide of a generation, a region, and a nation. Please pray that God will raise up more children like Mahala, and please pray that our work at the Life Center and our Spring of Life learning programme will allow us to influence other children similarly for the Kingdom of God!
Give thanks for the links between SAT-7’s Lebanon studio and local ministries that are changing lives and providing vital educational and psycho-social support in Beirut and elsewhere.
Esther Gayfield left a business career in the hospitality industry in the USA to move to Beirut to serve those impacted by the Syrian Crisis. She has volunteered at the Life Center in Bourj Hammoud - the most densely populated neighbourhood in the Middle East - since January 2017 where she oversees the operations, communications and fundraising. As well as her blogs for SAT-7, you can follow her personal blog at esthersadventures.com. The Life Center is a Christian centre serving the most vulnerable populations from all backgrounds and nationalities in their community (visit lifecenterbeirut.org). It takes an holistic approach to serving by offering a host of programmes designed to meet educational, physical and spiritual needs.