Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. It’s a challenging command, and when you actually put it into practice, it can turn your world upside down. It changes from a nice sentiment to something that actually ushers in transformation. At least, that’s what happened in our neighborhood in South Africa.
God’s Unexpected Instructions
While visiting a neighbor during a funeral, I noticed another neighbor was having trouble walking. I helped her up some steps, and, glancing down, saw that her foot and ankle were bandaged up. In that moment I felt the Lord speak to my heart to pray for healing.
I didn’t act immediately, but took time to pray that night about whether I had really heard God’s voice. I felt confirmation that I had, so my coworker Thulani and I went to the woman’s home to pray for healing the very next day.
The woman could no longer walk at all, so a family member showed us to her room. She was surprised to see us. Thulani introduced us and told her why we had come. The woman agreed that we could pray for her. Laying our hands on her, we prayed not only for her foot, but also for her family and her situation.
As we prayed, tears streamed down her face.
Healing was coming, not for her foot, but for her heart.
You see, a month earlier we had been robbed. And the number one suspect was a young man who had stolen from us two years before—this woman’s son.
Praying for my Enemies
The robbery had been especially painful because this young man was someone we had been trying to help out. At the mother’s request, my husband, Doug, had taken the son to a clinic following a heroin overdose. He had also been giving the son transport money to get to job interviews. It was because of that generosity that the son saw where we kept our money and decided to break in and steal what we had.
Break ins are usually violent, so for me the fact that no one was home and it was only stuff felt like God’s protection. Still, I felt violated and disappointed.
Doug had been angry and wanted justice, but because our community practices severe mob justice, he knew that if he publicly identified the thief, the young man would be severely beaten and end up in the hospital or dead. So he had chosen to shield the man who hurt us by keeping quiet but confronting the family directly as a warning. Despite this, the mother had continued to defend her son for this robbery, and the others he had committed.
That confrontation was the last time someone from my family had been in this woman’s home. That’s why she was so surprised to see us, and even more surprised at the reason we’d come—to care, and not to confront.
As she cried while we prayed, I hoped that she was finding forgiveness and that she would experience that the Kingdom of Light is far greater than the kingdom of darkness.
It was a liberating experience for me, proof that Jesus had done something greater in me than the robbery had. Afterwards, as we walked away, Thulani and I talked about how good it was to be part of the Kingdom of God, where we pray for and extend grace to our enemies. We were living it out!
God’s Kingdom Becomes Real
We returned the next week to pray for her foot again, and this time the son was there. He stayed with us while we prayed for his mother’s healing. As I chose to pray for this family despite the very real injury done to me, God’s Kingdom felt tangible.
A couple of weeks later as I was walking around our neighborhood, the woman called out to me.
“Look! You guys prayed hard, and God has healed me!” There she was, out and about in the neighborhood, walking normally!
I was amazed. In that moment I was so glad that I had listened to God’s prompting and stretched myself to pray for her.
From a human perspective, it didn’t make sense for me to pray for this woman after what her family had done to mine. But from God’s perspective, it was the perfect chance to show how the love of Jesus changes everything.
The transformation that Jesus brings is not yet fully visible in this family—we will continue to pray—but God is certainly at work in their lives and hope is in sight.
May God’s Kingdom come here in Soshanguve.
Colletta Rhoads and her husband Doug are working to see a disciple making movement transform communities in South Africa.