I walked into the dingy classroom. The room had an uneven floor with missing tiles and no electrical outlets, and was furnished with an old chalkboard, a roll of toilet paper, and some mismatched plastic chairs. I was about to spend the morning with a bunch of Grade Seven girls, teaching them different ways of entering into prayer and listening to God. These girls live in a suburb of Pretoria in which the realities and challenges of life are often harsh.
After a few fun ice breakers, I had them close their eyes and imagine God looking on them with love. I explained to them that when we know we are absolutely and unconditionally loved by God, prayer becomes a safe place to come as we are and find grace for whatever we need. A few of the girls were sniffling, and I assumed they had the flu. After a minute, I heard more sniffles, and I looked up to find half of the girls crying. Their hands covered their faces, and tears were running down their hands.
I changed plans and told them the story of Jesus crying with Mary and Martha when Lazarus died. Even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus still met them in their grief and cried with them. We went through another centuries-old prayer exercise called the Examen, which at its simplest involves reviewing the day and looking for God’s hand in it. Again, several of the girls cried. (I must say I was thankful for the roll of toilet paper in the room, because it was passed around the circle many times to dry tears.)
One of the girls raised her hand and said, "Ma'am, what does the word 'adultery' mean?" As soon as this question was raised others quickly followed: What if you cheat on your boyfriend? Is that adultery? What about polygamy? How would you feel if you were someone's second wife? Is it okay to have sex for money if you need to buy food for your family?
My heart broke at this last question, and while I have no idea what prompted these questions around this particular topic, I sensed that it was important enough to stay with it. Perhaps there was no one else to answer their questions, or perhaps they felt safe enough to ask me?
As the girls worked on a final prayer-art project, I began to pray for them. "Lord, what can I do? Four hours cannot change their lives or their circumstances. I feel so helpless!" Immediately, I sensed God say to me, "Bless them."
“Bless them, God? As in, a formal blessing? I've never done that before, and I'm not even sure I'm qualified.” (But then, who is, really?)
So I responded to God. I had the girls line up in a queue, and one by one, I addressed them by name and blessed them as well as I knew how: "Lehlogonolo, Elizabeth, Kea, Ntando, Reamobetswe... you are a beautiful child of God, a daughter of the King of kings, which makes you a princess! You have a story to tell the world that no one else can tell but you. I bless you with joy, joy that is a shining light in dark places and joy that comes from knowing you are the beloved of God. Stay close to Jesus. You are loved."
I blessed them one by one with joy, perseverance, confidence, faith, courage. They each looked at me, eyes locked on mine, and it was all I could do to keep from crying.
When the last girl left the room I sat down on one of the plastic chairs and said, "Lord, what just happened?" No sooner had I prayed than three of the girls came back into the room. "Ma'am, are you a psychic?" I wasn't sure I heard correctly... a psychic? "Ma'am, you know, a medium?"
"No," I replied. "Not at all. I'm just someone who loves Jesus and wants you to know how much he loves you as well. Why do you ask?"
"Because the things you said were so amazing! We've never heard things like that before!"
My heart broke a little more for these girls. I smiled at them and repeated myself. "I'm just someone who loves Jesus."
Someone who loves Jesus. Someone who has no idea how to give a formal blessing, how to answer tough questions regarding cultural practices, or even what life is like for these girls.
Someone who loves Jesus. And maybe, that's all it takes. May I challenge all of us (myself included) to be someone who loves Jesus in our communities and contexts?
Blessing is a concept that comes up over and over in the Bible. God’s blessing of Abram was central to Israel’s identity as God’s people, blessing within relationships was hugely important in Israelite culture, and we see Jesus speaking blessings and teaching on blessing as well. However, blessing can feel very foreign to us today. If you’re questioning the purpose of blessing, how it fits into a Christian worldview, or how to get started, you are not alone! CRM has put together a short guide to get you started on understanding the biblical purpose of blessing, with tips for using blessings in your own relationships.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Annie Erickson and her husband, Dan, live in Pretoria, South Africa with their three children. They are a part of CRM's Ethne collective and minister to churches and church leaders in the region.