by Colonel Dennis Phillips
“Miriam, we don’t need any water. I’m weary, and I need to go home,” Abraham Leka said.
“Trust me, we do. It will only take a few minutes,” his wife, Miriam, insisted.
Little did they know God was directing them, but moments later in the grocery store checkout line they witnessed something that would impact their lives. The line had stalled as several newly arrived
African refugees struggled to pay for purchases using their government issued benefit card, the PIN number for which they’d forgotten. After several attempts, the card had cancelled. Though the clerk tried to help, she only spoke English; they spoke only French. Within reach, they were worlds apart.
Looking at her husband of 21 years, Miriam knew what was about to happen as she pondered—not for
the first time—her husband’s vision as a serious 11-year-old: “The day I stop helping people, God will remove His hand from my life.”
Now outside, the six Africans faced the unfamiliar freeze of winter and felt the failure of returning to their barren apartments with no food for their families, no milk for their children. They were intercepted by Abraham’s deep, gentle voice, “Bonsoir, bonsoir, mes amis… Ne vous inquietez pas, je vais vous aider.” (Good evening, my friends. Do not worry, I will help you.) Smiling, they approached
Abraham as if greeting a lifelong friend. Conversation, now animated, continued in French as they followed him back into the store hoping he could activate the card, but, alas, the card had been voided permanently.
Abraham triaged the situation and discovered they had just enough to get through the night. He and
Miriam drove the men to the apartments provided through a local agency where their wives and children were waiting. The rooms were sparsely furnished: cots, chairs, refrigerator, stove. That was
all. Abraham glanced at Miriam whose nod was so slight it went unnoticed by others but indicated
they were in agreement and had been mobilized for action. Before leaving, Abraham and Miriam prayed with the families and invited them to the corps on Sunday.
“You must tell Major Martsolf [their corps officer at the Rockford Temple],” Miriam counseled her husband, “And now,” she added with urgency.
After receiving the major’s wholehearted support, Abraham returned to his garage where for two years he had stored used furniture and abandoned TVs which had prompted Miriam more than once to ask, “Why?” Until that night he could only answer, “I do not know. God has laid this upon me, and when His time is right He will show me what to do.”
In a matter of hours, the families had sofas, TVs, dressers, dishes, silverware and tables for their families to gather around for meals. The adults’ “Merci, merci, merci beaucoup” and the children’s expressions of wonder stirred Abraham to reflect, “What is the Lord saying to me? What more is there to do?” It was a moment Abraham had been praying about for 10 years, all the way from the Congo to Rockford. It was God’s moment, and Abraham was ready.
Transportation was arranged, and on that Sunday 12 African refugees sat among the 300 other people who’d come to worship at the Rockford Temple, Ill., Corps. Abraham’s chair in the band was
conspicuously empty as he sat in the congregation and translated for his new friends. The corps’ soldiers welcomed them warmly, and by the following Sunday translation equipment was available for the 25 refugees who attended.
That New Year’s Eve, 40 African refugees attended the Watchnight Service, and the congregation made up of Swedes, African-Americans, Hispanics and people of other ethnicities were treated to a brief concert by an African choir. The choir continues to perform at the corps and territorial events, such as the recent Congress, and its members take great joy in this ministry.
Over the last year the families’ involvement in the corps has increased. They not only attend Sunday worship, but both adults and children participate in Bible studies. The children are involved in character-building programs, and eight of them play in the beginners’ band. Two babies have been dedicated, and three children have been enrolled as junior soldiers and more are in preparatory classes. All of this is a tremendous blessing to Salvationists in Rockford, especially Abraham, who is humbled God would use the simple acts of kindness he and Miriam showed when prompted by the Holy Spirit. He concluded, “We must always do what the Lord is asking us.”