Several years ago, a friend invited me to speak at a women’s meeting in her home in Brasília. She had met several embassy wives from various Islamic countries, and had befriended them by sharing recipes and special Brazilian dishes – and they had reciprocated by sharing their favorite sweets and stories. Celina was not a Bible teacher and was not known as a proficient evangelist, but she loved Jesus and loved people who did not know him, so she decided to offer her new friends “Tea and Friendship” with a word of wisdom. 

When I arrived at her apartment, about thirty women were crowded into her living room, chattering in five or six different languages. Many of the women had brought “treats” to share from their national cuisines. Their beautiful, volumous clothes, some complete with headdresses (from India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon) contrasted with the lighter, “less clothed” dresses and slacks of the five or six Brazilian Christians who had joined us. (These Christian friends had been praying, along with Celina, for over a month – for this particular meeting – and I was touched by their dedication and the awesome responsibility ahead of us.)

Celina introduced me as her friend who would try to speak to them in Portuguese and English, since she knew several had not yet learned the Brazilian language and were proficient in English (which she unfortunately had not learned, she deplored). I had previously prepared a three-point Bible study for sophisticated seekers, but my mind immediately recalculated, and I thought: WATER, and began to talk about how there was one thing every person, from every nation and every situation, whatever their religion or political bent, cannot live without – water. Some of the ladies had already asked for a glass of water when they first arrived – Brasília is so dry in the rain-less season that the humidity is similar to that of the Sahara dessert. Though fruit juice and soda (plus the advertised tea) were available, most people had chosen to drink cool, fresh water. And I said, “Celina asked me to explain something about us that is neither Brazilian nor American, African or Indian.

It is a story of a Jewish teacher, a rabbi, and a woman from a national group despised by traditional Jews – a Samaritan. Besides Samaritans and Jews being secular enemies, she was also a woman despised by her confused marital situation. She had plenty of husbands – five, to be exact – and a lover, and no love, no lasting relationship. Like many of us she had faced her share of prejudice – maybe she also deeply pre-judged anyone who was not like she was. And this teacher, this wise man, was talking to her – though holy men were supposed to ignore women, especially women like her, who had to get water when nobody else was around and did her everyday activities with constant fear and shame. He asked her for something she had – a glass of water!

After she protested Jesus’ request, he piqued her interest by saying that the water from Jacob’s well would satisfy very briefly, but he had living water that quenched eternal thirst. I continued to narrate the story of the Samaritan woman alternating English and Portuguese, and for many, it was the first time they had heard of Jesus as a person instead of “one of the three great religions in the world”.  A couple said that despite their husbands’ great generosity, they had already been warned against any religious talk with Brazilian women, who were beautiful, generous and harbored dangerous ideas. Some of the women asked to come back to Celina’s home to hear more another time. One lady invited us to “hear the wisdom of Allah at a women’s meeting at their mosque”. I was reminded of Jeremiah’s words about God’s people having committed two sins: “they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer 2:13). And prayed, “Fill my cup, Lord...”

Elizabeth Gomes

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