By Frances Early

Ruth and Hanna often walked together around the lake in their central Asian town - photo courtesy of DaiLuo

Ruth and Hanna often walked together around the lake in their central Asian town - photo courtesy of DaiLuo

Personal details of the people in this story have been changed.

“I wash underwear. I buy oatmeal. I smile at old people and I play with babies.”

Ruth’s missionary life may sound uninspiring, but after it caught the attention of a young Yee woman named Hanna it may have saved a life.

Shortly after Ruth and her husband moved into Hanna’s neighborhood, Hanna asked Ruth’s neighbor and the local storekeeper about the foreigner who treated everyone around her with kindness and respect.

“Everyone knows you love kids because you stop to play with them in the park,” she would later tell Ruth. “Everyone knows you love old people because you go to the bazaar and give them money. When I knew all these things about you, I wanted to know you.”

But when Hanna eventually sidled up to Ruth at a clothing stall in the neighborhood marketplace a year later, Ruth thought it was completely random.

“Are you a foreigner?” Hanna asked Ruth in English.

“Yeah, I am,” Ruth warily replied.

“Do you speak English?”

“Yes. Are you learning English?” Ruth asked. English language skills are prized in this part of Asia and foreigners are regularly approached for free language tutoring. Ruth worried that Hanna was only interested in practising conversation, not having a real one.

“One of my litmus tests for these people is to do something that I think is a little countercultural,” Ruth explains. In Yee culture it is considered unfeminine to exercise so Ruth invited Hanna to go walking with her at six in the morning. The two exchanged phone numbers.

“I totally didn’t think that she would call - but she called me before I ever even got home from the marketplace!” Ruth recalls.

Even though it was the middle of winter and bitterly cold, Hanna arrived promptly for their walk, albeit a little unkempt because of the early hour.

As they walked they shared about their families. Ruth was in Central Asia with her husband, a teacher who worked in town, and she had one son. Hanna was recently married and had no children. There was a silence, which Hanna broke.

“What do you think of, you know, when a woman goes to the hospital and she is pregnant and she comes back and she’s not pregnant anymore?” she asked.

“Do you mean abortion?” Ruth clarified. She explained that in her home country there were many different beliefs about abortion: “But because I believe in Jesus, I believe that God is the only one with authority to take a life and I think if anyone tries to overstep their bounds and tries to take away God’s authority, I would be very afraid for them.”

There was a silence.

Walking, let alone jogging or other strenuous forms of exercise are very unusual activities for Central Asian women - Photo courtesy of Hernán Piñera

Walking, let alone jogging or other strenuous forms of exercise are very unusual activities for Central Asian women - Photo courtesy of Hernán Piñera

“I think I’m pregnant and I don’t want this baby,” Hanna finally said. “God must be punishing me for doing something wrong, otherwise I would never have a baby at this time.”

“I just pronounced judgment upon you,” Ruth thought disappointedly.  “I didn’t mean to, but I did. I guess this will be it.”

But Hanna kept walking alongside Ruth, listing  the reasons she couldn’t have a baby.

“The government will never give my baby a passport, and I can never leave [the country],” Hanna said. “The baby will grow up like me: a second class citizen.”

“God gives really good gifts,” Ruth countered. “You and your husband are going to be so excited.”

“It was the weirdest conversation,” Ruth reflects. “I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know how to respond to what she’s saying, I only know the things that God tells me to say.’”

After an hour, the two women parted ways and again, Ruth assumed that was the last she would see of Hanna.  Before Ruth  had even reached her front door, though, she got a text from Hanna - could they walk again tomorrow?

For the rest of that week, Hanna would bring up abortion during their walk around the lake.

“I still don’t know what I am going to do,” she would say.

“Have you told your husband yet?”

“No.”

“You should really tell your husband.”

Hanna would recite her list of excuses.

“I would respond with all the things that God says about babies and His timing and His creation,” Ruth says.

At the end of the first week Hanna revealed that she had told her husband about the pregnancy and Ruth knew that meant she wouldn’t have an abortion. But for months, Hanna continued to say that she could not have the baby.

“God changed her over time,” says Ruth, an when the baby was born, Hanna named him Jonas, which means “Gift from God.”

“The fact that now she was realising that Jonas was a gift from God is beyond anything that I could ever hope for.”

How do you save the life of an unborn child? Wash underwear, buy oatmeal, smile at old people and play with babies. God will take it from there.

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