By Nancy Rempel
My body was rigid with tension as I lay in the sweltering heat of another Pakistani spring. Some missionary I had turned out to be.
It was Easter 1995, and we had just dedicated our second baby, Curtis, at the little church in Layyah, Pakistan. I felt like a baby myself as I struggled against the spirit world and the unforgiving environment of west Punjab.
In Pakistan, nothing was standard or straightforward. Or easy.
Meal preparation was an obstacle course of sanitizing vegetables, sifting flour for unwanted objects such as bugs or string, pressure-cooking tough buffalo meat, and rationing luxury items like cheese. Cookbooks from home were useless with their one-can-of-mushroom-soup recipes.
Electricity. The power company doled it out in spurts at its convenience, and seasonal dust storms ravaged electrical lines, plunging us into suffocating heat and darkness. When ceiling fans ground to a halt in the middle of the night, we dragged portable beds and zombie-like children outside to continue sleeping under mosquito nets. If a dust storm was too severe, we lay inside in our sweat, praying for the electricity to return.
Since a reliable hospital was a three-hour drive away on wicked, dusty roads, we self-diagnosed and self-treated most of our illnesses. I remember the drama of trying to decode the small-print Urdu language instructions on a medicine bottle while holding a feverish, listless baby in our arms. Trying to be an excellent mother but feeling like a dangerous one.
Communication was challenging, whether with a stubborn toddler, a husband with problems of his own, an Urdu-speaking cook with ideas of his own, or a Pakistani friend with unclear motives. Longing to understand and to be understood, I felt as if I was living in a wasteland punctuated by the odd desert flower.
Perhaps nothing tested us more than adopting two Pakistani babies, born to unmarried Muslim girls. We now joke that I got the babies and my husband did the labor. And labor he did, from hospital, to government office, to the court, to the embassy. He pleaded, filled out forms, created forms if necessary, waited in line, paid fees, collected documents, and drove untold miles on bumpy roads, often to be told, “Wait. No. Come back later. I can’t help you. I won’t help you.”
Meanwhile, at home, I mothered the boys and fought off fears that some zealous Islamic leader or official would take the boys away from us.
I worked so hard to make sense of that world. How do I do the right thing in a culture that is not black and white? How do I show compassion without creating dependency? What made a joke offensive? Whom could I trust to be a genuine friend? I longed to feel normal. To look competent.
Under all the tangible irritants lay the real culprit—the battle to own my mind. The competition was stiff.
Satan lied, “What if you don’t keep believing in Christ? Is there enough fruit in your life? You’re a liar—a failure.”
People opined, “Well, I feel you should…”
Years of sermons and Bible studies, often contradictory, vied with each other for my convictions.
The battle seemed a little unfair as I learned how to use my sword and shield amidst a relentless hail of arrows. There was no pause button and no end in sight. It was personal, lonely, and humiliating. Who could help me unravel life’s perplexities?
As I lay sleepless in bed on that sultry spring night in 1995, beside a husband who did not know how to help me, my mind whirred like an out-of-date computer trying to keep up. Irrational fears, false guilt, and exaggerated responses plagued me. I think so-and-so is mad at me. Maybe I shouldn’t have said or done such-and-such. Why can’t I relax? I feel so unstable. Do others see me as a basket case? Will my husband grow weary of my struggles? Will the mission send us home?
I had come to Pakistan to change the world for Christ. But I was the one who needed to change. “How?” I asked in the darkness. “How do I change?”
Out of nowhere, the opening verse of the twenty-seventh Psalm popped into my mind: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Whoosh. My mind fled its stuffy confines and latched onto those life-giving words.
“Whom shall I fear?” I was like a prisoner realizing the door of her cell was open.
“Oh, God, I don’t have to live like this.” Faith came alive.
“I am not alone in this darkness. You will give me understanding. You will save me from what I cannot identify. And when You are all this to me, whom shall I fear?”
I had veered into the Truth and discovered the nuclear option for which none of my enemies had an answer. As I basked in the Scriptures, the silence on the battlefield was deafening.
My arms, back, and neck relaxed on the mattress. A coolness replaced the sweating. My heartbeat slowed. Hope emerged. Transformation trickled in. I slept.
In the days and weeks that followed, I memorized all of Psalm 27. If a few thoughts could transform a sleepless night, imagine what the whole psalm could do.
I added Psalm 23 and, over several years, memorized entire books of the Bible. While driving, washing dishes, and putting small boys to sleep I meditated on the Word, pondering to understand, comparing Scripture with Scripture. I got excited about context and the meaning of words, realizing the difference they made. When I was afraid, verses I had memorized flew to my aid.
Consume, memorize, meditate, and be transformed. Rinse and repeat—full-strength doses of God’s Truth for my weakness, ignorance, and confusion.
From flabby and feelings-centered, I conditioned my brain to think Truth, and I developed spiritual muscles. Clinging to Christ in the Word, I stood my ground in the battle.
Over 25 years later, baby Curtis is now a full-bearded, married man. The mission did not “send us home.” In fact, after we evacuated from Pakistan following 9/11, it redeployed us to India, where we served for over fourteen years.
By God’s grace, I am winning the battle to own my mind. I stand guard daily, no longer a prisoner of Satan’s lies. No more tossed here and there by the expectations, opinions, and theologies of others.
I am being transformed by His Word.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom 12:2).
Nancy and her husband, Don, served as missionaries in Pakistan and India for many years before relocating to Canada in 2017. They continue to share Christ with Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs in Kelowna, B.C.