One day, a young woman asked her mother for a Bible, because she was anxious to have her own just like the others in the Bible class. The story circulated around the village. The reaction was mixed – joy, sympathy, scepticism, cynicism and bewilderment. A Bible? Everyone knew she couldn’t read! Yet apparently she was determined to have a Bible.
Pauline was her name. My first sight of her was brief when with head bowed she brushed past me in a great hurry. She made no attempt to speak to anyone, least of all to me, a stranger. Taken aback, I enquired who she was. ‘Oh, that’s Pauline!’ came the reply.
She was about thirty at the time, short and overweight, with black hair and large brown eyes. However, one hardly ever saw the latter. She was withdrawn, staring at the ground for the most part, and never saying anything — at least, to most of us.
She was also epileptic. Her education had been minimal, leaving her illiterate. Psychiatrists, electrical treatments and tablets controlled her life — the local psychiatric hospital was her second home.
A remarkable change
Thus, although she regularly attended the Lord’s Day worship and the midweek Bible class, I had every reason to doubt whether she was capable of grasping the basics of the gospel — particularly as she never appeared to be listening.
Now suddenly, nearly eighteen months since I first met her, she wanted a Bible! She also began raising her head. Truly, the Lord had graciously laid his hand upon her (Revelation 1:17).
There was no doubting she had come to understand the gospel in her simple way, reminding the rest of us in our rejoicing that redemption is by no means the preserve of sophisticated intellects.
Jesus’ prayer to the Father sprang to mind: ‘thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes’ (Matthew 11:25). In any case, do we not have to be ‘as little children’ before the kingdom of heaven can be entered (18:3)?
Pauline and her precious Bible were inseparable, a treasured ornament of which she was immensely proud. When I announced the Scripture reading, I would see her open her Bible at random and pretend to be following.
This imaginative play continued for some time, until one day she astonished everyone still further. She informed us (yes, she had emerged from her shell by this time) that with help she was teaching herself to read her Bible. She did too, in a limited way, with the one sitting next to her at the Bible class assisting her.
What a friend we have in Jesus!
Every Christian can testify to how much they owe to the grace of God, but some even more than others. Pauline was one of these. True, the psychiatrists, the hospital and the medication were ever present, but central to the limited framework of her life stood Jesus about whom she loved to speak. ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ was her theme song.
I never failed to be touched when she assured me of her prayers, and I was also deeply moved when sometimes she pitifully said to me, ‘I’ll never marry a man who doesn’t love Jesus’ — though we both knew she would never attend her own wedding.
I thought, though, of the many Christian girls willing to barter their soul’s welfare and loyalty to the Lord, for the ‘pottage’ of marrying an unbeliever — and feeling no shame in doing so.
What hope from the world?
When I visited her at the psychiatric hospital the nurse would unlock the ward door, and there would be Pauline surrounded by the most distressing and tragic cases. Yet spiritually she was in her ‘right mind’ (Luke 8:35).
Accompanied in the background by raucous screaming and groaning, we prayed together, her Bible open on her lap. And when we had finished she always reminded me that Jesus was with her.
The world had given Pauline up, consigned her to the bleakness of her future, and no doubt wished her ‘good luck’, but God had graciously intervened, choosing ‘the weak things of the world to confound’ the rest of us (1 Corinthians 1:27).
He had brought her out of her shell, lifted up her head, provided her with hope and contentment in salvation, and enabled her to read simple verses from his Word (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). Eventually, she was even enabled to pray audibly in the prayer meeting (several times!). If ever there was one who knew that ‘none but Christ can satisfy’, it was this lamb in the flock.
Leaving Pauline locked up again, unnecessarily as it was later admitted, I would sit in my car feeling heavy-hearted, and yet praising God for what he had done for his child. She had so little, but in knowing him she had everything. She had so little, but in knowing her I had received so much.
In 1984, her Friend Jesus freed his infant in the faith from her sufferings so that she could spend eternity with him. He had promised nothing less (John 14:2-3).