Hearing God’s voice through the lives of others.
Growing up in a family where being an active member of the Christian church was part of our family rhythm, I knew God was real from the time I was a young child.
I heard him speak to me. Not as an audible voice so much, but as waves of distinctive emotion that would wash over me, compelling me to respond. Sometimes it happened in church when an open invitation was given to stand and pray. Other times it was at school when the girl with the translucent skin, thick glasses and sandwiches made from crusty multigrain bread was made fun of and sat alone.
Often it happened through music, or art or movies, where a lyric or a line would be the gateway to this unspeakably distinct voice of the supernatural revealing his character and calling me to engage with his heart for the world — to make him known. It was always about making him known, either in greater measure in my life, or in the spaces I found myself engaging in.
Once it happened as a teen, convicting me that becoming a Salvation Army officer (minister) was the way I would choose to make God known, and this I have done for the past 20 years.
As the years have passed and the cost of obedience to the voice of God has included deep personal pain and left me with more questions than answers, I have found myself conflicted with who this God really is and hungering for a new and deeper revelation of him in my own life.
Then came the opportunity to go to southern India on a trip of discovery with two nurses, one midwife and two Indian missionary saints.
It was in India that I learnt that behind every face is a story and every story reflects the voice of God.
I met Anam, a 70-year-old spinster with paraplegia who first came to live at The Salvation Army training centre 50 years ago when it trained women with physical disabilities in employable skills. Anam never left. She lives independently in her room, spending her mainly solitary days joyfully embroidering, tending to her two potted plants and chatting to whoever walks by.
Anam is wheeled to church on Sunday — her only outing each week. She asked us to come and pray for her before we left. Bowing her head and putting her hands together like a child, she earnestly listened as we prayed in a language she couldn’t understand, before she took her turn. Her prayer was desperately raw and filled with gratitude and deep, deep faith.
I also met a group of women who are HIV-positive, many now business owners, all supporting their families because of the empowerment from a Salvation Army self-help group and hospital. I heard their stories of rejection and watched as they wept, remembering how they had considered that their only option was to take their life and the lives of the children. Then they shared their thankfulness and joy toward the God of The Salvation Army that their lives had been brought back from the clutches of death.
And then there was Benny, whose innovation and dedication to meet the needs of his region’s most vulnerable and his vision to start a college of nursing, had him falsely arrested by a corrupt superior.
In India I heard story after story, too many to tell, and rediscovered that, in spite of the world’s brokenness, it doesn’t change God’s character. He is good, generous, sustaining and the giver of joy and peace. He demonstrates this to me in countless ways if I take time to look.
I was reminded that being a Christian is about generously, passionately and joyfully loving God and loving others, using what’s in our hands — nothing more, nothing less — and that this is where real ‘life’ is found.
I rediscovered what it looks like to “be still and with deep faith know that he is God”.
Nicole Viles is a Salvation Army officer in New South Wales.