That’s Natasja Foster’s faith – and while she doesn’t trumpet it, its mere fact is enough to spur on those of us who battle to get out of our comfort zones. Comfort zones that are so often warm and cloying, bringing with them spiritual atrophy.
Over java one warm morning at a Hillcrest coffee shop, Natasja and I get chatting about the Ethiopian mission trip, from which she’s just returned. Almost immediately Matthew 14:29 comes to mind in terms of her sheer obedience to God: “`Come,’ He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”
More specifically, Natasja visited Ethiopia under the aegis of Bibles Beyond Borders (BBB) – a locally born organisation whose name is pretty self explanatory, and an organisation of which she just happens to be the founder. More of which in a minute.
But it’s the animated way in which she shares imagery of her trip that literally brings it to life as we sit in a comfortable coffee shop thousands of kilometres from that controversial African country.
Natasja was part of a team of five on the Ethiopian sojourn, and perhaps her most soul-searing image of that trip was the sight of many women carrying massive loads of wood over long distances. “I tried, and I simply could not move when I tried bearing one of those burdens made up of firewood which is used purely for survival,” smiles Natasja incredulously at the memory. “I mean, I could not physically move one single step! “Even a big six-foot guy in our group could only totter a couple of steps carrying one of these loads.”
For Natasja that wood was rich in symbolism.
“Ethiopia has a big heart but it carries a lot of burdens both spiritual and physical,” she states. “And when I asked God for a prayer that I could pray over this nation, that imagery immediately came to mind.” More than that, Natasja says that the BBB group noticed “a real hunger for the word.”
And while Coptic Christians have a long history in Ethiopia, what is needed is the living Church and the living Word.
“I felt that they are praying to the wrong god,” she says. “I felt such a conviction that this was the reason they were so heavily burdened…”
BBB itself had its remarkable genesis in 2014. “I had always wanted to spread God’s word, and I truly felt that a mission trip would be the answer. I had no idea what would be in store for me,” says Natasja.
The first trip that she ventured on took over two days alone on a bus, travelling to a remote village in the South East part of Malawi. And while the heat and the language barrier were challenging, the Bible that Natasja had open on her lap brought great solace. “All the time I was alone with just my Bible,” she recounts.
Let’s also not forget that on this trip – as with her Ethiopian venture – Natasja left her husband and two kids behind in Hillcrest. A poignant point indeed for those of us who think we’d like to go on mission trips but worry about family commitments!
In Malawi, Natasja met a remarkable pastor called Peaches, and with her characteristic humility and self-effacement, she gives him the credit for BBB and its founding. “Upon leaving I asked him what they would really like assistance with. The response was breathtaking,” she recalls. “I truly thought that with all the poverty and shortages I had witnessed in my few days there, he would ask for money or food. All he replied was, `Please send Bibles to the Yao people of Malawi!’”
Leaping ahead a little from that initial trip to Malawi, through what are termed “Bright Light” events BBB has now been able to raise much-needed funds.
Indeed, in a venture to which the word “miraculous” can easily be attached,
Natasja’s organisation (and she’d probably wince at it being called that, such is her humility) helped fulfill Peaches request.
In fact, last year BBB had the opportunity to secure a staggering 6 000 Bibles – printed in the local Malawian dialect – for R200 000. That equates to around a mere R33 per Bible, and they were distributed to those hungry for the Word, with money coming from both generous donations and that fund-raising, of course. The organisation has also been active in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where Natasja hopes to visit shortly, while she admits that Rwanda and Uganda have been on her heart of late.
“You know, when I went on that first trip to Malawi I thought I was going to teach but I got taught,” says Natasja with her characteristic gentle smile. “The people I was with just sacrificed so much and experienced so much hardship, yet they gave the little they had.”
Adds this remarkable woman: “We get into our comfort zones in the lives we live, but the moment you step out in faith with God and say `yes,’ He will guide you. It’s not always easy-peasy and you have to have love and compassion. Once you have that you see things differently…”