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Better Than the Best Shepherd Imaginable

Better Than the Best Shepherd Imaginable

NORTH AFRICA — For the first eight months that Madison studied with her language teacher Farah, Madison sensed the wall in Farah’s heart.

“I’m guarded and I don’t trust people,” Farah said early in their classes.

True to her word, Farah rarely divulged personal details or opinions. Even though she introduced cultural issues and world events as topics for conversation, she refrained from engaging in the discussion and changed the subject when it was her turn to comment.

Then one day a new vocabulary word prompted a conversation about dreams.

“I recently had a bad dream with a snake in it,” Farah said. “In my culture a dream with a snake in it means bad things are chasing you. I know this dream was a sign from Satan.”

Madison tried to hide her surprise at this uncharacteristic revelation.

“I used to have bad dreams, too, and I believe Satan was using them to scare me,” Madison said. “My parent and I started praying in Jesus’ name before I went to bed. The name of Jesus has power and the dreams stopped bothering me.”

Class time had already ended but Farah asked, “Can we talk more about this tomorrow?”

The next morning Madison prayed for God’s help as she got ready for class. Lord, what do you want me to share with her?

John 10:10 came to Madison’s mind: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (ESV). She looked at the surrounding verses about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and her jaw dropped.

One of the few details Farah had shared about her life was that she grew up as a shepherd in her remote village. It was her job to watch, guide, and take care of the sheep. God had given Madison the perfect passage for Farah.

“I have a verse I want to share with you,” Madison told Farah at class. “I think you might be able to help me understand it better, too.”

Madison opened John 10 in the local language. Farah began to read the passage aloud, pausing after each verse to explain the context from her own experience.

But when she got to verse 10, she stopped to ask for help. “Why is Jesus compared to a shepherd? Shepherds are not kind to their sheep.”

“Imagine the best shepherd possible,” Madison prompted. “How would that shepherd be different? And how would the sheep respond?”

Farah thought back to her time in the fields and tried to envision a different reality.

After a few quiet minutes she said, “That would be radical if the shepherd truly cared for the sheep. They would follow him, trust him, and do whatever he asked.”

They continued reading to the end of the chapter about Jesus’ purpose on earth, and suddenly all the questions Farah had stored in her heart came pouring out: Why do you use the word Father for God? Do you worship three gods or one? What was God’s relationship with Mary? How do you know the Bible hasn’t been changed?

Madison didn’t have the language ability to answer all of Farah’s questions, but she promised to find out.

“Yes, please tell me when you know how to describe these things,” Farah said. “I want to hear it from you.”

The next time Madison saw Farah, Farah had returned to her guarded self except for one change — she now spends far more time praying. As Farah seeks God, pray for Jesus to reveal himself as the truly Good Shepherd, not like the ones she’s witnessed but even better than the best shepherd she can imagine.

The people in this story are real, but their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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