She knew her vision was from God. She was sitting with the full moon in her hands and its light was shining throughout the land. She didn’t understand but she knew the dream was from God or Allah as she called him back then. Aissatu was Fula and all Fulas were Muslim. She knew no other name for the Supreme Being, her creator, ruler of the universe. She didn’t tell a soul but treasured the message in her heart where it gave her hope and courage throughout the hard years ahead.
She never did know her birth date. One of her relatives once told her she was born in the rainy season so she chose the date of July 12th. She never did determine the exact year. Her parents both died somewhere beyond her memory and she was raised by her aunt. Death comes early to the Fulas of Guinea Bissau. Rated by the United Nations as the third poorest country in the world, a fifth of all children die before the age of five and death during childbirth is quite common. Over a third of the people are stunted by malnutrition. Malaria is both rampant and deadly. Thus many children find themselves in Aissatu’s position. Traditionally, they are taken in and raised by relatives. Often, however, they are little more than slaves, with no status or rights within the extended family. Though her adopted family was fairly well off, she had to watch her cousins going to school while being told there was too little money and way too much work for her time to be wasted on education for a stupid little orphan girl. Even other family members would come and plead for Aissatu but the Aunt remained hard hearted towards her.
Somewhere about the age of 14 she escaped into an arranged marriage only to find even more work and drudgery, especially when the children started coming. She was a first wife, but her husband often left her to go live with another woman. Then when the food and money ran out she would be faced with finding out where he was and trying to get there. No car, no bike, no money for a bus or even a burro cart, the only way to get anywhere was to walk. She tells of one time when her twin daughters, Usi and Assanatu, were just infants, of having to walk to a town over 60 kilometers away. She bundled one baby in front, one on her back, and held the hand of her 4 yr old daughter who carried the small sack of their possessions. Days later when she arrived, her husband had already moved on.
Twins are frequent in the Fula tribe. There are no baby bottles, or prepared baby food or cans of formula. Neither are there disposable diapers. When a Fula woman has twins, it is customary for another woman to be hired to come in and help. Aissatu had no such luxury. She nursed and cared for her wins all on her own.
The grueling work, continual poverty, and frequent affairs of the husband all took a toll on the marriage. Anger and violence became a way of life in the family. About four years after her son, Sajo was born; there was a particularly violent argument. Her husband beat her severely, threw her out, took the children, and gave her a divorce. However, he did not take any better care of the children without their mother than he had with her there. All the children wanted to live with Aissatu and the courts finally awarded her the children. However, she never did receive any of the ordered child support.
If it were possible, life became even worse at this point. With no husband or family to rely on, she was the sole support of her children. Her country had no Public Assistance Program, child Welfare, or Child Protection Services for that matter. No Food Stamps, no subsidized housing. No programs for the homeless, no public schools, no free hot lunches or Head Start programs……Nothing. What followed was several grueling years, Aissatu would pound one rock against another breaking them into smaller pieces and selling the resulting gravel at the side of the road. Sometimes her son Sajo would go fishing in a nearby river and then, if he caught anything, try to sell it in the market or try to trade it for some rice. Aissatu remembers becoming so hungry and angry that she would throw her children clear across the room and into the wall. Despite her dream of the moon, she had become a mean, angry, violent woman with no hope who was harming, the very children that she loved so much.
Finally, late one night after being particularly abusive and having not eaten for several days, she reached the end of herself. She kneeled down in the middle of the road and cried out to Allah to help her. If he wouldn’t help her, would he take her life because she could not go on any longer. She then heard an audible voice telling her to go to the Brazilian missionaries and she would find help there.
This was terrifying. First of all, Allah had actually spoken to her. Secondly he had told her to do an outrageous thing. She felt white people were so far above her as to be unapproachable….especially as she was a lowly, poverty stricken woman. Also, they weren’t Muslim and there might be repercussions if she were seen…..not that the Muslim community had helped her in any way. When she arrived at the Missionaries’ home, the husband wasn’t in so she talked with the wife. The woman told her that she could help her with only one bag of rice but when that bag of rice was finished she could not provide any more. However, what she really needed was to learn about Jesus, the Son of God, because He was the one that would always help and provide for her. Along with the bag of rice came an invitation so come to church to learn about this Jesus. They would even come by on Sunday morning and give her a ride in their pickup!
That first Sunday was petrifying! The truck arrived full of laughing, singing, shouting people. She slunk into the cab and slid down on the floor board hiding and hoping no one would know she, a Muslim, was going to the Christian church. There she heard about Jesus. She kept coming back each Sunday and Wednesday evenings to as she always wanted to learn more and more about this Jesus who loved her and promised never to leave her. Later Aissatu often said that “With the Fula, accepting Jesus is a process.” And yes, this process was occurring in her life also.
Things started to look up. Later, her children told me what a changed person she had become. No longer angry and violent, she became a happy, loving and concerned parent. Home was finally a good place to be. For a brief time she had a job as a housekeeper for a Doctor where she learned about cleaning and how to prepare food safely. Even though the Doctor soon moved on, she kept going to Church and learning about Jesus. Finally, after several months, she fully committed her life and was baptized. Six weeks later my husband and I moved to Guinea Bissau.
The other missionaries insisted that we needed house help, otherwise, without electricity and running water, we would be spending all of our time in cleaning and food preparation rather than in the missionary work we had come to do. We went to the same Brazilian missionary to see if she knew of anyone who would be good to hire. Thus Aissatu arrived in our home and into our lives.
The first time she cooked a meal for us was quite a memorable event. She gestured to us (we couldn’t speak the language yet) that the meal was ready and then disappeared. We waited, and waited, and waited. No Aissatu. Finally we found her in the back yard sitting on a stump trying to balance her plate on her knees. My husband motioned for her to come in the house and she refused. Finally he literally dragged her into the dinning room muttering something about if she was good enough to cook our meals; she was good enough to eat them with us. Aissatu sat trembling at the table with tears of terror in her eyes. She lifted her hand as high as she could reach saying Patron ( boss), then she moved her had to mid level and said “Seniora” meaning me, and than she lowered her hand down to the floor and said “Aissatu”. My husband, John shook his head no, and holding his hand level said firmly, Patron, Seniora, Aissatu. And in the little Creole he knew explained that we were all the same in the eyes of Jesus.
Later, when we could all speak the language better, she explained to us that this had been a turning point in her life…. That, if we were all really equal, Jesus really could operate the same way in her life as He did in ours. She observed that when we were obedient to what He directed us to do, we were successful and God prospered us. So she started stepping out in little ways…..at first.
She and her children were living in the saddest little one room in a building of 7 other little rooms filled with seven other families. The land lord insisted that she move out because she was a Christian. She ended up in a new, one family four room house in a quieter cooler part of town for less rent! As she had a longer way to walk to work, we bought her a bike. So, in her late thirties, Aissatu finally had the opportunity to learn how to ride a bicycle.
Though she couldn’t read and write, we began to realize how intelligent she was. I could give her a list of thirteen items along their quantities (three kilos of this, two packages of that, etc.) and she could go to the market and bring back exactly what I had ordered. She quickly learned to safely use a gas stove and prepare the western dishes we liked. In addition to her tribal language, she spoke Creole, Portuguese, French and Wullif. With our encouragement, she started evening classes eventually completing the third grade level. She was so thrilled when she finally progressed to the point where she could read the bible and thus memorize scripture.
We asked her what she wanted to do when her children were raised. She had hopes and plans for each but nothing for herself. We encouraged her to pray about this and she came back the next day asking if we thought it was possible that she could become an evangelist. Of course it was possible! She was already giving her testimony. She loved to tell others how Jesus had changed her life and blessed her. I saw her witness to a Muslim scholar who had been arguing with another missionary on various points of the Koran vs. the Bible. She very quietly said that she didn’t know about such educated things but she knew what Jesus had done for her….and she proceeded to tell him at length. He had no argument for this. This Muslim scholar, is now a Christian, has completed Bible school, and is out evangelizing himself.
We continued to encourage Aissatu. She was attending the only church in town that was run by a missionary; the others all had National Pastors. She asked her Pastor if she could evangelize. He told her she couldn’t as she did not know how. She then asked if she could take the class the church was offering on evangelism, again she was turned down because she could not read and write. According to him, she was not qualified. So Aissatu came to us and asked if she could borrow our individual DVD player and the Jesus Film on DVD in her tribal tongue of Fulacunda. She would then go out and show the film in private homes and tell them how Jesus had worked in her life. Away from the judgment of the public eye, she found that her people were very receptive to the Gospel and many conversions followed. Around her town of Gabu, children followed after her begging her to come to their home and show the film. She became known as the Jesus Lady. She would laugh and say, “All those other people are still sitting around in class learning how to evangelize while I am out doing it”.
A short term missionary team came and was so impressed with her work that they purchased a motor scooter for her. Then she was able to travel out to other villages. Entire populations came to know Jesus because of her message.
She was deeply grieved that many of her young converts were thrown out of their homes and the adult children of elderly converts often refused to give their parents food. Her new Christians were hungry and homeless and she knew first hand about that. So she purchased a large tract of land with the money she had saved from her wages. The proceeds from the sale of jewelry that a US based group of women had sent her was used to buy seed. She cleared and planted the land with just the help of her children. Then she donated the harvest giving to each church in town to pass on to their poor and abandoned members. She envisioned a refuge where new converts who were expelled from their Muslim families could go, build a simple thatched adobe hut, be disciples and learn to grow food to support themselves.
Her last outreach was to an unreached people group called the Podja Dinka or Jaad. There, along with short term missionaries from the US, she reaped a harvest of over 50 souls. Shortly after, at the age of approximately 45 she sickened and died. All the Pastors from the nearby churches spoke at her funeral and, for the first time ever in Gabu, the Muslim leadership issued and edict that no one was to attend her funeral. She certainly made an impact! Aissatu is now in the arms of her Savior but the light of her “moon” continues to shine over Western Africa.
Written by: Rachel Hiskey
To See Aissatu’s Video, click HERE