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More Than Food Stamps

July 2012
By: Emily Chase
The girl sat across the table from me in my office. Tears rolled down her face. "Amber" had been laid off from her job. Her father had hurt her and manipulated her before abandoning the family altogether. Her boyfriends had sexually abused her and then gone AWOL when she became pregnant. Now her mother was kicking her out of the house. Amber and her two young sons had nowhere to go. She was pregnant with yet another child. The tears dropped to her lap where her hands clutched a damp tissue.

As Amber reached for a fresh tissue, I thought of another young woman who had experienced these same feelings of despair. Also pregnant, that young woman had run away from her home only to find that her problems refused to stay in the old location but followed her wherever she went. Thousands of years earlier, that young woman named Hagar sank to her knees in the desert. Alone, depressed, and without resources, Sarai's servant Hagar collapsed and prepared to die.

Like the woman sitting across from me in my office, Hagar faced some circumstances which were beyond her control. No one ever asked Hagar for her opinion about being sold as a slave to a foreigner. No one consulted her about being a proxy mother for Abraham's child.


Other problems, however, were ones of her own making. Just as my client made a decision to have sex with her boyfriends and then faced the consequences, Hagar made a decision to mock her mistress and incite her anger. Now she was reaping the results of her own actions.

This woman had no claim to God's promises, yet a quick review of Genesis 16 shows God reaching out to comfort a woman who was not even a Hebrew. Hagar was an Egyptian. Everything about her was foreign — her hair, her skin color, her heavy accent, and her habits. As a child she had learned about the gods of Egypt including Ra and Isis and Osiris. What did she know of this unseen God that Abraham worshiped? Like my client, Amber, who had never opened a Bible or stepped inside a church, Hagar had little knowledge of Jehovah beyond what she had learned in the tents of Abraham. When Hagar's own flesh and blood parents had not listened to her cry of anguish, how could she expect her master's unseen God to hear, much less respond to, her needs?

Still, God chose to listen to Hagar's woes and answer her cry for help. In a passage that many people find confusing, God offered Hagar a promise that was so wonderful that she was willing to return to the home of Abram and Sarai, submit to her mistress, and endure another dozen years of slavery. Jehovah didn't hand her food stamps or sign her up for Section 8 housing. He offered her hope.

Yet at first glance, the words of comfort God offered Hagar appear to be more like a curse than a blessing. God told her that her son would grow up to be as a donkey, unable to get along with others, a social misfit. This was the promise that motivated a severely depressed mother to return to slavery?

Yes, despite the appearance of these verses, they offered hope. For when Hagar thought of a donkey, she didn't think of someone who made an idiot of himself. She didn't form an image of a person stubborn as a mule as we might imagine. Instead, she would picture a wild animal running through the desert, free and untamed, submitting to no one. The Lord described this beast to Job, saying, "Who has let the wild donkey go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey, to whom I have given the arid plain for his home and the salt land for his dwelling place? He scorns the tumult of the city; he hears not the shouts of the driver" (Job 39:5-7).

Freedom. When Hagar heard God's words, she heard an amazing promise that her son, the child of a slave, would be free!

Combine that wonderful news with what Hagar may have overheard from Abram only a short time before, a prophecy that his descendants would be slaves in Egypt for four hundred years. When Jehovah promised Hagar that her son would live far from his brothers, the ones that would soon face slavery, these powerful words were enough to give hope. She could overcome even depression, rise up on her feet, and return to her mistress.

Looking at Amber wiping tears from her cheeks, I realized that my task was not merely to provide her a crib for her baby or a family anxious to adopt her child. My privilege was to offer her something far more valuable.

"Amber, do you know there is a Father in heaven who has always loved you and will never abandon you? He will never use you or manipulate you."

As she lifted her head, Amber's eyes moistened again. These tears were different, however. They were tears of hope.

Emily Chase has had opportunity to serve a host of pregnant clients as she volunteered for 25 years at a PCC she helped to found. She is the author of six books. Emily developed the sexual purity curriculum called "Waiting — The Smart Choice!" which is being used in public schools and churches across the country and around the world. She and her husband reside in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

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