A Peculiar Swahili Word


Teena Myers
SCW Chair

“My life growing up was dull,” said Mary. “I was never bad or disorderly as a child. Later, I was too busy studying to be a nurse to have time for partying with friends.”

Her family believed in God, but rarely attended church. Encounters with drug addicts left her with the conviction she never wanted to be one. During her teenage years, the Catholic Charismatic movement briefly touched her life, but God seemed unreachable. She pursued a career in nursing, believing she would find fulfillment and meaning. Becoming a nurse failed to fill the God sized hole in her life. A thirst to know God continued to grow. 

The summer after she graduated from nursing school, Mary had a patient scheduled for open heart surgery. She entered the patient’s room to administer medicine and encountered a man holding a Bible, praying for her patient. She did not know what to do, so she slowly backed out of the room. The man with the Bible waved her to come in. She administered the medicine and departed, but the scene stirred up a long held curiosity about God.

Later that day, she broke for lunch late. The cafeteria had already closed. She took the elevator to the break room to piece together a meal from the vending machines. While purchasing a bag of popcorn, she saw the man with the Bible seated at a nearby table. Mary sat at his table and referenced their encounter in the patient’s room. Suddenly, an avalanche of questions about God poured from her lips. He answered as many questions as he could during her brief lunch break and then prayed for her. “I remember stepping out of the elevator on the fifth floor and thinking wow God is real!said Mary.

That realization led Mary to fifteen years of missionary work in Africa. She defines the lives of the people she ministers to with a peculiar Swahili word–Sug-ga-la-bu-ga-la (the spelling is my best guess), which means a mess or state of disorder. Today, she is a co-director with her husband, of a ministry designed to restore the lives of men who have lost their way creating disorder in their lives.

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