Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Battered Briefcase of Words

by Audrey Frank @AudreyCFrank

It was days before Christmas, but you would never know it to look around the village. Mud huts formed a semi-circle around a huge baobab tree, our little house shyly standing off to the edge. There was no electricity in this remote area of the East African bush to brighten strings of holiday lights, no Christmas trees dotting the landscape. There were barely any trees at all other than the ancient, knobby sentinel in the center of the compound. 

Tucked in a corner of our bedroom, we had erected a Charlie Brown tree sent in the mail by our loving parents thousands of miles away. One night by kerosene lantern we had cut out felt stars and twisted paper clips to fasten the homemade ornaments to the tree. Had our neighbors seen it, they might have concluded the stars were our prayers hung on its branches, much like they sometimes hung theirs in the form of strips of colorful cloth, hoping the spirits would answer.

We kept our Christmas tree to ourselves, but found many other opportunities to share the meaning of Christmas with our neighbors.

This particular day I popped next door to my friend Fatima’s house to see if she needed help with her work. Usually at this time of day, I could hear the pound, pound, pounding of her life-sized mortar and pestle, the ones she used to beat corn kernels into grain, but today all was quiet. 

As I drew near her thatched kitchen, I saw the stranger. Wizened and wiry, he stood erect like a little bird, ready to hop toward me and deliver some marvelous message. Fatima stood a little behind him, her sharp, intelligent eyes flashing with mirth. 

The fingers of his right hand were folded around the handle of a battered brown briefcase, which, upon seeing me, he quickly laid on a woven mat outside Fatima’s door and popped open with a flourish. With an excited twitch, he motioned for me to draw near and take a closer look.

Inside the magic box was the most curious array of literature I had ever seen. Pages of the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, written in tiny Arabic letters, were nestled beside leaflets containing excerpts from the Christian New Testament in English. Small booklets engraved with gold letters in Hindu script lay next to strings of leather and bits of bark, special seed pods, and various seashells.

“Behold, my briefcase of words!” the spry little sage declared.

“What do you need today? Are you a Christian? I have Christian words. Their magic can make you well.”

“Want to try another religion? I have Muslim words, words from other lands far away! I even have words spoken secretly into the heart of the Baobab tree.”

I had met witch doctors before, but never a traveling one. This lively man was walking throughout the nine tribes in the area, offering to make charms out of his briefcase of words. His charms, he claimed, could heal the sick, cause failing crops to grow, and make babies stop crying at night. The secret to his magic, he explained, was in the power of words. Each charm he fashioned was stuffed with words and his guarantee that they would change your life.

Fatima and I made some chai and invited him to sit awhile. Over hot cups of tea, we told him about a silent night when the Word became flesh in the form of a tiny baby, born in a manger on Christmas Day. His eyes sparkled with curiosity as we explained that Jesus was the Name above every name, the One who indeed had whispered words and created the mighty baobab tree and every other living thing. The traveling doctor glanced at his briefcase, looked back at us, and looked at his briefcase again, his brow creased with inner conflict.

In the end, he closed his battered briefcase of words and thanked us quietly for the sweet milky tea. His demeanor had changed. As he walked down the winding dusty road through the cornfields that afternoon, his head was bent in thought. I watched him until he faded out of sight.

I never saw the little man again. But on that Christmas and every one since, I have prayed he would know the most powerful Word of all, the One who came at Christmastime that we all might have life.

Do you know the Word this holiday season? Lay aside your battered briefcase of words and listen awhile to the story of Christmas.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it. John 1:1-5


Audrey Frank is an author, speaker, and storyteller. The stories she shares are brave and true. They give voice to those whose words are silenced by shame, the hard things in life that don’t make sense, and the losses that leave us wondering if we will survive. Audrey and her family have spent over twenty years living and working among different cultures and world views, and she has found that God’s story of redemption spans every geography (geographical location)  and culture. He is the God of Instead, giving honor instead of shame, gladness instead of mourning, hope instead of despair. Although she has three different degrees in communication and intercultural studies, Audrey’s greatest credential is that she is known and loved by the One who made her.

Her upcoming book, From Shame to Honor, is an outpouring of Audrey’s heart to introduce others to the God of Instead. Shame is not unique to the developing world, the plight of the women behind veils, young girls trafficked across borders; shame is lurking in hearts everywhere. Through powerful stories from women around the world, From Shame to Honor illuminates the power of the Gospel to remove shame, giving honor instead. Look for it through Harvest House Publishers in the fall of 2018.

You can also find Audrey at, as well as on Twitter and Facebook


  1. Amen Ms. Audrey C. Frank; Amen. The words of man, as mighty and powerful as they might be, fall silent at The Word of God. What a beautiful message to start my day with. God's blessings young lady.

    1. Thank you, Jim. I pray for you and for me that we will always silence our own words before the Word of God before we write. Blessings to you and happy holidays!

  2. What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the time you spent in an uncomfortable place sharing Christ with those in a faraway land.

    1. Thank you Barbara. At the time, I never imagined one day I would share that story with others. It has been a great privilege to steward such stories for the Lord and I am glad you were blessed by it. Happy holidays to you!