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The sun was setting on a long, hot, dusty day, which Abigail spent in the market arguing with other sellers and customers. Some of the loaves of bread that she brought to sell were on her blanket so people would stop to buy, but she kept most of the bread hidden so that men going by wouldn’t just take it. Abigail was parched, feeling like she had sweat all the water out of her body by the end of the day, and the dust had settled into it making her skin feel muddy. Now seeing that no one else was coming to buy her bread, she folded up her display blanket and put it into the bag holding the few loaves she hadn’t sold. Making sure the little bag holding the coins people had paid her was still tied to her waist under her skirt, she set out for home. A very slight breeze made the walk almost tolerable.

Arriving home in the village of Sychar, she opened the street door, stepped inside, closed it again, and walked into the courtyard, then straight to the first door to the right of the entry door. Taking out the coin bag from under her skirt, she knocked, the door opened, and the woman she worked for put out her hand, palm up. Abigail put the coin bag in her hand and waited. The woman poured all the coins into her hand, counted them and said, “Good job.” Then she put just six of the coins back into the coin bag and gave it back to the girl. Turning to go, Abigail thought, “Not fair. I sat in the heat all day and she only pays me six pennies! I wish I had a dad, then I wouldn’t have to work for someone else every day. But at least I get to take home the left-over loaves.” Abigail walked straight across to a gate, opened it and walked into a second courtyard. This one was much smaller than the first, just a row of small storage rooms enclosed by walls at each end. Abigail lived in one of these small rooms with her mother and little sister.

One of the duties Abigail’s mother had every day was to go to a well outside of the village and draw out water. This was no easy task. She would start by lowering a jar on a rope into the well, letting it fill up, then pulling up the heavy jar full of water out of the well. She would pour the water into a larger jar, draw up another jar of water to add to the first, repeat this a third time, then load the big jar onto her head and carry the smaller one, rope and all, back home. The family living around the larger courtyard included the grandfather who owned the home, his wife, his four sons and their wives and children – a total of over twenty people. So Abigail’s mother had to go to the well several times each day. Most of the women who went to the well for water would go in the evening when it was not so hot, but Abigail’s mother was not welcomed by these women, and she had other duties in the evenings, so she would go early in the afternoons so she could get ready for her night time duties.

On this evening, when Abigail opened the door to their room, as expected, her mother was gone, but her little sister, Bilhah, was sweeping the floor with a small broom, creating more dust. “Bilhah, you are filling up the room with more dust!” she shouted. “As if it is not hot and dusty enough, you are making it worse in here.”

“Mama told me to clean up the room,” Bilhah protested, “I’m just doing the best I can.”

“Well stop,” Abigail shouted again. “You are making everything worse. If you did it right the first time, sprinkling the floor with water, the room would be clean by now, not dusty everywhere.”

Bilhah put the broom down on the floor and stepped toward the door. “Where are you going, Bilhah?” asked Abigail. “Pick up the broom and put it back in its place. Why can’t you do anything right?”

Bilhah put the broom back, sat down and began quietly crying. “What’s the matter with you?” Abigail asked.

“I try, but it’s never good enough,” Bilhah cried.

Abigail turned to the pitcher of water on the small table. Pouring some of the water into a basin, she said, “Bilhah, go outside and play. I need to wash the mud off my body and out of my hair. Don’t leave the yard. I’ll call you when I’m finished.” Bilhah left the room and closed the door behind her.

Abigail took off her dusty clothes and started washing the mud off her face and body. The cool water lifted her spirit as it cleaned her skin. Wrapping a towel around herself, she opened the door and threw the water out of the basin onto the dirt in front of the door. Noticing that Bilhah was sitting by herself across the yard in a corner, she turned back to the room and closed the door behind her. She filled the basin again, removed the towel and began washing her hair.

Suddenly the door swung open and Abigail looked up to see a man, one of the fathers from the front courtyard, standing in the doorway looking at her. For a few seconds neither of them moved. Then the man stepped inside, closed the door and said gruffly, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”

Abigail froze as he started toward her, but then screamed, “Don’t you touch me!” as she grabbed the basin and threw the dirty water into his face. When he covered his face with his hands to wipe off the water, she slipped around him and ran out the door. Running away from her door, she saw the gate to the big courtyard open and a woman walk through it. Abigail stopped and pointed to her open door.

The woman walked toward the door, stopped and asked, “What are you doing, my master? This is just a little girl. Please leave her alone and come with me. I will make you happy, or her mother will make you happy. But don’t add more evil to your life.”

While the woman talked, Bilhah came over to her sister, put her arms around her and stood between Abigail and the two adults. Both the girls were now crying. They stood where they were until the man and the woman walked through the gate into the big courtyard and closed it behind them. Then the girls walked back to their room, closed the door and cried together.

After a while, Abigail brushed out her hair and put on her undergarments and a clean robe. “What are we going to do?” Bilhah asked. “We can’t go find Mama.”

“We can’t stay here tonight,” Abigail said. It’s too dangerous. The man might come back, and Mama won’t be here. We have to find a safe place to sleep.”

“What about one of the storage rooms?” Bilha suggested.

“No, when he doesn’t find us here, he will look in all the storage rooms. We have to go somewhere else.”

“But where?” Bilhah asked. “No one likes us. No one will let us stay in their home even for one night, and how will we get through the big courtyard without being seen?”

“I have an idea,” Abigail said. “Our window is small, but we can fit through it. I’ll stand on the bed and crawl out. There is an old chair outside the window. I’ll get it, stand on it and pull you out the window. We will walk to a place no one will look for us and sleep there. But first let’s each take a blanket and drop it out the window so we can stay warm.”

Both girls dropped a blanket out the window, and then Abigail climbed from the bed, head first, through the window. When her knees reached the windowsill, she bent them so her calves kept her in place. Then reaching down with her hands, she straightened her knees, and dropped to the ground, hands first, and rolling into a summersault, she landed on the blankets and stood up. Abigail quickly moved the chair under the window, stood on it and reached her arms through the window to her little sister. Bilhah reached up, Abigail grabbed her wrists, and pulled her through the window. Falling off the chair, they both landed on the blankets. Immediately grabbing their blankets, they snuck away.

The quarter moon was a crescent of light, just bright enough to see the ground in front of them, and the shapes of the houses nearby. The girls walked hand in hand, each carrying a blanket. Just outside the village was a field surrounded by a wall, with two narrow entrances, one at each end. This was the village bathroom. As Abigail led Bilhah through one of the entrances, she said, “I know this place really stinks, but it is safe. Not even animals will come in here, and no one from the village will either, until tomorrow morning.” The girls walked carefully to a corner, wrapped their blankets around themselves and eventually fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The light of dawn awakened them, and taking their blankets they carefully walked out of the field and went home. Quietly closing the front door, they tiptoed across the courtyard and through the gate into the small courtyard, then to the door of their room. Dropping their smelly blankets outside the door, they opened it, and found their mother sitting on the bed sobbing. “Where have you been?” she sobbed. “When I came in last night, the room was trashed and you were gone. I thought someone stole you.” The girls jumped into her arms. Through their own sobs, they told their mother what had happened and where they slept. “I’m so sorry,” their mother said, “but you are safe. You did the right thing. I’m proud of you both.” Exhausted from being up all night, the girls’ mother lay down on the bed with them and they all fell asleep.

Just after noon, they woke up, ate some lunch, and the girls’ mother prepared to go to the well. “Why don’t you girls come with me to get water today? I don’t want to leave you here by yourselves, ever again.” So they walked together, Abigail carrying the small jug with the rope. When they arrived, their mother said, “Stay here while I go draw water. I don’t want you falling in. You can wait in the shade of this tree while I draw out the water.”

As her mother approached the well, Abigail looked up and saw that a strange man was sitting by the well. Both the girls watched to be sure their mother was safe. Looking straight into her eyes, the man asked, “Will you give me a drink?” Abigail and Bilhah couldn’t hear the rest of their conversation, but after a while several more men came and joined the man. The girls turned toward each other and began talking about their night of fear.

A few minutes later, they looked up to see their mother approaching them without her water jugs. “Come girls,” she said, the man I talked to is the Messiah, the Promised One! I’m sure of it. He knew all about my life and told me everything I ever did! We have to tell everyone to come listen to him.”

A lot of things changed in Sychar that afternoon and over the next two days. When people saw the changes in their mother and in Abigail and Bilhah, they were convinced that the Messiah had changed them, and believed in him. And many more became followers of the Messiah because of his words to them, and concluded, “This man is the Savior of the world.” Abigail, Bilhah, and their mother were adopted by a family of these believers, and became part of a growing band of followers of Messiah Jesus. And the girls never again had to be home alone without their mother.

Family Discussion Questions
A Drink of Water that Changed a Village

This story is fictional, based on the Apostle John’s non-fictional, true account of a conversation between a woman at a well and Messiah Jesus, found in the Bible in John 4:4-42.

Q. What words did you hear in the story that you didn’t know?

A. Give your children the meaning of each word they remember but can’t define.

Q. Are you a kid without a dad, or do you know a kid without a dad?

A. Listen for expressions of what life without a dad is like for your child or for a child your kid knows about.

Q. Since their mother was rejected, Abigail and Bilhah were also rejected by the people of Sychar. Do you think this happens to kids today too?

A. Listen for experiences of rejection by your kids or by any of their friends.

Q. Ask your kids if like Bilhah, they ever feel like they cannot do anything right.

A. Tell them that no one does everything right. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes mistakes are the best way to learn how to do something better.

Q. How might this story help you understand John 4:4-42?

A. Possibly: This story is based on John 4:4-42, as two daughters of the woman Jesus met at Jacob’s well might have experienced it in the culture of Jesus’ day, where children were used and abused as many are today.

Q. Messiah Jesus intentionally stopped in Sychar, a village in Samaria. Most Rabbis would go out of their way to avoid travelling through Samaria, where Sychar was. Why do you think Jesus went to Sychar?

A. Maybe Jesus wanted to show his disciples that Samaritans, whom the Jews rejected and were prejudiced against, were people he loved and wanted to be his “children” as well as any group or nationality of people.

Q. When Abigail was in her room washing her hair and the father from the front courtyard stepped inside, closed the door and said gruffly, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” Did it scare you for Abigail?

A. Let your child or children share their fear and concerns. Then tell them that not all adults are kind to children and some want to hurt children for their own pleasure. Abigail’s reaction surprised the man, and she got away. But here is what I want you to do if a stranger or an adult you don’t know well approaches you when other adults are not close by. (Tell your child what you want her or him to do.) Some parents want their kid to scream and run. The best prevention is to not be all alone.

 

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Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Rex Johnson
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used with author’s permission.

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