One day I was helping a friend run a veterinary clinic on the edge of the desert. The Somali shepherds got the word that our team was there, and they walked out of the desert with their flocks so that we could treat their animals for worms. There were three of us and we treated thousands of goats, sheep, donkeys and camels that day.
We were hot and exhausted when we drove back into town. We went by the airport to pick up some medicines that had been flown in and I was told to stay in the truck while my friend went inside. It was really hot in the truck, though, and there were some shade trees and a little shed nearby. A woman had an outdoor fire with a tea-kettle so I offered to buy some tea for the Somali guy that had been translating for us all day. We placed an order for tea, she began heating the kettle over the fire and then the woman spoke to me from a squatting position, “You are Christian. You have three gods.”
Muslims are taught that Christians believe in three gods: the father (God), the mother (the virgin Mary) and the son (Jesus).
“Yes. I am Christian,” I said, sitting cross-legged on an old mat, “but I don’t have three gods. There is only one God. Would you like me to tell you what a Christian believes?”
The woman did ask to hear an explanation of Christianity and so I slowly unfolded the tale of how God created the world, how His created children had sinned against Him, how He had placed a curse on the earth, how He had promised to send a curse-breaker to save us because He loved us, how God sent prophets to tell us more about the coming curse-breaker, how Jesus was born and how Jesus proved that He was the prophesied one by doing many great miracles. We were sipping the hot tea at this point and the woman seemed to enjoy the story, just as I enjoyed telling it again. She leaned forward eagerly to hear each point and nodded her head indicating that she understood.
At that point in the tale I tried to explain about the crucifixion, but my Somali translator stopped talking. I repeated the point, but he still wouldn’t speak. Finally, he said, “I cannot say that. The Quran says that Jesus did not die on the cross.”
“I’m not asking you to believe it,” I coaxed. “We’re just explaining what a Christian believes.”
“I cannot say it,” he insisted.
I coaxed even more, tried to reason with him and then I saw something I had never seen before. An enormous black-covered giant ducked his head as he came from the little shed behind the translator and walked slowly up to us. He could have been Goliath’s big brother. He was 7 feet, 15 inches tall and was two cubits across his chest. He was dressed completely in black and his head was wrapped with a black turban.
The giant spoke to the woman in a deep voice and then my translator began to argue with him. I had no idea what they were saying and eventually the mountain-sized man turned and walked away. It was a strange and somewhat surreal encounter, and the woman had just remained squatting before the little fire, turning her head back and forth from speaker to speaker, like a cat watching table tennis.
Later that night my friend asked, “Did you talk to someone about Jesus today?”
I was in trouble. I had been told to stay in the truck and I didn’t. I knew it was dangerous to talk openly about Jesus, and I did. I had done everything wrong, again. “Yes,” I said sheepishly.
“And did someone come out to confront you,” he kept up his interrogation.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Do you know what they were talking about when they were all speaking Somali?” he asked.
“No,” still unable to manage more than monosyllabic answers.
I hate being in trouble.
“I’m glad you were telling them about Jesus,” he said, “but the Somali conversation was something like this: When the big man came out of the room, he had heard you talking about Jesus and he told the woman, ‘Bring me a knife that I may slit this infidel’s throat.’ To which the translator replied, ‘Don’t brag about things that you can’t accomplish.’ The big man then said, ‘Bring me the knife and I’ll show you what I can do.’ To which our translator said, ‘This man is a doctor. He has come thousands of kilometers and spent the entire hot day in the desert treating goats and sheep for poor Somalis. What have you ever done to benefit your own people?’ And that is when the big man walked away.”
I’m telling you, that guy was huge. I felt like a grasshopper in his eyes.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.