We have been frequenting the market these days as we set up our home here. Every thing we try to buy is another journey because we don’t yet know how to accomplish life-tasks here. In the states, we go to a few places and pick up everything we need. One trip to Wal-mart or Bath & Body Works, and we are finished. Here if we want a bed or a chair, we can either hunt it town somewhere, pay someone to find one, or have it made. Thus far Heather and I have commissioned more than a few things to be made by hand. For instance, our bed, benches, bedside table, and couch cushions, have all been hand made. We also managed to pull an old desk back from the dead for the office space, and we found an old worktable for our dinner table.
We have been making friends with lots of people as we do house business and learn language. There are new places of discovery here with new hangout spots. There is a group of 20-something year-olds who play checkers with blue-and-white bottle caps outside of my door on the main walkway sometime after lunch. Because of this and the other crowd on our street, I got two local benches made in order to invite people to sit and talk outside my door. Another group of about 100 gathers every evening for coffee and peanuts near the market. I have begun conversations there. Heather also looks forward to her daily visits to the market to buy various things for house & home.
Today I visited the used furniture store under the tree in the market for about the 6th time. After buying a few old tables and chairs, I have become good friends with the shop owner. He, like many others, wanted more information about why I am here in town. I replied as I usually do, “God sent me here because of his Word, but right now I am only a student of Swahili.” Then he asked me,
“Which religion are you?” I replied,
“I am a disciple of Jesus.” This was not enough clarity, so he said,
“You have not answered; where do you pray, the Mosque or the Church?” I said,
“Jesus said wherever two are gathered in his name he is there among them.” He didn’t like this answer until later when he began to understand what I meant. After some time of religious conversation, the storeowner decided that we were friends; he said,
“You are my friend… so I want you to be a Muslim.” I said,
“You want me to be a Muslim? Persuade me!” By now many people are gathering around to watch the action.
My new friend began to wax eloquent about the great way of Islam. He talked about how women should dress, the correct way to worship God, and some simple ethics like not committing adultery. His main point was “Islam is simple.” This, I cannot disagree with. Islam is simple, and that is one of the keys to its wide spread appeal to mankind. But I asked,
“But why do you believe all of this? It is simple, but that is not the only reason to believe.” Then he spoke about the Quran, and how God almighty had revealed himself through this book. I pushed harder to match his tone, “But why do you trust the Quran?” At this point our discussion was getting hotter and more people circled around. I felt the first twinge a fear run through my body. I honestly did not want to be caught, on their holy day (Friday) disrespecting the Quran, or be pegged as a blasphemer so early in my time here. I also realized that I had entered a conversation that I did not know how to finish.
But thankfully nothing bad happened. As far as I could tell no one was angry and all were interested in this conversation. If there were to be any problems, I was “saved by the bell” because the call to prayer had rung aloud beckoning everyone to the Mosque. The storeowner decided to go to the Mosque after inviting me back another day. I am thankful for the peaceful ending.
Please pray for more of these kinds of conversations; also pray that God will ready us to witness more freely to the teachings of Christ in this language.