We received a visitor from the USA for one week, Allen Close, the preacher from our South Carolina supporting church. This is also the church that I grew up at. He was a great sport because he ate everything (at every place), had a gracious attitude towards the people, and joined us in all our week’s adventures. Below are the highlights.
Allen served as our “oversight” representative from the States when we visited the lead governing official of this district. It was our team’s plan to visit this particular local authority, but it was by providence that Allen was with us during this time. We are all young, and without experience, so it boosted our credibility and trustworthiness that we brought one of our leaders with us to confirm us as a legitimate group. The commissioner had an intense presence, and he kept us on our toes by making jokes and asking us difficult questions. Allen was a great sport, and he helped make this visit a success. The commissioner asked Allen to pray at the end of our time.
Also, I had received during the week previous to Allen’s visit, an invitation from the local Muslim religious teacher in a nearby coastal village. I thought it would be appropriate to respond to the invite and take the visit with Allen. Most of my time in the future, God willing, will be invested in villages and with people like this, so I thought it would be a good thing to experience with Allen. Our mode of travel was by ferry across the ocean bay to an outstanding peninsula where a number of fishing villages make their living. From the ferry landing, we rode behind two motorcycles to our appointment. This particular community had a few Mosques and Muslim schools to train their young in the way of Islam.
The Sheik, always walks hand in hand with a family member because he is mostly blind. His age is only about 55, but he was made blind when some jealous person threw “magical dust” into his eyes five years ago (long story). The Sheik proudly showed off his school and Mosque. He also introduced us to his family and friends and then later we even met the local chairmen of the village area. As it turned out, his brother holding his hand was one of those chairmen. These chairmen are those with the authority to permit any foreigner permission to work in the area. Because of this man, we made good contacts and set a foundation for speaking the Word of God in this area (if God so wishes). We were with the right man. This Sheik only calls himself by this honorable title; his father was the true Sheik and well known by all. His is a bit of a royal family in the area. This blind friend of mine was trained in Zanzibar to be a teacher of Islam, and his two brothers are both living and working in Europe.
I was honest with them about my identity from the beginning. They wanted to know why I came, so I said, “God has brought me because of His Word.” I said, “I am a disciple of Isa.” Isa is the name of Jesus in the Quran. Then I said, “My father sent me to school for 7 years to study the Torat, Zaburi, and Injili.” These three words in English are “Torah, Psalms and Gospel” which are the Quranic words for the Scriptures. I could have used outright foreign words like “missionary,” “Bible,” or “New Testament,” but these words don’t communicate well enough and they don’t build bridges. I have happily discovered though, that this way of introducing myself is legitimate and respectable. This introduction moves me closer to them rather than further away while I keep my dignity as a Christian.
As we moved gracefully through this village, meeting the authorities, meeting family, and confessing our faith, I could feel that God was going ahead of us, making our path straight. We returned by ferry and the “Sheik” visited my home a week later. We made a friend.
My final trip with Allen was an all day dirt-bike trek to the border of Mozambique and Tanzania on the Ruvuma River. They say there are Hippos down there, so I wanted to check them out while I had a willing visitor. The river business was run by a host of men who fish, escort people across by boat, and run the Hippo sight seeing business. They were eager to let us see the Hippos, but they tried to charge us like we were buying plane tickets. To be frank, they were greedy, but we managed to cut their price in half, and paid a guy to guard our dirt bikes. I was thankful that Allen took the bill.
I hear that Hippos are the most dangerous animals in Africa because they are territorial and tend to attack boats. These guys, however, claim that the little boat engine keeps the Hippos from attacking. After climbing aboard with Allen and departing, we were alarmed when water began to pour through a hole in the front of the boat. One of the men solved the problem by stick his fingers and later, when he tired, his toe in the hole. Thankfully, it was not far to see the Hippos, and we made a quick trip out of it.
After eating lunch at a local joint, we made our way to another far off village area known for its beautiful and desolate beaches. The road was treacherous because of the sand and rough with dried mud tracks and rock, but the beach was breathtakingly beautiful and eerily deserted. We swam there a bit and then raced home before dark. Allen did fall once on the way home in some sand but recovered fine.
Thanks, Allen for coming, and thanks to the Lexington Church who gave him time off to come. We were blessed.