I didn't recognize her number so I didn't respond...which prompted her to use one of her five free SMS's from the cell phone company...only...they are pre-set so that you can't personalize the message at all so it simply read "Please call me!" in both English and Swahili. Nevertheless, it didn't benefit me any because I still didn't know who had actually sent me the message. Finally she called me and tried to pack as much Swahili into three seconds as she could as to not waste money...only...I didn't understand any of it so I answered, "huh?" to which she retorted by repeating herself about three times faster...only...now she was a little annoyed because she had gone over her three second time limit.
We continued with this pattern for one more round until she finally just said that I should come to the hospital. I drove down the hill and entered the ward where the troubled but sober young man was recovering and found him surrounded by visitors with his mother sitting against the far wall. After greeting her I asked about any more details she might had discovered. She was somewhat vague. I felt as if I was getting in the way of others who wanted to come in and talk so I took that as my queue to return at a more opportune time...which I did...the next morning...and found him gone!
Feeling that I had somehow missed a perfect, God-ordained opportunity to share with the recovered young man the good news of salvation in Christ, I returned home.
The following week I was enjoying my morning devotions in my office when I heard someone announcing his arrival at our front gate. I came out and stood face to face with Mohammed who was wearing the clothes I had brought for him. Since I'm about 6 feet 5 inches tall and weight about 200 pounds, my clothes looked a little ungainly on his 5 feet 11 inch 135 pound frame. Nonetheless, there he stood staring me in the face. After about 3 seconds of growing accustomed to each other's appearances (he had barely seen me while in his right mind for more than a few moments) he bowed himself to the ground at my feet and began to weep while crying out words of gratitude. I was touched to see his level of appreciation; but, I also felt uncomfortable with the display, though I didn't let on lest he become embarrassed and less open to converse about the Gospel.
I invited him in to fellowship over a bottle of soda and to discuss what had happened on that day...then he relayed this story to me.
He had awakened early that morning and prepared himself to be gone all day looking for work. He knew that he wouldn't have another chance to eat until the next day, therefore, he asked his wife to prepare a meal for him before he left that morning of ugali, greens, and kachumbari. Ugali is a corn meal mush--very common--very tasteless; kachumbari is a cold salad mixture usually seasoned with salt and other spices. Mohammed said that as he ate the meal, he noticed that the kachumbari had a 'different taste'...but he was in a hurry so he neither inquired about it nor gave it a second thought. He left his house and walked up to the main road to follow it into the small town of Babati; but, as he reached the road he started feeling sick. He tried to continue but only made it a few steps before he collapsed in the middle of the road. He had no recollection of being dragged off the road...meeting me...being carried to the hospital...fighting the nurse who was inserting all kinds of tubes etc.
The 'other spice', he said, was the cattle dip capsules which his wife mixed into the kachumbari. The two pills would have been strong enough to dillute 100 gallons of water and dip 50 head of cattle! Evidently, she was tired of the day to day struggle of life and thus wanted to return home to her parents; but, divorce on such grounds is highly scorned and the hopes of her re-marrying into a better situation would be quite low. "Death by poisoning" seemed to be the wearied wife's only logical alternative...for her husband...not herself!
Mohammed finished the story by emphasizing that he had already met with the village leaders who advised him to forgive her and to not charge her for the crime. They told him that God had given him a great gift...a second chance at life!
On that note, I opened my Bible and began to show him that our Creator and Lord has similarly given to us a 'second chance at life.' We, like him, are dead in our trespasses and sins. Not only that, but we, like his wife, are guilty of crimes unspeakable against the very God who created us in His own image and likeness.
"The Lord's hand is not shortened that it CANNOT save, neither is His ear heavy that He CANNOT hear, but your iniquities have separated between you and your God." Isaiah 59:1-2 The word "separated" in the Swahili Bible applies to those who are 'dead' but it may also apply to those who are considered 'close to death' with no hope of recovery. (He could sense the relevance.)
But, because of the obedience of Jesus Christ (I continued), who knew neither sin nor guilt, to take the punishment of our sins upon Himself on the Cross...and...to conquered death itself through His resurrection, He now offers us Life Eternal. It is our second chance...our only hope!
After pausing for a reaction, he responded by agreeing with everything I had said. This is quite common for Tanzanians and I have grown accustomed to it. Disagreeing with an elder or anyone you respect is on the top of the list of cultural taboos. Having recognized this, I started to address some of the most common misconceptions among Muslims in Tanzania thinking that, left alone, he could never really accept the substitutionary death of Christ. Some common misconceptions are: the Bible has been re-written by Christians; Jesus, though a great prophet, is not the Son of God, He certainly did not die on the Cross, as well as a few others.
He admitted that he was struggling with these questions so I challenged him to come back another day so we can answer each one openly and honestly. I could tell he felt intimidated and vulnerable, and I, for one, do not like to 'take advantage' of people under those circumstances. Intimidation is not conviction...and...vulnerability is not sensitivity; so, I prayed for him then gave him a Bible to read. We said goodbye. He left.
About two weeks later he came back to visit me. We sat fellowshipping over another bottle of soda. He said that he had been visited by two different Christian pastors in his village--the one, a Pentecostal, the other, a Lutheran. Both women.
Women pastors in Tanzania truly is an enigma! It is, by and large, a male dominated society! Most men value women as they value their cattle. This opinion is augmented with the Islamic teaching commonly found here that women are not meant to think, but work. Nonetheless, he went on to tell me that the Lutheran pastor made more sense to him. Even though he still wasn't sure about converting to Christianity, if he did, he would do so by being baptized in the Lutheran church. He had already picked out a new name for himself--Emmanuel.
I asked him to explain what the pastor had taught him about how to be saved. He said that she told him that he had to be baptized to have his sins washed away. I rejoindered (while hiding my distress) that baptism can't wash away sin! A person can only be saved by putting his faith in Christ who took our sins upon Himself on the Cross. He was obviously confused by the opposing Christian worldviews...Unfortunatly, he needed to go. I asked him to visit me again so that I could clarify the meaning of salvation...and address more of his concerns He asked for the location of our nearest church. I told him that it was here in Babati--8 kilometers from his home. He thanked me and took a tract which I often use here entitled "The New Birth." We prayed. He said goodbye and left.
I never saw Mohammed again after that day. Who can tell if he stayed locked in the shackles of Islam, or if he traded those shackles for the chains of 'churchianity,' or if he received the New Birth and New Life found in Christ! Though disappointed myself, I knew that these had been my God-ordained opportunities to share the good news of Salvation in Christ. I was glad to have had a chance to 'plant' the seed of the Gospel on his first visit then to 'water' that seed on his second visit. I then left it in God's hands to bring the increase in His time. There was closure. I was at peace. I prayed that he would find peace.
The next day, I climbed atop that motorcycle of mine and went barreling down the same long, hot, treacherously dusty road ...Bible 'in hand'...waiting to see what I might encounter along the way...by God's predetermination of course.