The three of us sat, waiting, under the rickety parapet shielded from the already intense morning sun. We were waiting for our laundry, laid out on the sparse and withering courtyard grass to dry, when Abraham Mbwana approached. He greeted us with the traditional Swahili, “Hamjambo sana”. “Salama”, I replied! Abraham wore the Muslim “topi” on his head.
“May I show you something?” he asked. “Sure”, we said. A dirty old handkerchief, tied at the corners, pulled from a pocket in Abraham’s cut off trousers, was laid out on the table. Once untied several coins fell onto the scratched and stained plastic surface. I picked one up turning it in my hand for inspection - 1 Heller, Deutsch Ostafrika, 1907. Our new friend hoped to sell us some German colonial coins, lost for nearly a century, that he had found.
I love history, particularly the history of the countries where we work, so I overpaid Abraham for three small coins. Satisfied with his business transaction Abraham went back to his work as a day laborer in the courtyard of the small hotel in central Tanzania.
Several minutes passed and Abraham approached again. This time a very different question. “Will you come to my home and pray for my son?” he asked. With a smile of understanding and a hastily muttered, “Thank you, Father”, I replied, “Who do you think that we are?” “Watu wa Mungu”, he said. "You are men of God." “Yes”, I said, “we are. How can we pray for you?” “My son has been bitten by a snake. If he does not get better, he may die.”
As Abraham Mbwana, a desperate father, pleaded with me, a “masungu” - a white man, and an infidel according to his Islamic tradition, I knew what was about to happen.
Twenty minutes later a shirtless and shoeless Abraham, now settled into the back seat of our little car, directed us across a series of dirt roads to his home. The weathered and deteriorating mud bricks of the building, nearly washed away each year during the rainy season, barely supported the perforated and oxidized metal roof.
“This way,” he said. The hallway, illuminated only by open doorways at either end and tiny rays of light emanating from cracks and pin holes in the roof, split the musty building at midpoint. A group of women and children, gathered around a charcoal pot, sat on the ground at the far end. Abraham gestured and we followed him through an open door.
“These are my sons,” he said. The two boys were on a large bed pushed up against a mud wall in the single room apartment. One sat and the other lay beside him. The tiny boy who sat, huddled against his brother for comfort and security, immediately began to cry. “Where is their mother?”, I asked. “She died last year,” he said.
“Why did you ask us to come here?”, I said.
“I want you to pray for Juma,” he said.
“Abraham”, I asked, “Does your Imam ever come to pray with you?”
“No,” he said.
“Then why do you, a Muslim, want us to pray for you?”
“I have heard that, through Jesus, people have been getting back their life through healing,” he replied.
“Who do you think that Jesus is?”, I asked.
“He was a good prophet.”
“If he was just a good prophet how could he heal anyone?”
There was no answer.
“Mohamed wrote that Jesus was a good prophet and that everyone should listen to him. If Mohamed said to listen to Jesus do you think that Jesus was a liar?”
“No”, he said.
“Abraham”, I explained, “ the truth is that Jesus is much more than just a good prophet. He told us who He is. He is the Son of God. That is why He is able to heal the sick”.
Over the next several minutes Abraham heard the gospel.
“Abraham, una mwamini Yesu Kristo?”, I asked. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
“Ndiyo”, he said! “Yes”!
“Are you ready to change?” I asked.
A prayer, led by Pastor Reuben, the Overseer of our churches in East Africa…and in that instant, Abraham placed his trust in Jesus Christ, and moved from the kingdom of darkness into the marvelous Kingdom of Light.
The smiling father spoke, Juma moved to the edge of the bed, and began to remove the filthy rages wrapped around his foot and ankle. I had noticed the awful smell when we first entered the tiny room. Now, as the covering was removed, I nearly gagged. Rotting flesh on the swollen ankle revealed what I had hoped that I would not see. “Father,” I prayed, “if you do not heal Juma of this infection, he will die.”
I knew that the boy had been listening to everything that had been shared with his father. “Juma,” I asked, “do you believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can heal you?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Do you know that you have a much bigger problem than your foot?”
He just looked at me.
Another gospel presentation including sin, and wrath, and mercy and grace.
“God’s Word says that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Another prayer, this time for temporal and eternal healing.
“Juma”, I asked, “Una mwamini Yesu Kristo?”
“Yes”, he said. And Juma, a boy first born into Islam, was “born again” and became my brother in Christ.
For the next one half hour we talked about God’s Word and about His Son. We talked about what it means to be a Christian. We talked about how hard it might be for them to follow Christ.
The heat, carried on the wind that blew through the open windows, told us that midday had almost passed. One final prayer with these new Christians and it was time to go. I turned to step across the threshold but my way was blocked. The women, once gathered at the far end of the passage, were not sitting just outside the door.
A young woman rose and said, “My name is Hadija. Will you pray for me?”
With a smile I replied, “Who do you think that we are?”
“I see that you are men of God.”
“Yes,” I said, “we are.”
“I am not able to feed my baby the way I should,” she said. As she spoke she pulled up her blouse revealing an open soar on her breast.
“O God,” I wondered, “is that cancer?”
Once again, in that Muslim household, the gospel was clearly and openly presented.
And Hadija also became my sister in Christ.
In a remote courtyard, in a tiny hotel that we had never planed to visit, on a rode that rarely saw a car, God used three small coins that had once been lost, to put in motion a series of divine events. Events that led to the redemption of three lost Muslims that I never would have met.
“…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
He is greatly to be praised.
Three times we tried to leave the house of Abraham, Juma and Hadija that day. Each time, I had an overwhelming feeling that God was not finished with us yet. Three times God called us back. First to share with others. Second to take them Bibles. Third to take them food.
Handini, Tanzania 2012