My neighbour, my brother
Nicole James | Zambia
When Jeremiah*, a long-term OM worker, moved back to his home country of Zambia to work among Somali Muslims, he expected ministry to be much easier than it had been during his previous years abroad. “Muslims have come from their country, and now they’re in my country,” he reasoned.
He did not expect the Muslims to ignore him.
Often, he would enter a shop to buy a cup of tea and talk with the men gathered there. When he entered the shop, he would see two or three people. When he sat down to join them, within a few minutes, they all disappeared.
For a year and a half, he tried to befriend his next-door neighbours—a Somali family who had moved from Somalia to Kenya to Tanzania to Zambia. Because of the family’s travels, Jeremiah knew they spoke Swahili. Yet every time he addressed his neighbour in Swahili, the man, Khaled*, simply shook his head.
One afternoon, Jeremiah was sitting outside his house, when he heard the neighbour’s daughter, the same age as his own firstborn, screaming. Jeremiah rushed to the house. The girl had burnt herself with boiling water. She continued screaming, her mother was crying, and Khaled was not at home.
Jeremiah acted quickly: “I felt so bad, I took this girl in the car, took the mother in my car, took my wife and drove to the clinic”—the private clinic, that is. Government clinics, although cheaper, can require hours of waiting, Jeremiah noted. At the private clinic, he immediately approached an available nurse and asked her to attend to the girl as quickly as possible. The nurse gave the girl powerful medications and began dressing the wounds.
Later, after she had finished treatment, the nurse gave Jeremiah some medicine and the bill. He paid and then drove the girl and her mother home. “Tomorrow, we’ll take you back [for follow-up],” he promised.
That evening, Khaled returned to his house, and his wife told him what had happened. Soon, Jeremiah and his wife heard a knock on their door.
Khaled stood in front of the house. “I’m so sorry,” he said.
“So you speak Swahili?” Jeremiah replied, noticing tears in Khaled’s eyes. “For one and a half years, I tried to speak to you.”
“In my context, in Somalia, we don’t trust anyone. You don’t even trust your wife or your brother or your aunt or anybody,” he said. “Jeremiah,” he continued, “you are not my friend, you are my brother.”
The next day, Jeremiah and his family received an invitation to dinner at Khaled’s house. “That was the key to unlocking the Somali community,” Jeremiah explained. From then, he had the foundation to preach the gospel in the Somali community, and since that time, he has seen several Somalis come to Christ.
Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.
Published: Tuesday, 16 January 2018
Credit: Nicole James