I received this amazing note from a man who read Lion of Babylon and Rare Earth, and I felt compelled to share it with you.
Your writing has helped me discover the heart of God for my community. Your gift as a storyteller has catalyzed my engagement with the Somali Muslim immigrants pouring into my small, Midwestern town. (Little Mogadishu, as we now are known.) From fear to faith; the transformation of many hearts is underway!
A few nights ago, I brought my family to a Pre-Ramadan Feast; brown rice, spicy beef, and sambusas (triangular pastries stuffed with goat-meat.) The scene was like reading a passage from your book.
Picture us, a few dozen Minnesotans huddled together in a warm, sticky room, nervously awaiting the arrival of the Somali Elders. A glance around shows every face a pale mix of excitement and trepidation. My wife and children stand against the wall with the rest of the Scandinavians; willing, but unsure what to expect.
Most, in the room I realize, have never met a Somali before. Never held the dark-skinned hand, never looked into the eyes, the God-loved soul. Our worlds are close enough, now, to touch yet seldom do. It’s as though a curse separates us. Fear or pride.
But then a ripple through the waiting crowd tells all: the guests are here. I greet them at the door in their native tongue, as best I can. Hello! Welcome! Please be seated! My scant ability is pitiful, of course, but does the trick. Breaks the ice. Grins and laughter.
My role, here, is introducing a ministry which has the focus of teaching adult Somalis the English language. My goal, tonight, is finding new friends, building relationships, and traveling the road of life together. (John 1:41 “…Andrew found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah”.)
An energetic young lady from the ministry declares, “We are Christians and we are here to help you!”
The room stiffens noticeably. Words convey different meanings in different cultures. One man’s concrete block is another’s roadside bomb. After a few more comments she whispers to me, “Can you take this, please?”
Her arm is down at her side and her fingers twitch upward, prompting me from my chair. I have no forewarning, nothing planned. A quick prayer (Holy Spirit, help me now!) and I stand up, feeling like Marc Royce or Sameh Al-Jacobi in Lion of Babylon.
Our Interpreter, Abdullahi, translates my warm but careful words of welcome to the Somali Elders. We hold many things in common, I assure them, feeling my way forward. We share a strong commitment to raising our children to be healthy, wise, and successful.
We hold in common the values of virtue, integrity, and honor. We choose to celebrate the good in each culture. We believe our community is made stronger as we link arms and walk the road of life together. This is what welcome means to us, I say, and all the Elders smile.
Then it is their turn to speak. The Somali Elders admit to being nervous over bringing their children to America. It is difficult knowing what to believe when all you have is a television in a Kenyan refugee camp. They explain, however, that they have since found this city to be a good place for them. They are happy, now, to be able to call this place their home.
The atmosphere relaxes and the evening sprouts naturally; smiling faces and a hundred conversations blooming on every side. Later, our Interpreter, Abdullahi, listens to my attempt to define our community of faith. We, too, I explain, are submitted unto the One God. We are passionate followers of Isa Al-Masih. Jesus the Messiah.
Abdullahi watches me, hearing me declare my family and I love the example of Isa Al-Masih and His holy teaching, and that we raise our children to follow Him. Abdullahi looks into my eyes, into my soul; I can see that he’s thinking, pondering. After a moment he gives a slight nod; I know he is accepting my words even if unsure where to place them.
But all is good this night; he and I have made new friends. And I have found my brother.
After returning home that evening, I received an incredible invitation to a private dinner connection with one of the prominent Somali Elders and his family, with my wife and children begging to come along! And so the next real-world chapter begins.