Jeebo had asked me (Sammy Weber) to come and talk with him and his two apprentices about God. He said he also had some questions for me about the Bible. He asked me to come on Sunday afternoon. That Sunday morning in church, a verse was read that confirmed to me the main point that I wanted to share with Jeebo and his friends. The verse was Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek with all your heart”.
I spent some time in prayer before going to meet with Jeebo, asking God for the right words to say and the for the wisdom to know what approach to take and which topics to discuss. When I arrived at Jeebo’s place, he welcome me and we sat at his porch. His neighbors, whom he’d invited, ended up not coming so it was just Jeebo, his two apprentices, and myself. Once we were seated Jeebo bought us all some roasted corn and then said, “Okay Samuel, go ahead and share with us something about God”.
So I began by talking about how there are many religions today, all claiming to have the truth and how only one path can really be the right one. Then I went on to say that God is a real person who is able to reveal himself to us if we ask him to – but we must do this in humility and sincerity.
We talked about what this means for a little while, then we talked about the difference between what others think of us and what God thinks of us, and how other’s expectation can affect us. We talked about how if I were to become a Muslim, this could mean all sorts of persecution for me and in a similar way if they were to become Christians. But then we talked about how God’s desire for us is more important than anyone else’s expectations or pressures.
During the conversation I told them repeatedly, “I don’t want you to accept anything I tell you today just because I told you, go and ask God to show you whether it is true or not”.
After a few interruption with other people stopping by then leaving, there was just Jeebo and his one apprentice named Mohamed, and myself. Then Mohamed got up to go get something and Jeebo asked me a question that he wanted to ask when there was just the two of us . . . . “I have a question about Jesus. I’ve read in the Koran that Jesus was a prophet and I’ve heard Christians say that Jesus was the son of God. So which was he, a prophet or a son?
In response I asked him, “What do you think of when you hear the word prophet? What does it mean that someone is a prophet?” He answered, “A prophet is someone who God gives a message to”. Then I asked, “Then what do you understand is meant when someone says God’s son?” Jeebo made a face and said, “Well that’s more difficult because Allah never got married.”
“Yes” I said. “You are right that Jesus is not God’s son in the sense that we often talk about fathers and sons down here on earth. For God is not like a man, he has never married, and he does not desire a woman, for his hands have made all those things that we are drawn to here on earth. But is there no other meaning of the word son?”
I then told him about a child named Romeo who was like a son to me for time, long before I was married or had any biological children. I asked him, “Do you see how God could have a son like that?” He nodded.
“So back to your question, is Jesus a prophet or a son. Isn’t it possible to be both? I believe that Jesus was a prophet and he was also God’s son. But I want you to ask God to show you if Jesus was really His Son. I believe that He will.” Jeebo nodded and looked pensive for a while.
When Mohamed returned, I asked them if I could tell them a story. They both said yes and settled more comfortably on their bamboo stools. So I told them the following story (also known as an African Easter story) . . .
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In a very small village, in the jungles of Africa, there lived a very young (but very wise) chief. One day the elders of the village came to the chief and presented to him a problem. Several people in the village had reported that there must be a thief in the village. No one could say who the thief was, but there were several homes that had reported that food supplies were disappearing in the night. The chief began to look into the matter in all his seeking he was not able to find even one clue as to who the thief could be.
This problem went on for quite some time and became a real concern to everyone in the village and the elders and leaders in the village began to pressure the chief to take drastic measures to stop this thieving.
So the chief gathered together all the people of the village and spoke to them. He spoke to the villagers saying, “We all know that there is a thief among us, and you, the person who is doing the thieving knows who you are. We are a small community, and really, we are like one family. We are all united in our love for one another. If anyone is struggling or lacking food there is no need to steal. You can simply come to us and we will see that you are cared for and all your needs are met”.
The chief went on to encourage the people, and to encourage the person who was stealing that they should come forward and confess. But no one came forward.
“If you come forward now,” the chief said, “the punishment you are to receive for stealing will be light. But if you do not come forward and instead wait to be caught, your punishment will be harsh. The punishment for stealing is 5 lashes with the whip. If you come forward now you will receive these 5 lashes and no more. But if you wait until you are caught the punishment will be double — it will be 10 lashes!” With these words he continued to implore the thief to confess. But still no one came forward.
It was with a heavy heart that he dismissed the people. That night he assigned a group of men to hide out in the bushes and spy on the village to see if they could catch the thief, but they had no way of knowing which house the thief would visit, and they were not able to catch the thief that night.
The next morning (the same as every morning) there was another report of missing food. So once again the chief gathered together all the people of the village and spoke to them.
He said to them, “Is there any need to steal food? Are we not as one family that cares for the needs of each person? If you are hungry there is no need to steal, you have only to come and tell us of your need and we will see that you are provided for. There is no reason why anyone among us should be stealing food.”
Once again he encouraged the person to confess, but no one among the people would admit that they were the thief.
“This cannot continue,” said the chief, “we are a small community, and eventually you will be caught. If you come and confess yourself that you are the one who has been stealing the punishment you will receive is 5 lashes. But if you do not come forward, but instead wait to be caught, your punishment will be harsh — I increase the amount now to 20 lashes!”
With these words he continued to implore the thief to confess. But still no one came forward.
With a heavy heart, he dismissed the people once again.
This went on for many days. Each night a group of men would hide in the bushes to see if they could catch the thief, but each morning there would be reports of stolen food and no thief was caught. Each afternoon the people would be gathered together and the chief would speak to them and implore them, and encourage the thief to confess, but there was never a person who stepped forward in response.
And each time the chief would increase the sentence . . . “If you come and confess that you are the one who has been stealing the punishment will be 5 lashes, but if you do not come forward and instead wait to be caught, your punishment will be harsh –it will be 25 lashes! . . . 30 lashes! . . . 35 lashes! . . . 40 lashes!”
But still no one came forward.
Then, early one morning the chief was awakened by loud shouts in the village. The thief had at last been caught. All the villagers gathered outside the chief’s quarters eager to see who the thief was. The chief stepped forward and called for the thief to be brought forward.
A sudden hush fell over the crowd. Even the chief himself was speechless as they brought before him the thief — the chief’s own mother!
For the longest time no one spoke. The chief stared, his knees growing weak. All the eyes of the village were upon him. They all knew the sentence that had been proclaimed — 40 lashes with the whip. But as they looked at the old, feeble woman who stood before them it was clear to everyone that a sentence like that would be death to her.
And it was the chief’s own mother. How could he possibly follow through with seeing his own mother beaten to death!?
The crowd waiting anxiously as the chief stepped forward to speak to his mother.
“Why?” he asked, “why have you been stealing from these people? Am I not your son? And the chief of this village! If you had a need of any kind could you not have come to me and received everything you need and more? Why did you not come to me? Why have you been stealing?!”
There was no response. The old woman simply lowered her head in shame and remained silent.
The chief turned and stepped up to his throne, then turned to address the crowd. “The sentence is 40 lashes with the whip. Take the woman and bind her in preparation for the flogging.”
There were murmurs heard among the crowd as the men stepped forward to do the chief’s bidding. The old woman’s arms were stretched out and her hands strapped to two poles exposing her back for the whip.
The designated man took up the whip and turned to look at the chief, awaiting his signal to proceed.
Breathlessly the crowd watched, waiting to see the nod from the chief that would commence the sentence — the full 40 lashes that would doubtless be the end of this old woman, his mother.
They watched as the chief stepped down from the throne and went over to his mother. Then he put one hand on each of the posts and stretched out his arms, shielding his mother with his own body. Then he looked at the man with the whip and gave “the nod”.
The whip cracked the full 40 times falling on the back of the chief. Justice was served. But mercy . . . mercy let the lashes fall upon the innocent back of the chief as he took the punishment on himself. The chief acted in this way so as to be both the one who is just and the one who justifies.
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At the end of the story I asked Jeebo and Mohamed, “Do you think that the chief in this story was a good judge or a bad one. They thought for a moment, then Jeebo said, “I think he was a good judge. He needed to punish the crime but he took the penalty himself.” Mohamed nodded in agreement.
“Okay” I said, “Now let me give you another illustration . . . Let’s suppose that someone breaks into your parents house and beats your parents terribly and steals all their belongings. Let’s suppose that your mother then dies as a result of the beating. Now let’s suppose that he robber is caught and you are in a court room before a judge with the robber there. Now let say that the robber says to the judge, “Your honor, I admit that I am guilty of all these charges being brought against me but I want to bring to the court’s attention the fact that this is my only offense, and before doing this terrible thing I was actually a very good person. I have fed countless orphans, I have build a mosque for a poor village, I have helped many poor people. So I have done a lot of good in my life.
Now suppose the judge then says, “We will now set this man free, since his good deeds outweigh the bad that he’s done”, do you think that this judge would be a good judge or a bad judge?”
Both Jeebo and Mohamed agreed that he would be a very bad judge.
Then I said, “My first story shows what kind of a judge Christianity believes God to be and the second story illustrates what kind of a judge Islam believes God is. So consider the two and think about what kind of a judge he really is”.
We talked for another hour or so and when I left they expressed the desire to continue further conversation on these topics.
Please pray that God would cause the seeds planted that day to germinate and bear fruit. Thank you!