Many cultures have a person whose task is to tell stories. These are not just any stories but stories that teach something important. All of us have many stories, some funny, some sad, some private–but some of the stories stand out for a variety of meanings. For the next few posts, I want to share a few of my special stories, stories that have stayed with me and have shaped me for a variety of reasons. These will be in no order and will follow no set theme but they are all important to me and I would like to share them.
We begin with a walk on the beach. While we were in Kenya, we took occasional mini vacations that generally saw us settling into a beach front hotel in Mombasa. On one of these trips, we discovered that our hotel, like all the others was suffering from several recent militant Muslim terrorist acts. European companies had cancelled bookings over security fears–a reasonable decision, given that some of the incidents had happened in Mombasa and the surrounding area.
We were settled in, not overly worried about terrorism–we were there to enjoy the sun, the beach and the time to relax. I quickly discovered a perk to the low occupancy rate. When I went for a walk in the mornings, I had the beach basically to myself. Now, I am talking beach here–tropically warm, smooth white sand, coconut trees on the shore–the whole bit. And, this beach stretched for kilometers–certainly further that I could walk.
The only flaw was quickly dealt with the first morning. The beach was also home to many business that made their living selling things to tourists. My walk on the first morning consisted of greeting the sellers politely and then saying, “Nataka kutembea tu. Sina pesa name” (I just want to walk. I have no money with me). That generally allowed me freedom to walk, although some asked me to return later.
The second morning, word had gotten around–this tourist was just walking, had no money and spoke Kiswahili. When one of the beach sellers approached me, I started the litany from the day before only to have him tell me he knew but just wanted to walk with me since he was bored because of the lack of business.
Normally, I prefer to walk alone–but I also love speaking Kiswahili so we walked and talked. In many ways, it was a pastoral visit. He talked about his fears and frustrations associated with the current situation. He was losing money and because he was supporting his younger siblings and widowed mother, they were suffering as well. He lived in the area and was worried about terrorist attacks–anyone could be a target but in the end, tourists were harder to get to and so locals tended to suffer more than tourists, both in the actual attacks and the results.
Certainly, some of the conversation was geared towards convincing me to buy at his shop–sympathy buying still put money in his hand. But truthfully, the majority of our 30-40 minute walk was a pleasant conversation between two strangers who could become friends in the right circumstance.
Very early in the walk, we established that I was a Christian missionary and he was a practising Muslim. The only real effect that had on our conversation was that I felt it important to greet him again, using the traditional Muslim greeting. He might have been interested in my money, but in truth, I think he was more interested in talking to someone and maybe having the opportunity to express some of his worries and fears in a safe environment.
He was Muslim, poor, black and Kenyan. I was Christian, rich (by his standards), white and Canadian. But we were friends for that walk, ignoring the differences, the potential conflicts, the things that should have separated us. We were two people on a beautiful, empty beach enjoying each other’s company.
There are probably all kinds of theological, sociological, political and other meanings and truths that I could draw out of that story. But in the end, I met a guy whom I could have been friends with and we had a great walk and talk. And maybe in the end, this is the moral of the story–we are all human and what we have in common is much greater than what separates us. I don’t know if there were any long term consequences of that walk for my Muslim Kenyan friend–but God has been using it to work in me and I am sure he is using it in my friend’s life as well.
May the peace of God be with you.