The warm morning sunlight poured into the hallway of our little mountain mission hospital. What a wonderful day lies ahead! I thought as I looked at the brilliant blue sky that reached down to evergreen trees and grass still studded with jewels of morning dew.
“Sister,” a man from down in the desert country broke the silence as he addressed me. “I’m so very glad you are caring for my wife. She is much better. But I want her to stay for another week so that she can have a good rest.”
“That’s fine,” I replied. “We’ll do all we can to make her stay a pleasant one.
“Oh, yes, may I show you a wonderful book?” I asked as we walked toward the office where we kept a supply of Bibles printed in Arabic. I picked up one and showed him that in it were stories of Moses and David, and psalms written by David, whom Muslims appreciate.
My friend backed away uneasily as he shook his head. “I don’t want it. I have the Quran, the most sacred of all books,” he stated kindly.
“Please don’t tell anyone. No one must know my secret.”
“I just thought I’d give you a free copy. Feel free to ask for one if you wish.”
“Thank you, but I’ll leave it for someone else.” He bowed as he said, “Salam.”
We’ve had 25 Arabic Bibles on our shelf for months. Not one has been accepted! “Lord,” I prayed, “please show us how to get people to accept the Bibles.”
The next morning was another sparkling day. Once more I was walking the hall when a man approached. “The doctor says I may take my wife home today,” he said with a smile.
“Yes,” I answered. “Allah has heard our prayers.”
I wanted to offer him a Bible, but it seemed so futile. God, what can I do? I prayed silently. Then I remembered that someone had told me that Muslims (at least in some places) do not refuse gifts if the giver writes the recipient’s name in it, along with one’s own.
“Just a minute,” I said. “I want to give you a little gift to remember me by.” I stepped into the office and brought out a Bible. “This is a sacred Arabic book,” I said. “If you would be so kind as to let me use your pen, I’d like to write your name in it.”
He smiled, took his pen from his pocket, and handed it to me.
“Would you kindly spell your name for me so that I get it just right?” I asked.
I wrote it, along with a brief message. Then I signed my name and handed the book to him along with the pen. “Always pray to Allah before you read it. You will find that it speaks to you,” I said.
He clasped the Bible in both his hands and placed it over his heart as he bowed and thanked me. “May Allah give you peace,” he said.
Soon he was on his way to his desert home with his wife—and a Bible.
After that I used this simple approach. No one ever turned me down. It was my personal project, and a thrilling one indeed.
Fast-forward about two years: I was down on the desert with two students. We were selling Arabic health books in the little shops that formed a hollow square around a dusty unpaved plaza where camels with their burdens came and went. The blazing heat seemed to govern the number of persons who strolled in and out of the shops.
One of the students and I went into a shop where we explained to the owner that I wanted to buy a book with blank pages for a diary.
“I’m sorry; we don’t have what you are looking for,” the man said. We thanked him and turned to leave. He followed us out the door. “I want to talk to her,” he whispered to the student who translated for me. “Let’s move away from these people.”
“Please don’t tell anyone what I’m telling you, sister,” the man began. “Do you remember when I was at your hospital? [I really didn’t; I had seen too many.] You gave me a black book. I buried it in the ground beside my bed. It’s covered with a little rug. In the middle of the night when I know my family is asleep, I take it out, unwrap it, and read it with my flashlight. It’s a wonderful book! I read it every night. Please don’t tell anyone,” he said with quiet intensity. “No one must know my secret.”
“Thank you for telling me,” I replied quietly. “I know Allah is giving you peace.” We shook hands and parted after I assured him that I would keep his secret.
The student and I went into the next shop. After our visit the owner followed us out the door. As I thanked him he whispered to my translator, “Please, I need to go to a private place to talk with sister.” We found a place around a corner of the mud-brick building.
Again I heard him whisper, “Please don’t tell anyone. You gave me a black book. I buried it in the ground beside my bed. I keep it covered with a little rug. When my family is asleep, I read it with a flashlight. Each night it makes my heart glad.”
The student and I went into the next shop. The owner followed us out the door and whispered, “Please, we need to go to a private place.” It was the same story again! “Nobody knows what I am doing except you and Allah,” the man said.
That night I lay on my cot looking out at the stars. My thoughts drifted to three humble one-room mud-brick homes where angels loved to explain the Bible to three men who would bring out their precious copies of the Word of God.
Could angels be keeping the families asleep so that these men might search for truth? Might it be that these same angels prevented curious family members from asking, “I wonder, what’s under that rug?”
Susie Hamu is a pseudonym.