As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
I had made friends with a couple of local Somalis at work. Our first conversation started when they observed me reading what they called “religious books” and wanted to ask me a question about Christianity. Their question was, What is Christmas? I explained that Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. They responded that they kind of knew that, but they couldn’t figure out the Santa Claus thing. “How does Santa Claus fit into Jesus’ birth?” I gave them a truthful answer: he really doesn’t. This confused them. We worked at a major retail store, and Santa’s face was everywhere. I told them that it confused me too, and I’m a practicing Christian.
Once this door to discussing Christianity opened, I pushed on and mentioned I had done some studies on Islam, even read the Koran in English. They immediately started talking to me about what I knew. After several days of lunch-hour conversations, they said they had never met a Christian who understood their faith so well.
I asked them if either one of them had read the Bible. They, of course, knew what the Koran said of the Bible, but neither of them had actually read it firsthand. So I pulled out my cell phone and found a Bible translation in Somali. I pointed them to Luke 6:27-36 where Jesus says “Love your enemies” and “Turn the other cheek.” They thought this was funny and slapped their cheeks laughing at the very idea of it. Then I turned to 1 Corinthians 13 and explained that this is what Jesus was all about: love. They read this passage very slowly and were completely amazed that this passage explained what Jesus was all about. I asked them why. They answered, “Because we’ve never met any Christians who acted this way.”
Taken aback, I asked them what they meant. They said that most of the people they knew who claimed to be Christians were anything but loving toward them. In their experience, most of them were hateful toward them and their community. This answer broke my heart. What a lost opportunity to bring the gospel to a people who had only known hate and war for generations. Once they’d finally arrived a place where there was peace, they still faced hate from the very people who should have brought them the love of Christ.
Our conversation reminded me of the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Like my Somali friends, this total outsider of Jewish society wanted to know the meaning of God’s Word he was reading. Directed by the Lord to give the Ethiopian an explanation of God’s Word, Phillip told him that it points to the Jewish Messiah, Jesus.
As I understand my life as a Christian, I’m supposed to do the same thing: point people to Jesus. But unless I do it in love, as the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, it means nothing. As Christians, wrote Paul, we are to make the most of every opportunity (Eph. 5:17). But we can’t do this unless we live out the gospel in its fullest meaning. Jesus laid out the terms for this in Matthew 25:35-36, 40: “ For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”