The look on my friends’ faces was priceless. A few minutes ago we were alone; now we were surrounded. A few minutes ago everything was normal. Now we were shoeless, sitting on straw mats in a spacious, living room emptied of furniture but filled with men dressed in their Islamic best. A few minutes ago I was introducing my friends to my Forgotten Island host. Now the Quran was being chanted in unison all around us. A few minutes ago things made sense; now my friends were trying to figure out what to do next.
What had happened?
Earlier that day my friend Daoud called. He knew I had visitors from the mainland and he wanted to greet them. Also, I knew that Daoud’s grandmother had passed away recently and that the community was still observing certain mourning rituals. I needed to go by and give my condolences. So I told him we would stop by around noon.
When we arrived we found all the typical signs that the house was in mourning. The furniture was pushed to the side or cleared away completely. Several borrowed plastic chairs were on the porch for visitors. Lots of men were sitting around, chatting. Daoud met us and took us to the back of the house. We talked for a little while before he ushered us into the empty living room. We followed, not entirely sure what was going on. Within minutes, the room was flooded with men. As the religious leader arrived, the chants began. The men staring blankly, reciting chapters from the Quran.
A local believer who was with me, reached over, “Should we be here since we love Jesus?”
I whispered “It’s great for us to be here. We want to honor my friend and his community as they mourn the loss of their grandmother. I don’t pretend to recite the Quran. I don’t pretend to recite the prayers. But while they are doing that, I am praying for my friends and the family here. I pray that Jesus will reveal himself, bringing them peace and comfort.”
He liked the idea and sat there, not pretending to be someone he wasn’t.
A short while later, they finished reciting and praying. As soon as they finished, young men from the back of the house brought out massive, round trays overflowing with rice, big bowls of meat, cassava leaves and soured milk. Ten to twelve men gathered around each platter. First the meat was emptied on the rice. We all dug in, eating with our right hands, trying not burn our hands or spill rice everywhere. When the meat was almost gone the cassava leaves were heaped on top. Finally when the leaves were gone, the milk was poured over the remaining rice. It was a feast so great, you couldn’t help but waddle away afterwards.
We spent more time with my friend, meeting his mother and family. As we left, I explained to the
Island believer and mainland visitors what had happened and why we responded as we did. I explained the importance of honoring my friend Daoud, his family and his community. However, we don’t try to join in at every level. I am willing to eat rice with my hand out of a common bowl to show my support for a grieving family. Sitting there while they recite their chants and prayers is an opportunity I will take to pray for them. Praying to Allah and reciting the Quran with them is a step too far. I can’t take a step that would muddy my allegiance to Christ.
It was a great moment of discipleship for the Island believer and mainland pastors. I thank God for orchestrating a wonderful teaching moment and a precious chance to share Life with the unreached here in the Forgotten Islands.
To answer my friend’s question, “Because we love Jesus, it is was good for us to be there!”