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Moving into the Father’s Gifts

By Raleigh,* RMM worker in North Africa

The day began with the blessing of delay. I’m en route via taxi to my appointment when the 55-year-old man at the other end of the text says, “Sorry I will be half an hour late.” I quickly – and correctly – translate this to one hour. I exit the taxi and walk up to the appointed location (the front gate of our future house) as the minute hand clicks to 10:30. So American; or just lucky. Inshallah.

What God seems to be willing, though (see last word of last paragraph), is that I make a warm acquaintance with a future neighbor. At precisely 10:30 am, Adil* is bending his old back in order to duck under a tree and come out from his yard. We meet for the first time, introducing ourselves. A few sentences later he asks me in his language, “Do you want to drink tea?”

“Yes.”

He says to wait a minute and enters his yard and door again, shooing out some cats as he enters. I hear him sweeping and cleaning up, then he comes out and motions for me to come. I duck under the tree, pass the pile of trash in Adil’s yard, and enter a dark and musty room with articles of clothing and other items in general disarray.

“Sit there.”

A small gas tank with burner atop sits near one of the couches and is already warming the water. In the cold of this basement I am suddenly aware of the chill, and sit warming my hands by the teapot as he disappears behind a curtain. I hear the sounds of hands washing teacups. He returns, asks if I am hungry, and I reply that I am full and tea is all I need. He picks a tomato out of a pile of vegetables in the middle of the floor and then brings an egg from behind the curtain too. We share tea, egg, tomato and small talk until all of them are gone, and then my appointment calls me.

I answer: “Ah Mordu*! I am having tea with Adil; I am coming now.”

Adil and I exit from cave into bright morning sun again and into the vivacious presence of Mordu, the gray-haired son of my future landlord. Mordu greets Adil warmly and also another woman who is just coming into the street. My nephew, David,* and his dad, Josiah,* join the friendly scene. In one hour of delay I have met five friendly future neighbors.

We enter the house and Mordu makes lots of promises: We will fix all of these doors; we will paint this; we will add wood trim here; we will fix these hinges; we will replace these shelves or make them stronger; we will put new shelves here on the kitchen wall; we will put a new floor in the courtyard so you will not slip when it snows; we will replace this toilet seat…. I believe him, but cautiously.

And now it is time to create the contract. We jump into his Volkswagen Golf and head down the hill. First stop: public writer. He sits in a small, one-room office with a door off the street, and he gets up from behind his typewriter to shake hands and exchange kisses with Mordu. I follow, shaking hands. It will be forty-five minutes until our turn in the queue arrives, so we walk a few streets over to one of the old coffee shops.

“Tell me what it was like growing up here in this town.”

Mordu obliges, telling me how he used to hike in those hills over there and pick up copper off the ground. About how he and his dad were driving one time and saw a black and white tiger. About how he used to play basketball with―

“You played basketball?! I love basketball. I have missed playing so much since coming to this country.”

He thinks about that for a few seconds, and then, being a man of action, he suddenly proposes one: “We still have fifteen minutes before we are supposed to be at the public writer’s office. Let’s go to the gym; perhaps there will be people there who also play basketball.”

“Okay!”

We enter a gym to the wonderful, familiar sounds of squeaking shoes and the thum thum thum of basketball on court floor.

“That man who is referee is my old friend; these guys standing here are too!” With many handshakes and kisses, I am meeting Mordu’s old friends (who still play basketball three times a week) and exchanging numbers so I can play with them sometime. Mordu gives me a ball, takes my bag, and says, “Go take some shots.” I am briefly aware that in America the dress shoes I am wearing would not be allowed on the court. But then, humdulillah, this is Africa.

Humdulillah indeed. Praise the Lord! He has been trying to teach me lately about the timing of his good gifts. In just one month, we had a car promised, a car taken away, a better car provided. Followed by a “perfect” house given, then taken away, and a better house given.

And now – three years in this country and I had almost given up hope of playing any kind of serious basketball again as long as we live here. Instead, my landlord’s son happens to be a rare basketball-loving Arab, who also happens to be connected to ALL of the basketball-loving citizens of my future town! This is an unbelievable coincidence. It is unbelievable because it isn’t one; it is just another loving gift of the father. Humdulillah!

Back to the public writer’s office via VW Golf. We talk over the contract in Arabic and then sit there as he uses a typewriter to prepare it for us in Arabic. He makes sure I understand all of it and then we head over to a government office for the next step in the process.

Mordu, it turns out, is a bit of a don, which is more than a little convenient in this culture. He knows everyone, seems to be respected by everyone, and consequently has no problem getting things done. He confides in me that he actually avoids coming downtown or spending time in coffee shops like most men here do; the attention he gets is just “too much.” I’ve seen it first hand; he greets probably thirty people all around town in a span of two hours.

After a brief stop at a government office, it is time to make sure Mordu’s father, my future landlord, is on board with all of this. We enter the house, and I am quickly ushered into a plushly decorated room to wait “while my father finishes his prayers.” This beautiful house with its perfect everything is the polar opposite of Adil’s humble house where I ate breakfast a few hours ago.

The old man seems to be about ninety and his wife looks to be some twenty years younger. While he’s struggling to hear and make sense of what’s going on, his wife is clearly following everything. While he is skeptical, I can see that she quickly likes me; I feel she is accepting me, and I do not worry. “… I realize that most of the people walking by me are speaking the language I’ve been learning for the past year, and a thrill runs through me.”When he worries that we will mistreat the apartment as the last tenants have done, I come near to him, take his arm in mine, look him in the eye, and in his language say, “I am an honest man, and my wife is honest too. We will take care of your house.”

As the old man signs his name in slowly turning lines, Mordu leans over and murmurs, “This is the only thing my father has ever written in his life.” He also tells me, “My mother, she says she prefers you [to the last renters].”

Mordu and I return again to the government office for more stamps (people here LOVE their official stamps!). I pull enough money from the bank to pay for two months of rent and as I’m standing waiting for Mordu to pick me up again, I realize that most of the people walking by me are speaking the language I’ve been learning for the past year, and a thrill runs through me. What has been mostly theoretical is suddenly extremely practical! THIS is where I want to be! The work of the past three years and the work of this one day have been about getting close to THESE people! Someday they will know that God speaks in—and loves—their own heart language! And more importantly, they will hear him saying “Dakoun tirikh!” I love you all!

Returning once more to the landlord’s house, I am invited and obliged to join them for lunch. The landlord’s kind wife has made a delicious beef and pea tagine. We dip out pieces of it with the broken bread.

After we have eaten, Mordu counts the money slowly for his father to see that it is right and writes out receipts for me. And later, when it is time for me to go, I finally see a smile on the old man’s face. It seems he has finally overcome his skepticism and joined his wife in liking me…and in welcoming my family here. Humdulillah!

In the house across from our front gate, Josiah (bro-in-grace, business co-owner, and now neighbor-to-be) has made us celebration coffee. We clink coffee mugs with “cheers” before I head back to the big city. Just a few short weeks and our family will be here….


*Names changed for security

Please pray for Raleigh, his wife Opal, and their four children as they move into this new house and new community. While this is a time of overwhelming blessing, it can also be a time of overwhelming stress. Pray that they would continue to see and receive the gifts that God has for them.