Abdi, Adam, Ali, Anisa and I
Today is to be an exciting day. While I have baptized many people here in Africa, and more than a handful of Muslims, I seldom get to baptize Somalis. Somalis are loud, animated and cleaver.
They are known as good business people, able capitalist and hard workers. Of course that is the good stuff. They are known, also, here in Kenya for Al Shabab, the terrorist group that keeps attacking our city of Nairobi. For bombings, murder, war and yes piracy.
Their country is a rouge state of untold danger. Every single Somali woman I have ever met that came to Christ has lost her husband to radicals, except one. The Kenyans fear them and the Christians that live among them are in constant danger.
But today we celebrate great movement towards the Kingdom of God. Like most Africans, Somalis come here and run into the arms of a traditional African church and sometimes become just like the worldly version of Christianity we see all over the world. They leave strict Islam, commit to Jesus, risk their lives and then get a dose of “just believe” Christianity and the prosperity gospel, where all there is to do in Christianity is get blessed. The next thing you know they are drinking, sleeping with women, going to church, praising God and hiding from radicals. They can become as worldly and self-absorbed as any Westerner even as their determination to follow Jesus puts them at great risk.
But we teach a different truth. That Jesus did not come to gather a bunch of believers and forgive them. No, He came to make disciples that lay down everything for Jesus and serve the lost and the least, even at their own peril.
As I have slowly identified candidates for discipleship, eliminated the pretenders and the money seekers, I have found a people young in the Lord and His Word, but eager to truly serve and follow the true Gospel of the Kingdom. Since most Christianity has been reduced to “just believe” or It’s just, “faith and grace” it seems obvious to anyone with a brain that baptism is just an antiquated, cultural ceremony that can be taken or not.
As I teach the terribly uncomfortable truth (to Westerners) that faith, repentance and baptism have always been the three cord strand that lead to entrance into the Kingdom and the huge selections of verses testifying to its importance and practice, I find ZERO, Muslims have had anyone here offer them baptism. Surely that is just a statistical anomaly, an exception. But I fear it is not.
As they look at scripture and find that the teachings of Jesus.and His command to be baptized are to be obeyed, they begin to understand that Christianity is not a mental exercise and a creed to be adhered to, but rather a life to be lived. You must understand to get baptized here has huge risk.
To stay with the, just believe folks, is very safe. Many of the just believe crowd actually want Muslims to come to Jesus and then just stay a secret Christian. I can’t tell you how many tell converts to even continue going to the Mosque, pretend to pray to Allah and follow all the other customs and holidays. Just play it safe, play along, till the end and go to heaven.
On the other hand, I tell them that to deny Christ is to be certain of His denial of them in heaven. We teach that they are to go to the lost and lead them into the Kingdom. They are to be careful and walk circumspectly, but we tell them it may very well cost them their very lives to walk with Him, as He has called His people to walk. I assure them they are safer with the other kind of Christianity. But I tell them, it is only safe here on earth. It will cost them everything in eternity. Some leave us and go back.
But today, we buried the old man and the new was raised to new life. We had planned on six but only had five candidates show up. The other is having to attend to her brother who was shot in the head and lived, by some rivals at home in Somali.
Welcome to Africa. She called three times from a hospital in Uganda to ask how the baptism was going and was praying for us all day.Everyone arrived relatively on time and then my bus driver arrived in a car. Not the bus I ordered. So we crammed into the little Toyota and sat in each others laps.
Actually pretty easy when almost everyone weights 100 lbs. Well, except me of course. As we pulled out smoke began to billow from under the dash. I was assured by the driver that it was nothing. He told me I just stepped on a lose wire. But as we pulled out on the main road the smoke was obviously toxic in nature. We pulled over and I opened the glove box to have heavy smoke roll into my face. The driver opened the hood and jerked some wires from the battery and threw them on the road. The smoke stopped and we resumed our drive.
We left the area where I live in a safe house and drove to another area where we have access to a pool for about one dollar a head. I have baptized multiple times there before. As we enter that part of town locals look into the car. Africans are very curious about people in cars in the poorer parts of town. And of course that is where I do all my work.
At first they see me, a Muzungu, white guy, and smile then they look in the back seat. There is a lady in a burka and men with that distinctly wavy and shiny hair and demure size of Somalis. Someone in the crowd yells that there are Somalis in the car. Then men on both sides of the car begin to shout. One says “Al Qaida” I imagine others were yelling Al Shabab, but by then the driver hit the gas and we got out of those close quarters. We pulled into the area where you park cars for the hotel and for the first time EVER, I see women in burkas all around. While I knew the hotel was obviously designed from an Islamic perspective the actual owners give me free reign for baptisms as long as they get their 100 bob. I even suspect they are Muslims. They have heard me preach many times in there before we baptize and sometimes I have quite an audience. But this is the first time I have people that are obviously from a Muslim background as my candidates.
There is much excitement in our back seat. Somalis are very loud and very animated. They begin to point, yell and generally get exercised about the danger of being here. First the Kenyans are calling them terrorist and now we are at a pool where they think the owner is Somali. Now there is no basis for this thought, but ones imagination and fear can get the best of you if you let it. It has happened to me.
I suggest we send in my translator and Wilson and they scope out the place and whatever they decide we do. They are gone five minutes. They return and say that management will lock everyone out of the pool area and close the gates, effectively closing down the building to the public, till we are done. Wow. Everyone loves the idea. I am no secret agent, but I am also aware that if this guy is a Somali or even knows any radicals this is not going to go well. But we are as subtle as a snake and as harmless as doves.
I engage the manager and sense no malice. Frankly, he seems like he really wants that 600 bob revenue today in his pocket before he even opens officially for all the area school kids this afternoon.We go into the dressing room. The lone female getting baptized feels left out and want to come change with us. I have to firmly tell her she cannot stay. I have seen this before. They are very comfortable changing clothes in the same room with their backs to each other. This comes from the reality that most have at one time or another lived 15 to a room as refugees and just had to do things that they had to in order to function. I promise her that we will be quick and that she will be ok. She walks in two more times in the next ten minutes but all goes well.
We enter the knee deep pool water in the kiddy pool. Some Africans are horrified of drowning and almost none swim. We have already confirmed their faith earlier in the day, heard a testimony how they left Islam and chose Jesus and had them repent of their sins, anew. I now asked them if they believe Jesus is the Son of God, who died and rose again and sits at the right hand of God.
They affirm. I asked them to renounce, sin, self, Satan and the world and get a proclamation of their determination to serve Jesus with everything they have to the point of death. And of course a bit more I won’t mention here. You get the idea. They know what they are doing and celebrate wildly as they come from the water the last time. We praise the Lord and slowly exit. One young man is in great distress as I find out the cold water is literally painful as he got out of bed with pneumonia to come be baptized.
I can’t help but be aware that what a nice experience was for me in America being baptized is actually, an incredible step of faith on many levels for them. Just to be spotted here and identified and have it reported back in the refugee area will be fatal. They have all, lost friends and family to radicals. Yet they are hear. It is not lost on me.We dress and leave.
The ride home is animated as usual and there is no fire in the car. The locals miss us this time so there is no finger pointing or yelling at us. It is near rush hour and the locals have more to worry about than an unlikely terrorist threat. Attacking poor neighborhoods with little traffic is not the normal terrorist way. We return to my home. We hug and I have the driver take them all home. They are happy, a bit damp, buried with Christ and raised to new life. It has been a great day; one of my last in Nairobi, at least for a while. What a way to go out!