January 4, 2016

A terrorist for tea

Written by  Jewel Showalter

This article appears in the January/February 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

Editor's note: Only two months after the terrible events of September 11, this article first appeared in the November 2001 Missionary Messenger. It is worth revisiting.

Eight Muslim Middle Easterners in our living room? Interested in Bible study? I fled to the kitchen. At least I could fix tea.

Before we had moved to the Middle East in 1982, well-meaning people had warned us that mission work in the Muslim world would be hard and unrewarding. We could work for ten years and see little fruit. It's difficult and even dangerous for a Muslim to come to faith in Christ, I was told.

"God, what are we going to do?" I prayed in panic as I turned on the gas under the teakettle. "We can barely speak the local language and have never even prayed in it. We're certainly not ready for this yet!"

The water came to a boil. I poured it over a handful of black tea leaves in a copper teapot. Filling a silver tray with tiny tea glasses, I waited for the tea to steep.

I strained to hear my husband conversing with the guests around the corner in the living room. Phrases in the local language tumbled through my mind — too few and inadequate to convey what was on my heart.

Then I remembered a little boy from Galilee with only a lunch of fish and bread. "Okay, Jesus," I prayed. "I give you my five sentences and two words. You feed the 'multitude.'"

I picked up the tea tray and walked to the living room. Still learning good Middle Eastern hospitality, I placed tiny wooden serving tables before the guests and poured the tea. Then I sat on a large floor cushion and cracked pistachio nuts for our guests.

Two years later, one of those eight guests came back for a visit. He looked me in the eye and asked, "Would you like to know how I became a Christian?"

His question caught me off guard. I thought I knew. When Muharrem first came to our home for Bible study, he had told us he was already a Christian. He was a student at the local university where my husband taught English. Muharrem had even led in prayer voluntarily on one occasion. True, his attendance had been sporadic, but not unusual for a university student.

Now he smiled at us. There was a new look of confidence and joy on his face. Then he began.

"When I first came to your home two years ago, I was not a Christian. I lied to you. You could have called me a terrorist. I belonged to a right-wing Islamic group, and we hated everything you stood for. We knew you were Christian missionaries. I planned to infiltrate your group and gather evidence to get you expelled from the country."

My head spun. An infiltrator? My, we had been naive ...

He continued, "I wasn't interested in the Jesus you talked about. But when you, an educated American woman, sat on the floor at my feet and cracked pistachio nuts to serve me, a poor student, I was shocked. Why did you love me? What was different about you?

"I started reading the Bible and saw how Jesus healed people. I was attracted to Him, but knew that I, a Muslim, could never become a Christian. There was a great chasm I could not cross, even if I wanted to.

"Each time I left your house, I vowed I'd never go back. I decided I wouldn't hurt you, but neither could I become a Christian. Yet there was a strange Spirit in your house that kept drawing me back.

"One day this summer, I took a pain pill for a headache and suffered a severe allergic reaction. I was all alone in the house and couldn't call for help. My throat tightened and squeezed out my breath. At that moment, I remembered how Jesus had healed people. I cried out, 'Jesus, heal me.' I lay down on the bed and fell into a peaceful sleep. When I woke up, it seemed as though nothing had happened.

"A few days later, I was at a party and my head hurt, so I took another pain pill. The same thing happened. But this time, my friends rushed me to the emergency room. The doctor told me I almost died. Twenty minutes later, and I'd have been gone.

"As I recuperated from that hospitalization, I realized that Jesus had really saved my life when I cried out to Him the first time. I invited Him to forgive me and fill me. And He did."

Muharrem's dark eyes shone with excitement. "But I wanted you to know," he said, looking deep into my tear-filled eyes. "It all started with the pistachio nuts."

Jewel Showalter and her family worked among Muslims in the Middle East from 1982-89. This story took place in a Middle Eastern city of half a million people, where no churches or Christian fellowships existed, other than the small home meeting in this story.

This article appears in the January/February 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.