Lunch? We had been working hard. We were hot and tired and our stomachs were telling us it was way past lunchtime. Delicious rice and succulent meat: our mouths watered in joyful anticipation. Then as our taxi stopped our hearts sank. The entrance to the restaurant was closed, tightly secured by padlock and chain. That’s when our driver turned to us and explained, “It’s the fast, you know. We Muslims aren’t eating during the day. We are feeling the pain that the poor people feel.” Ah, yes, Ramadan, the 30 days of fasting, and feasting …
My first introduction to Ramadan was in 1991 when my Muslim friend told me she wouldn’t be able to meet with me during the fast because she would be too busy cooking. I was confused. Cooking during a fast? What kind of fast is this? I learned that during the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day, avoiding all food and drink from sun up to sun down, then when the sun sets they join together as families and friends to break the fast over some of their best foods. They have spicy rice, succulent meat, fruits and special breads during the month of Ramadan. It is like the Christmas dinner for Christians!
Wondering how this year would be different, I engaged our driver in a discussion about the thousands of Somalis who were pouring into the Dadaab refugee camp just east of us in search of water and food for basic survival. Their images are burned into my conscious… malnourished women and children with sunken eyes and boney frames. They make me think of Psalm 22, the passages our Lord repeated when dying on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of the earth. I can count all my bone; people stare and gloat over me.” Our driver was eager to talk, “Yes, they are fasting. They must fast. It is mandatory.” The starving people in Dadaab cannot eat during the day, but they can eat at night – if they have food.
He continued, “In the past the rain came regularly every three months but since the clashes started in Somalia, the rains haven’t come. God is judging us. We have not been faithful” My mind dashed back to Psalm 68: 30 where I had just read David’s prayer, “…Scatter the nations who delight in war.” Yes, the Somalis have been in war for nearly 20 years. In some ways our driver’s perspective resonates as we can see through the Old Testament how God held back rain when the Israelites disobeyed him. Moses gives a warning in Deuteronomy 11:16-17 saying, “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.” Are the starving Somalis fasting with this perspective? Are they bowing to Allah like disobedient children who submit to the rage of an angry father, beating them because they disobeyed him? What does it mean for a Somali when he says, “God is judging us?” It is a test to be endured silently and fearfully.
What does a Somali mother feel when she leaves her child to die in the sand while she walks on foot across the desert to the refugee camp? She must grieve silently so as not to rouse God’s anger. What does a child feel when his mother has no food for him? He must wait patiently for God’s mercy. What does a young man who has killed a fellow Muslim in the war feel? There is no hope of heaven for him because he has committed an unpardonable sin by killing another Muslim. He would prefer to starve on earth than face God where he knows he will be condemned to eternal punishment for his sins. Like children seeking to appease their raging father’s anger, the Muslim must submit.
Why might David have prayed that God would “scatter the nations who delight in war” in Psalm 68:30? Perhaps he wanted them stop bothering him and run away from him, but perhaps he hoped that in their running the would run toward God. Throughout Scripture we see how God moved nations to accomplish his purposes. He has always desired to reveal himself to those who do not yet know him. This process has seldom been easy. The people who are on the move experience complete upheaval and those receiving them also experience strain. But what if we as the church responded to this as an opportunity to show Christ’s love to those who desperately need it? Will we take them a cup of cold water in Christ’s name? Are we willing to bind up their wounds to lead them to our great physician?
Most Somalis have never experienced the love of the church. They have been cut off from us geographically, with almost no witness within their borders. Church, this is the time to arise and show them the love of Christ. Now, in their hour of need, let us show them the true nature of our gracious Father. The invitation is in Hosea 6:1-3, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD: let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Let us welcome the Somalis to the feast.
Jennifer a volunteer serving in the northern Kenya with TSM relief team August 2011