Sometimes we don’t get the chance to follow up. In God’s mysterious plan, we get the chance to share spiritual truth or give scripture to someone, only to never see them again. We might never know until eternity how their story turned out. For me, the gas canister man seems to be one of those people.
Our region of Central Asia has electricity problems. To put it mildly. So natural gas (propane) canisters of the kind you see attached to a grill are a part of daily life. We use them indoors for our stoves, for space heaters in the winter, and sometimes to power water boilers. Trucks drive around our neighborhoods with loudspeakers playing ice cream truck-style tunes. But instead of a creamy chocolatey treat, you lug out your empty bottle of gas to be exchanged and waddle back inside with your new, stinky, full bottle – that hopefully didn’t get damaged when the driver threw it off the back of the truck. Yes, make a note to pray that your friends working in Central Asia don’t get carbon monoxide poisoning.
Over time, I learned that I could better schedule my gas bottle exchange and get better quality if I drove myself to the store in the bazaar where the “ice cream” trucks get loaded up. There were a couple of men working at the particular store I frequented and one of them was definitely a Salafi. In our area this is a growing religious group. They adhere to a Saudi-backed understanding of Islam that seeks to return to what they believe is an earlier, purer form of Islam. This means that they are much more severe and strict in their application of Islam than your typical Muslim would be.
Salafis are visually conspicuous, sporting shorter pants than others, shaved upper lips, scraggly chin/neck beards, and usually wearing a religious hat or turban. Unlike most of their countrymen, they often insist that their wives wear gloves and the more conservative abaya or niqab, often covering all but their eyes. Salafis usually live peacefully with others, but word on the street is that they would be the first to sympathize with extremist groups were they to take power. Due to their strict adherence to Islamic law and open condescension toward the common people, they actually provide a pretty clean parallel with the pharisees when we are studying the Bible with locals.
“You know how the Salafis act, right? Well, the Pharisees were the Salafis of Jesus’ day.”
“Oooh, now we get it!”
I have certainly been guilty of writing Salafis off as those who would not be open to the gospel.
However, through several interactions with the Salafi gas canister man, I started noticing that he was actually respectful and kind to me, an obvious foreigner and infidel. One day I had my son with me as we ran our gas errand. Something about my interaction with my son made the man compliment us.
“You’re not Muslims, are you?” He then asked.
“No, we’re not. We are believers in Jesus.”
“Oh?” He responded. “You know the Bible’s been changed, right?”
“Well, the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel all contain promises that God’s word remains forever. No human is strong enough to change the words of God because God is powerful to protect his word. Just like he promised.”
The Torah (Tawrat), the Psalms (Zabur), and the Gospel (Injil) are the three parts of the Bible Muslims have heard about from the Qur’an. There is a great deal of confusion though in the Muslim world about how these three “books” relate to the Christian Bible.
To my surprise, the gas canister man didn’t dismiss my response. He was actually thinking about it.
“Yes, but you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That is blasphemy.”
“Are you not a son of the mountains?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Well, the title ‘Son of God’ has a very deep and important spiritual meaning. It does not have a physical-sexual meaning as many think it does. ‘Son of the mountains’ doesn’t have a physical-sexual meaning either, does it?”
“No,” He continued, still thinking about what I was saying.
“Have you ever read the Bible in your own language?” I asked.
“I haven’t,” he said.
“Well, I have one with me. If you want to learn about what I mean, you should read this book. But don’t take it unless you are one who is truly thirsty for God and a genuine seeker of the truth.”
“I… would like to read it,” he said.
I went to my glove box where we kept a New Testament just in case of opportunities like this. I handed it to him and we said goodbye. I looked forward to asking him the next time I saw him if he was reading and what he was learning. But I never saw him again.
I kept coming back to the same shop, hoping to catch a glimpse of my Salafi acquaintance. But he had disappeared. Had he gotten fired for possessing a New Testament? Had he been run off by his male relatives? Or had he simply changed jobs and thrown away the precious book I had given him?
I’ve never had any clue as to what became of this man. My prayer is that he is now, somehow and somewhere, a follower of Jesus. I don’t lose sleep over this situation, but it does make me wonder about the strange providence of God. Why would I get the chance to give this man the Bible and never get a chance to follow up? This especially since there are so few believers that can lead him into understanding the book he now possesses?
In situations like this, we must simply rest in the sovereignty of God. I was allowed to play a small part in the life of the gas canister man. Maybe someday our paths will cross again. Maybe not. But we rest in the truth of John 10:16, that Jesus’ sheep will hear his voice. We get the privilege to be a small part of that story, whether we sow, whether we water, whether we reap.
If you read this post, pray for the salvation of the Salafi gas canister man.