It’s been weeks since he left our village but the revival that he has brought would surely last for years.
Ahmodu Usman 1927
I remember the day he came to our village. Father, umaru and I had left the village very early that morning; we had to leave before the cock crowed if we were going to get any space in the grazing field. The drought this year has been very bad. Not even a millimeter of rain had fallen and all our wells were going dry. Most women and children had to trek about 5km to an oasis toget water to cook andfor other daily activities. It was now common to see people going to the shrine of Atumaku to offer sacrifices to the rain gods hoping to appease them. Yes we live in a desert, but still we usually got at least enough water for us to survive. We were already hearing people whispering about planning to move permanently to a greener settlement.
We got to the grazing field quite late; a lot of land had been taken, so we moved our cattle to the eastern end of the field. There was only a little grass there, but we didnt have a lot of cattle so it could do. Father was getting poorer by the day, with 8 mouths to feed and another on the way and no sustainable means of income, we were already suggesting amongst ourselves who would be the first to be sold into slavery. My oldest brother Khalid was our first choice, because all he did was lazy around all day and at the end of the day demanded the largest portion of the meal.
At 12 noon, there was a commotion. Fom the other end of the field, we could see a woman running wildly towards us, with two men chasing hard after her, how they didnt catch up wit her i can’t explain till today. As she got closer, we recognised her as Mama Fatima; she must be coming with news about mother, who was now due for delivey. “Abdul!! Abdul!!” She shouted to father. “You must come quickly Hauwa is about to bring forth the baby. She demands that you are there.” Father gave Umaru and I instructions and left quickly.
Thirty minutes after Father left, we saw a smoke in the distance. As the smoke got closer we could hear a very loud sound accompanying it. It must be a large hed of cattle, i thought, but as the smoke cleared, we saw a bright metallic animal, with a fair man riding on it. He must have come from up north, because he looked like the Arabian slave traders that usually came to our village to trade ointments and perfume for our people. The animal he was riding on was black and shone when the sun hit it at the right angle. He got out of the animal and stood at almost 7feet in height. He wore very simple clothes. He held in one hand a bright yellow polythene bag, and in the other hand a flat rectangular box. “Saanu” he greeted us in our local dialect, as he approached us, this wasnt strange since most of the Arabian slave traders spoke our language. “Jam na?” he was asking how I was, but I just coudnt answer, because i was overwheelmed by his massive structure. “Jam na?” he asked again “jam koo dume” I replied. “Noy innde ma?” he was asking for my name. “Ahmodu” I replied while searching for my big brother Usman, who seemed to have disappeared. “Your brother is right over there” he said, while pointing in the direction of where he had tied his very strange animal. Just like Umaru to be very curious. As if being called, Umaru ran back to where we were standing, and demanded that the man show him what was in the carton and polythene bag. “Its Pizza and Coke” the man told us, as he opened the bag to show us. Pizzacoke? I had never heard a name like that in my entire life. “Mi faamay” I said hoping he would explain better “It is a type of food and drink.” He replied. “Would you like to eat?” He asked Umaru and I. Mother had taught us not to collect food from strangers, but we didnt eat well that morning, since we had to leave early, so we were quite hungry and also the man looked vey nice, there was a kind of peace surrounding him. He didnt look at all like those other terrible arabian slave traders. “Would you like to eat?” He asked us again in a very soothing voice. “Mi yiddi nyamugo” Umaru replied as he grabbed the box of pizzacoke from the man. Well my big brother had agreed to eat, so who was i to say no.
The man directed us to a tree shade, where we sat down. He helped us open the bottle of dark liquid. Usually dark liquids are bitter, but this one was very cold, as cold as the winter nights, so I couldnt resist the urge to gulp it down, suprisignly it tasted vey sweet. When we were halfway through eating, he asked about our parents. Umaru was quick to narrate that our father had rushed back to the village to be with our mother, as she was having a baby. “Are you a moslem?” I asked him noticing he wasnt wearing any chaplets as was common with the arabians that came our way. “I am a christian” he replied “Mi faamaay. Christian? What is that? Some kind of food again?” I asked rather innocently. He laughed out loud, not the kind of laugh that mocks you, but rather one that is suprised at your innocence or rather ignorance and wants to show you the way. “Well to answer your question dear boy, I would like to tell you a story. If youre interested in listening” Umaru and I both nodded our head in approval. So the strange man cleared his throat and began.
“I was born in Timimi, a very small town in Libya. My parents were very wealthy slave traders so i grew up in wealth and affluence. Being the first son of my father it was natural that i took over the trade of my father, when he got old and eventually died, so i was trained from birth to me ruthless. To be a successful slave trader, you can afford to be slack. My family were strong practioners of Islam. Most Moslems pray 5 times a day but we prayed 10 times, fasted twice as much as others and were very generous in our alms giving. I knew every Surah and Hadith off hand. My parents often said I was going to be a great Imam. When sudden death took my father, i was forced to take over the family business, at the young age of 16. To establish a strong rule, I had to be very ruthless since I had to maintain absolute discipline in my household both socially and religiously. Once, my younger brother Farouk missed one of the daily prayers and i instructed my men to whip him publicly as a note of warning to other deterrents that if I could punish my own brother, no one was untouchable. By the time i turned 20 i had whipped over a 100 people, both slaves and freemen, I even had my own mother exiled for three days because she had failed to complete the ramadan fasting.
As time went on i grew up and fell in love. Amina was the daughter of our village chief, the fairest maiden in the land, but she had her heart set on another man. ‘Jamal’ the village champion. He was very strong and handsome but he had no money and he was not a strong follower of Allah. On those grounds I convinced the village head that he was not a suitable son in-law. So come winter that year Amina and I got married, as we consummated our marriage that night, Jamal rode north into the dark, probably in search of faith or maybe revenge. After 6 years, Amina and I had given had birth to two girls and a boy, beautiful children like their mother. My life had become one you could describe as a fairy tale, but on a hot afternoon in the middle of the year disaster struck. An epidemic hit the village and most people had started dying. My only son was the first to get hit, later on the other children joined. I fasted and prayed to Allah to save my children. I read Surahs upon Surahs, visited tonnes of mallams, but still there was no cure. I knew we were being punished for our sins, but I hoped Allah would be merciful. One hot afternoon I lay beside my son Jafar, who was close to dying, I wanted to be beside him when he took his last breath. The disease had gotten to me too, so I was very weak. I lay my boy’s cold head on my chest as I stared through the northern window of the house. All of a sudden, a nasara, white person appeared at the doorway. “Can I come in?” he asked “Yes please” i replied weakly, not understanding why I was allowing a total stranger into my house and why a nasara could speak my language so fluently.
The man sat in a corner, a smile on his lips; he looked so peaceful and happy. I couldn’t understand why he looked so happy in the midst of so much grief, so I asked him. “What makes you so happy?” He just smiled and said “I’m happy because I’m free.” Free? I didn’t understand. I was a slave owner and not a slave so I was very free. As if hearing my thoughts he replied “You’re only free when you know the truth” Truth? Now he was just talking nonsense. “Yes the Truth and Jesus is the truth.” Okay now he was speaking too much nonsense, saying some Aramaic man is the truth. How could a man be truth? I was too weak to kick him out of my house, so I called out for a servant, but none seemed to be close by. Well since i couldn’t chase him out i decided to listen to him, maybe he would leave when he was done.
He told me the story about a different type of God. While growing up and in all of my travels, I had heard of a lot of gods, but all with the same basis of worship. You were blessed if you worship them and do well and you were punished if you didn’t. Also, there was an impending doom on those that died as bad people while paradise awaited those that were good. So you had to constantly work hard at trying to be good and also praying and worshipping every day. Most people I had known, even the most powerful mallams had tried, but most times failed in one way or another.
The God he described in his story was a different God, one who understood our sinful nature and sent His only son to die for our sins. He told me that for every sin committed there needed to be atonement or a pay for that sin by blood. Blood had to be shed to sanctify the sinner and restore fellowship. This wasn’t new to me, since I had been involved in my own share of sacrifices to appease gods. He said God knew that the blood of lambs wasn’t sufficient enough to take away our sins, so because of his love for us, he sent his only begotten son to die for us. His son shed blood for us on a cross, crucified for our transgression; he took our sins away once and for all. His death on the cross set us free from sin pain and every form of oppression of the devil. But he didn’t stop at dying, he rose again on the third day a sign that He had conquered death also and when He was leaving, He promised to send a helper, the Holy Spirit to help us live a life that was pleasing to God. Thus we no longer had to struggle to please God through our own strength all we needed to do was confess our sins and accept Jesus as our lord and Saviour and we would have peace and grace to live for God.”
His story was strange, but I understood it. I was so happy to finally meet a God who loved me enough to die for me and wanted to set me free from bondage. I asked him to show me how I could make this Jesus my Lord and Saviour; all he did was pray a short prayer with me while I confessed my sins. After the prayer I felt a kind of peace I had never felt before. “I think it’s time for me to go.” The nasara said. Alhaji!! Alhaji!! Wake up! The boy is coughing. It was one of my servants calling out to me. I opened my eyes to see my son sitting up, coughing and sweating. Colour had returned to his face. I myself felt stronger than before. “Where is the nasara?” I asked my servant. He just looked at me oddly, afraid not to answer wrongly. My whole family was healed that day and I couldn’t wait to share what had happened to me with anybody willing to hear. My wife and children received it with so much joy, but others in my household refused the message, they called it Haram. They said Allah was going to visit me in his wrath.
Jamal came back to the village two months after the epidemic. He came with an array of bodyguards, mostly Talibans and with so much wealth. He said he had made his money in perfume and spice trade, but we all knew better. News about my new found faith had had spread like wildfire around my village and had no sooner gotten to the ears of Jamal, who was now a strong and devout follower of Allah. “Haram!” he shouted when he heard it. He started to make plans to get rid of my family and I, so as to cleanse the land from evil. He had the support of every villager, and even most of my own household. I knew the dangers in them declaring a Jihad against my family, so I prayed hard for God to protect us. I also made plans for my family and I to escape. On the fateful night we were supposed to run away, Jamal and his fellow Jihadist broke down our front door. We had been betrayed by my own brother Farouk. They tied us all up and asked us to deny our faith in Christ, starting from my youngest child, Fatima. Fatima refused to deny her salvation and right in front of us, she was killed. As blood gushing out from her wound reached the foot of her older sister Zahra, Zahra was also asked to deny Christ. Zahra refused blatantly and met the same fate as her younger sister. My wife couldn’t watch it anymore and pleaded that they kill her first so she wouldn’t have to watch her last child die. Jamal smiled and replied “I have other plans for you.” Jafar got up suddenly and shouted. “Jesus forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” This even got them more aggravated, and so they killed him in an inhumane way. “Amina, you can deny him now and live. You and I can still have a wonderful life together.” Jamal pleaded with her, but my wife refused and instead said “I am prepared to die for the cause of Christ.” Jamal laughed and took her to a separate room, where he raped her, and then he left her in the hands of his men who raped her to death.
As i watched all this unfold before my very eyes, I knew what I felt towards this new God. It was purely anger and hate. I had begged Him to deliver us, but this was what he rewarded me with. Jamal came back to me and asked “So Alhaji, you still want to serve this God?” I looked at him and spat out, a sign to show that I was done with this God. They all started laughing. They spat on me, beat me up so badly and left me to die. I knew I was going to die anyways, so I spent my last breath telling God how he had failed me. As my heartbeat began to slow down and my blood soaked up the Persian rugs, someone tapped me and said. (Watch out for part 2)