A fierce knock stirred me from my bedtime meditation. I frowned and rose from my hearth side chair, my Bible resting open on the small teakwood table. Tying my brocade dressing gown about my waist, I scuffed across the hardwood floor to the front door and cracked it open.
I peered out at a wild-eyed dark face. I recognized its owner and wondered at the urgency I saw in his demeanor.
“Please, Reverend, sir, may I speak with you?”
I heaved a weary sigh and opened the door wider to allow my visitor entrance.
“Ahmed,” I said, shutting the door and turning to him. “Do you happen to know what time of night it is? I was about to go to bed myself. Tomorrow is Sunday and I have a service to lead.”
Ahmed bowed his head in repentance, then gazed at me intently and swallowed hard. “I have read the pages of your holy book as you suggested. And I have read so much more than that.”
I attempted to clear my mind, to remember the particular conversation to which my Islamic student was referring. We had conversed so many times about Christianity and Islam while dining together at my table. Ahmed was a student in one of my philosophy classes at the university and was due to return to Saudi Arabia at the end of the term. I would miss him and our friendly debates.
“I don’t quite understand,” I stammered.
He strode over to my Bible and again bowed his head to me. He gestured toward the book and asked, “May I?”
I nodded. What else could I do? Curiosity welled up inside me as Ahmed lifted the book and turned pages with great care, searching for something.
After a minute, he paused and nodded. “Ah, here it is. The very words that convinced me.” He read and I wondered at the passage he had chosen.
“How did that particular section convince you?”
Ahmed averted his eyes and seemed to be struggling to find the right words. When he finally spoke, it was with a reverent tone. “I saw the one you call Jesus Christ surrounded by a bright light in a dream. Like He spoke to the one you call Paul on the road to Damascus, He spoke to me. He beckoned me to follow Him.”
“Will you help me understand what I must do to be saved? And will you . . .” He paused.
“Will you baptize me like those in your holy book were baptized?”
I hesitated and paced before the crackling fire. “You are aware what price you will be forced to pay when you return home?”
“I am.” His two words were uttered with the same commitment as a bride or groom would have when they took their vows.
“Your family will, in all likelihood, cast you from the household. They will consider you a dead man. You will be persecuted, imprisoned if you attempt to share anything about Jesus with anyone. You may be sentenced to death.”
I glanced at Ahmed, attempting to gauge his reaction to my words. He was frowning at me as if puzzled. His next words pierced my heart.
“After all our conversations, all your vehement defense of your Christian faith, do you tell me now that I should not take these steps?”
My face flushed. In my shame, I stared at the burgundy wool rug at my feet.
Was not my purpose for speaking to him about my Lord to persuade him that the way of the cross was worth every sacrifice?
I glanced around the room to avoid his fervent gaze. The fire in the hearth was warming and inviting; my meerschaum and the ivory inlaid box in which I kept the finest tobacco rested on the marble mantlepiece. The bookcase that lined one entire wall held a vast assortment of leather bound volumes, the gilt letters on the bindings glittering in the firelight.
What had I sacrificed to follow my Lord? Would I have been as willing to seal my acceptance of the Lord with baptism if I knew that my profession of faith would be paid for with all that I possessed?
When I looked into Ahmed’s eyes I saw the passionate faith I once had, the faith that led me into the ministry.
I cleared my throat to dislodge guilt and motioned toward the chair opposite mine. “We have much ground to cover before your baptism tomorrow morning.”
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