The thin dusting of Ethiopian sand shifted beneath my leather sandals as my companion and I strode through the small town. I switched the bundle that I was carrying from my right shoulder to my left just as a hot breeze rose up and tickled little patches of sand into a swirling frenzy.
I wondered how much farther it was to the business of our newest customer. Not until moving to switch my bundle again did I realize that my traveling companion was speaking to me.
“I’m sorry, Teferi, what were you saying?”
Teferi shot me an irritated glance, his forehead gleaming with a layer of perspiration. No doubt he thought that I had once again misunderstood his thick accent. “I was saying, Melaku,” his voice held a forced patience, “that this dry weather must be quite a change from your usual tropical climate in the south.”
“Oh yes,” I chuckled, embarrassed at my inattention, “But it is not much different from your home region, correct?”
Teferi waved his hand in the air as if swatting a fly, “Ah, I’m rather used to dry spells. My district is not too far west of here as you know.”
“Which is why I have trouble understanding your dialect some of the time.” I flashed him a playful grin. “You may have to act as my translator since we are so far northeast of my home region.”
“You may need a translator to understand me.” Teferi laughed. “Amazing how different dialects can make the same language seem almost foreign isn’t it?”
I nodded. If only you knew how foreign we really are.
Instinctively, my free hand moved to the pocket of my dashiki. Inside the pocket of the long, loose shirt, my fingers instantly found what they were searching for. The little scrap of cloth, identical to the kind stuffed in my bundle, was smooth to my touch and I rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger, running my thumb along the words that I had sewn there. “Jesus is Lord” the words proclaimed unabashedly.
Teferi did not yet know just how different we were.
“Praise be to Allah, we are here!” my fellow clothes-maker announced.
We stepped inside the building, toting our bags of material, and prepared to see what type of clothing order we would be filling over the next few weeks.
My joke about Teferi acting as my translator served to be prophetic when the bulky clothes merchant greeted us in a thick Amharic tongue. Remembering that Teferi had bragged about being schooled in Amharic as well as his native language of Oromo, I defaulted to him the duty of discussing the business transaction.
All the while, my hand fingered the precious piece of scrap cloth and my mind fidgeted with the possibility of confessing my Christian faith to Teferi.
It is a great risk. The friendship I am building with my co-worker could quickly turn sour – I would become an enemy in his eyes. But then ... what if he did listen?
A friendly slap on the shoulder brought me back to the simple room. “It’s all done! We’re ready to begin work immediately.”
“Wonderful.” I waited as the merchant disappeared into the next room. “My friend, I’ve not known you long, but I would be no friend at all if I did not share with you a very important truth.”
Puzzled, Teferi motioned for me to continue.
“Just as people can speak one language with differing dialects,” I said carefully, “so can they believe in Allah or God, but have vastly different views of who He is. Sometimes those beliefs are so different ... you could almost say they’re like a foreign language to one another.”
I reached for the cloth in my pocket. “I want to share the language of my God with you, Teferi. It is one of love and peace. No matter what our previous beliefs, He understands us.”
Teferi’s dark eyes bulged in near terror as I gently unfolded the cloth in my hand.
Head bowed, eyes downcast, Teferi took a step backward. “If you’ll excuse me, Melaku.” He shuffled into the next room, leaving me to wonder as to his thoughts.
A moment later, the front door banged open and a group of officers invaded the room.
“You!” the head officer pointed at me. “You’re under arrest for blaspheming the name of Allah.”
As they roughly bound my hands, I glanced behind me. Teferi stared back.
This was the language of his god.
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