I don’t want to give the wrong impression here, but let us say that if you are driving from here to Banyo – 230 km away – you will encounter 5 or 6 checkpoints with either soldiers, police, or gendarmes. Of those 5 or 6 you usually can count on one or more giving you some kind of trouble.
I remember the trip I made up there in mid-January with my friend Joan; mostly we did fine but we got to one checkpoint and the surly soldier there hardly looked at our documents – he just said, “Settle, settle,” which means, of course, “Give us some money so we can let you go.” As usual I played dumb, and pestered him about what it meant to “Settle.” Joan finally gave him a tract and he unhappily let us pass.
He was not the only one who was unhappy though. It usually takes a lot to get me angry, but these guys – maybe 10 or 20 percent of the guys we run into – manage to do it without raising a sweat. So, after the trip with Joan I devised a strategy to deal with them.
I decided that the next time I met with a checkpoint Charlie who gave me problems that way, I would tell them that I would pay to pray with them, and then – as my daughter Cari might say – I would “Go all John the Baptist on them” – i.e. telling them to repent, and so on.
I got my opportunity on the way from the seminar we offered on Ministry F*lbe M*slims on Easter Saturday. The first checkpoint we came to, the young soldier stared at my I.D. long and intently, but could not find anything wrong with it. Finally, he gave it back to me and said, “Yes, but we have no water,” which, again, is code for, “We want you to give us some money.”
By this time, though, I had calmed down from my time with Joan and had rethought my strategy. I no longer had a desire to be John the Baptist; I thought I should instead be more like Jesus – and truly, as I looked at this young man, I knew Jesus loved him.
So I told him, truthfully, that I had no water in the truck to give him (which is a real mistake on my part, I should say. I meant to put some in the truck, and simply forgot that morning. Never travel here without water people!), but that I might have something else for him. He looked at me quizzically. I told him if he let me park on the other side of the gate, I would get out and talk with him about it. He seemed a little unsure, but he waved them to open the gate for me.
I parked up past the gate, and got out. He had called over another soldier who spoke better English (his second language seemed to be French), and I asked them their names. They were Joseph and Musa. “Ok, Joseph and Musa,” I told them, “I am a missionary, and I am here to minister to people. Now I know that ministry always costs money, so what I would like to do is to pray for you, and I will pay for the privilege.”
Musa stared at me for a bit, and then translated to his friend. Then Joseph stared at me also. “So, what do you say? Can I pay for you both?” Musa said, “Yes.” They took me into their office (complete with bottle of water in the corner), and asked me to sit down. There was another soldier there who made way for us. It seems Joseph was the leader of this little troop.
I began to pray. Joseph sat and closed his eyes, while Musa stood with his hands raised, open to God, with his eyes open. Musa is a M*slim, while Joseph must have some kind of Christian background, but is clearly not walking with Jesus now.
So, I thanked God for these three guys – including the third soldier who was also sitting, staring at the floor – that God had brought them to this place to be agents of peace, and a blessing to the people. And I thanked God for the gift of his son Jesus, who is for us the water of life, given free of charge, who, when we receive him, makes it so we will never thirst again (having Isaiah 55 and John 4 in my mind as I prayed).
These days (and for many years) I usually pray with my eyes open, so I was looking at all of them as I prayed, with Musa staring back at me. And I was inwardly thanking God that I was able to share a little bit of the good news with this M*slim and these two other fellows. Honestly, after a really good time speaking at this seminar for four hours, this short time of prayer was what really made my day.
All for less than the price of a bad cup of coffee – 6 or 700 francs, which is about a buck and a half. Money well spent that day.
(Just a small caveat here. I would not try this with every corrupt soldier or policeman I meet; some of them you really do not want to mess with [though with all of them, you do want to try to create a relationship if possible], and one needs discernment to see who might be open to such an offer. Joseph and Musa turned out to be open.)