While walking through the forest near my home yesterday morning, I came across a dead sheep. It was an ugly sight—bloated, with rigid legs sticking straight out. It made me think about the parable of the lost sheep. What if the story had gone differently? What if there wasn’t a good shepherd who went out searching for his sheep? What if the shepherd stopped searching because it was dark and late? What if that lost sheep was me? Yes, looking at a dead sheep far from its flock gave me a few good lessons to think about.
One day last week, I looked out my car window at a busy intersection and was surprised to see a familiar face staring back from the car next to me. I hadn’t seen Kutlu in more than two years. This retired professor had been one of my best Bible interests before he moved away. At the time, he and his wife were reading together an hour a day from a Bible I had given him. He was receiving the words of Jesus with great enthusiasm. Not long before he moved, I remember him reflecting on the story of Calvary with great awe. His eyes glimmering with zeal, he told me, “In the Bible account, the Centurion said, ‘Surely this was the Son of God!’” Big words for a Muslim! He was really growing in faith, but when he moved, my language skills were inadequate to really nurture his faith by phone.
About a month before Kutlu moved, an interesting event took place. He and I were in the habit of exercising together each morning. One morning, a man named Rashat joined us on our walk through the olive groves. I assumed he was Kutlu’s friend. At one point, Rashat grabbed my arm and said, “My Imam gave me an Incil (New Testament). I love it! Do you think you could find me a Tevrat (the books of Moses)?” I gave him a complete Bible that same morning.
About a month after Kutlu moved, I decided to go and visit him unannounced. About half an hour before arriving in his town, I called him. He was delighted I was coming. When I pulled into the heart of his town of 10,000, I was surprised to see a man come running out of a café, waving his arms for me to stop. Confused, I pulled over. It was Rashat! That day, I learned that Rashat and Kutlu are brothers. It made me think of John’s account of Andrew and Peter.
I spent an interesting day with them. We had a time of solemn reflection at the grave of Kutlu’s daughter who died when she was twelve. We visited Kutlu’s closest friends and talked about spiritual things. That night, the two men took me to Rashat’s house in the mountains. On the way, Kutlu had me stop the car by a small river. He put on some shorts and waded up to his chest in the water along the bank. Ducking under, he came up smiling, holding a fish he had caught with his bare hands for our supper! Rashat and his wife lived in an old Ottoman village perched on top of a mountain near a quarry. The houses were built of logs and stone and were two hundred years old. In Rashat’s home, I saw his Bible lying open next to his sofa, so I knew he had been reading. Later that night, he said, “Maybe you should become a Muslim, and I should become a Christian.” I knew there was some cultural logic hidden in this statement. He loved what he was learning of Christ but felt he would be damned if he ever left Islam. The only way to counterbalance the sin of leaving his religion would be to win a foreign man to Islam.
I visited Kutlu on several occasions after this, but he was busy with the many stresses of helping his daughter start a pharmacy. It seemed that his spiritual fire was dying out. The spiritual aspect of our friendship was withering, and linguistically I was unable to fuel it by telephone. Also, my life was full. Starting a new church here in our city came with many demands. After some time, I had to shelve my friendship with Kutlu as a happy memory. I didn’t see Rashat again either. The sheep were on their own.
But the Lord reminded me of these brothers again and again. One day in 2007, Nevzat, the gardener and maintenance man for the apartment complex where we used to live, came to me. He was a hard worker but also a bit of a scoundrel—always in debt and sometimes bloodied from bar fights. That day, he had returned from the countryside with his van full of watermelons. “Barnabas,” he said, “yesterday I went to my home city 125 miles away to harvest these watermelons. While there, I met a man named Kutlu who said he knows you.”
“Yes, that is true!” I said, marveling at the coincidence.
Then Nevzat became very serious. “Listen. I drink alcohol, and I need help. You gave Kutlu a book. Do you think that book can help me? You gotta give me one, man.” Never before or since has anyone asked me for a Bible with such feeling. I wondered if he would mug me if I said no! From this, I knew Kutlu was still talking about what he had learned.
One day last year, I was shopping in a big farmer’s market in the city. A man there sells bread he makes in a clay oven not far from my house. I gave him a ride one night when his car broke down, and he has always remembered me fondly since then. He greeted me, gave me a loaf of bread and said, “This is a gift for you.” Then he said, “Barnabas, you know Kutlu and Rashat? I was up visiting relatives in a mountain village when I met those brothers, and they said they knew you.”
I live in a city of three million. These reminders are not coincidence. The Good Shepherd clearly did not want me to forget Kutlu and Rashat.
This week, the Good Shepherd timed things to the second—the moment Kutlu’s car and mine converged at one of a million intersections in this vast city. Recognizing each other, we parked our cars, jumped out and hugged one another. Kutlu was moving to a different city that very week, so we exchanged phone numbers. Had I not seen him, I wouldn’t have known how to contact him. He was only in our city for a few hours visiting relatives.
The next day, Friday, my telephone rang. It was Rashat! He said he also was visiting my city for the weekend and would like to see me. I said I could visit him that night. It took quite some time for me to locate his relatives’ home. I spent several hours enjoying their conversation. They were Muslims with strong faith but open minds. They emphasized that “we are a family who believes in the Creator God—we don’t just claim a religion.” I had never before met a Muslim who used the word Creator over and over like these people did.
At the end of the discussion, Rashat said to me, “Are you going to church tomorrow? I would like to come with you.” And so it was that Rashat joined us for Sabbath School and church last Sabbath! After our potluck meal, he asked me, “Is there a group like this near me?”
I handed him a Sabbath School quarterly in Turkish and said, “Certainly. You can begin one!”
God has equipped each of us with a special GPS—God’s Precious Sheep—to keep His flock connected. I don’t know His plans for the continued nurturing of these sheep. Kutlu and Rashat both still live far from me, but their Good Shepherd is guiding them to pastures only He knows. I have started Rashat on our specially written Bible course. I pray the Lord will help me to be faithful as an under-shepherd in his shepherding school.