In part one (March 2023 issue of AF), Simon recounts his childhood attending a Muslim school, learning parts of the Quran, quitting to work odd jobs, getting married and, eventually, learning about Jesus from a Christian cousin. In part two, we learn how Simon became a friend to Jesus.
“I asked my mom to arrange for me to marry Alia, a Muslim girl from my village. She only suspected I was a Christian. When I moved in with her family, she opened my suitcase, finding it full of Christian books; that is how she knew for certain.
“The only things worse than the flies at their house were the mosquitoes. Her family was always preparing fish and crabs for the market and throwing unwanted parts around the yard. Alia’s stepdad would talk loudly when he was drunk. He got drunk every day after work. He was a construction worker, and a good one, too. If he ever put his drinking away, he could do really well. They make Prohok, a grey mayonnaise made out of finely minced rotting fish. It smells! Their house felt like a solar oven when the sun hit its corrugated metal roof and walls. Just when things could not get any worse, I would be taking a nap, and an escaped crab would come and pinch my ear! We had to get out of there!
“Alia and I went to the coastal town where there was a big boom of Chinese casino hotels. I was going to do construction, and we would try to get her some work sewing. We only stayed one night. Worker housing conditions were worse than at home, and the job sites were very dangerous. In that town, an unfinished building had recently collapsed, killing 28 and injuring more.
“Joshua Lewis told me Wycliff translators in another province were looking for native Great River speakers to work on the Great River Language New Testament translation. I did not think I had anything to offer, but the Korean couple heading up the work called and talked me into it. It was there I began understanding the Bible for myself by spending so much time in it. I very much doubted the Bible at the beginning; it was written by foreigners, and Jesus was an Israelite. I thought it might be an Israelite hoax lifting Jesus up too high. But I saw the prophecies of the Old Testament of Jesus; they call him the Rock. There are so many predictions of Jesus’ life; Isaiah is full of them.
“I tried to call my wife into the translation room on the first day, but she would not even come in. She said she did not have the faintest idea about translating. Soon we came to a phrase that none of the Great River workers from various provinces could understand. We tried and tried all day. We were all confused.
“The Koreans said, ‘Is your wife here? Could she come just once?’ Alia figured it out. She got the correct meaning from the verse. They loved her. They said she was gifted and hired her also. She was studious, took notes, and wrote down words she did not know. Our daughter Sara was born while we were working on the translation. I started learning world history, and it fit the Bible. Historical stories I watched on YouTube matched the Bible account.
“We have moved back to Palm village now. We live in a borrowed house, saving money to make our own. Everyone knows I am a Christian. Our neighbors think it is sinful for them to live close to us. They see me carrying my Bible. They tease me that I am the only one. ‘It is just you and a couple of foreigners!’ they say. They see a cross on TV and say, ‘There are your people!’ I do not hide my belief. My Bible is on the shelf, not under my bed. I tell them, ‘The history I know about Israel and the prophets I learned from the Bible. The flow of history is not so clear in the Quran. It is not even written chronologically.’
“Why is it that Muslims hate the cross more than anything else? They believe people worship the image of the cross in their necklaces. They have seen certain cultures in movies: churches with images and crucifixes. Ironically, the designs on their soccer jerseys, modeled after those of their favorite soccer teams, have crosses. One day I want to ask them, ‘If you hate the cross so much, why is that image on your uniform?’ Muslims are taught it is their duty to war with Kafirs (someone who does not believe in God according to the Quran or denies his authority). Any over-zealous Muslim could kill Christians.
“Today, in my village, it is hard to find true worshipers of Jesus. They come to our home groups for medicine. If they are sick, they come to me asking if I can get them help since I know the foreigners. ‘Tell them to help us,’ they say.
“I want real community. I want the Great River People to give me the right to my beliefs, not to talk down to me. I want them to know Jesus and come to an understanding of Christianity’s origins. It is not a human fabrication. Maybe one day, there could be a sizable Great River Christian community in the midst of Muslims like [Christian communities] in other countries. I want to worship Jesus together with them. I want to start by teaching a few of my neighbors. If I had a group of support, I would feel better. Right now, I feel sad.
“As I see it, friendliness will be our most important trait. We need to have a church group faithfully obeying and living for Jesus in a visible way. That is what it will take to help them understand. Jesus was known for being friendly. He honored children and older folk alike.
“I have not been able to live that way yet, but I am learning to. Helping my wife with her work is strange in our culture. When I help her, they say I am making myself low and letting my wife get off easy.”
Please pray for Simon that his faith will remain strong and that his life will be a living example of the love of Christ for the Great River People. Pray that, through her translation work, Simon’s wife Alia will also grow in Christ and, together, they will raise a Christ-centered family. Please pray the hearts of Simon’s people will be touched and that his dream of a Christian community of Great River People in his area will be realized.