An Oasis of Truth in a Desert Land
MY BIRTHPLACE is Khartoum, which is an Arabic name meaning “Elephant’s Trunk.” But why should my homeland be called this? It is because of the shape of this narrow tongue of land that divides the White Nile and the Blue Nile just above their junction. From this point they become one mighty Nile River that flows on through the Sahara. Explorers and others have said unkind things about Khartoum, but to me it is “my home.”
Naturally there is the oppressive heat from a baking tropical sun. The land here is only 1,200 feet (360 meters) above sea level and the intense heat produces a desert of sand only a kilometer or two from the moist river banks. There is also the incessant fight against flies. And the blowing desert sand seems to penetrate everywhere and into everything. At times it turns day into night. How often, when as a family we have moved our beds outside to allow our warm bodies to catch the faintest breath of air, the violent haboob storm has come upon us unawares! In the morning we scraped the sand from our eyes and rose to gaze on the outline that our bodies had left on the sand-dusted mattress.
These are the realities of life in Khartoum. And it was here, as a faithful daughter of the Orthodox Coptic Church, that I married and reared my family of three sons and two daughters.
MY SEARCH FOR GOD
Always, I had been seeking for God. I was not alone in this, as I was reminded each morning. Before the sun rose I would hear the nasal chantings of the muezzin from the minarets of many mosques scattered throughout the city—a pattern that was repeated five times throughout the day as the sun arched the sky. The triple city of Khartoum, Khartoum North and Omdurman is predominantly a Muslim community, and, hence, those of us claiming to be Christians as members of the Coptic Church were a minority.
My desire to serve God was so strong that, when I was young, I contemplated taking up dedicated service as a nun in my church. But I was troubled by misgivings about my beliefs and the traditional ceremonies of the Coptic Church. How could I reconcile the ornate processions and elaborate decorations of the church festivals with the simple life of Jesus Christ? Also, I spent many sleepless nights contemplating the terrors of “hellfire” and the unexplained complications of the Trinity, which I had never really come to accept as part of my Christian faith. After our marriage, my husband showed little interest in religious matters, but I regularly went to church, taking my children with me. Because of this we were “accepted” by neighbors and relatives as we eked out an existence in our house of baked Nile mud, which stood in the shadow of the elegant Coptic church.
In the heat of one August day in 1958, I was at home sewing. In a prayerful frame of mind, I had been asking God to help me to find the truth so that I could worship him. And then—a visitor appeared at my house! She must have seen the crosses and religious pictures that decorated the walls, identifying my religious associations. The lady had come to discuss the Bible with me. I was immediately impressed by the ease with which she located Bible texts to show that such religious appendages were not expressions of true Christianity.
She quickly countered my objections about her Bible as being different from my Arabic version by suggesting that I bring my own Bible for reference. So out came my old and not-so-clean Arabic Bible, and my inability to find the texts in it was soon revealed. The priests had never encouraged me to examine its contents in such a way. But what inner joy I experienced as Bible truths about Jesus Christ, the hope for the dead and other subjects dear to my heart were explained! At the end of our discussion I readily accepted two books, Bible study aids.
As I closed the door behind my visitor, I literally danced for joy as I realized that my prayers had been answered. I had been refreshed by waters of truth in this desert land.
LIVING UP TO BIBLE TRUTH
Life in our neighborhood, called El Masalama, Omdurman, is not really one’s own. The unusual visitor to our humble, flat-roofed, brown mud-brick home immediately became the concern of all the neighborhood. Our home was very primitive even by Omdurman standards, and my youngest son still recalls the time when a sand-filled wind blew out the windows, and heavy rain poured through the roof. Nevertheless, I had always tried to find my happiness in seeking for God, and my weekly Bible studies now gave me great joy and pleasure. But such pleasure was not being shared by my relatives and former friends, who now took more than usual critical interest in my Bible student guest.
Early in our discussions the matter of the cross was raised. I had always taught my children to make the sign of the cross as large and prominently as possible, as I considered this to be a protection for them. Each one wore the cross around the neck and this symbol played a large part in our religious life. So I was reluctant to remove these crosses, although my visitor produced convincing evidence that the use of the cross was unchristian. Such information was affecting other members of the family. My husband cautioned me about our new caller, suggesting that we welcome her only as a friend. Then my eldest son started to tell his Sunday-school teacher about the “preacher” coming to our home, and he was informed in very emphatic terms that we should have nothing to do with her as she was ‘no good.’ However, my desire to please God was strong, and after two months of study, I took all the religious crosses and pictures and threw them into the disposal hole in our yard.
The stimulating joy of learning new truths about Jehovah and his purpose moved me to speak to relatives, friends and neighbors at any and every opportunity. The neighbors responded by throwing stones into our yard and at the house during our Bible studies. Priests from the church and relatives frequently tried to stop our study.
Each year, our family used to celebrate the Feast of Mary. I would make a special cake, and with our relatives we would mark this special occasion. But now I had found from the Bible that Mary had other children also after Jesus’ birth, and this had surprised me very much. When I stated my intention to stop celebrating the Feast of Mary, my eldest daughter strongly urged me to discontinue my studies with the Bible-teaching visitor. I began to think to myself, “Why should I stop having the feast for Mary?” Then I concluded, “When the lady comes next time, I will tell her that she is welcome as a guest, but not to discuss religious matters.”
So intense was my concern about the matter that when I fell on the floor in my kitchen the day before the next Bible study, I interpreted this as a punishment from God for what I had been doing. Then, behold! There was my visitor. She had come one day early, and now found me covered with mud from my fall. When she helped me, I told her what I had been thinking, and to my surprise she embraced me with affection and kissed me. After talking about the matter we prayed together for strength to stay firm for the truth of God’s Word. That put an end to feasts for Mary!
Interference from the neighbors began to increase, and when they came to my home armed with sticks, intent upon harming my new-found friend, I invited them and the priests to discuss the matter with the Bible student in my house. On the appointed evening when the heat of the day was over, it seemed that all of El Masalama, instead of finding their way to the suks, or markets, had found their way to my home. Inside, the house was packed, and others, many in the traditional Sudanese long white garment and turban, were milling around outside in the enclosed yard. The priests themselves had not come, but they took their position at the end of the street, and during the discussion the deacons and their representatives would rush out from time to time to consult with these religious dignitaries.
In the hubbub of that evening, many things were discussed, but I recall the church representative telling the crowd, “Keep quiet, I am benefiting from this.” In the end, however, he told me, “Don’t leave the religion of your church!” That was indeed a night to remember. The truth remained vindicated as far as I was concerned, and I continued to be spiritually refreshed by it, as from an oasis in a desert.
However, the neighbors and the church were not satisfied. Their interference continued. The stone-throwing persisted, and even large quantities of dirty water were thrown into our yard in an effort to intimidate us as a family. The climax of the opposition was reached when some neighbors accused me to the police of entering their homes without permission, effecting an unlawful entry. I was charged and called upon to appear before the judge in the civil court, where I faced two lawyers considered to be the best in Omdurman. The penalty would be three months in prison and a fine of fifty Sudanese pounds ($150 [U.S.]). But one of the lawyers began to lose touch with the issue altogether, stating that my activity was “the beginning of Zionism in the Sudan.”
In giving his verdict, the judge asked, “Why are all you advocates against this woman?” He ruled that I had the freedom to make known my religion in all Sudan if I wished. Thankful to Jehovah for the result of the case, I did not at that time realize what a formidable task it would be to bear witness to the truth in all the largest country in Africa. But I certainly had the desire to be a full-time proclaimer of the good news as a token of my appreciation for what Jehovah had done for me.
A NEW AND JOYFUL WAY OF LIFE
Each day now, my life was taken up with studying God’s Word and with telling others about God’s kingdom. I would rise early and get all my household work done before 9 a.m.; then after a meal of fool, or what you might call breakfast of beans and bread, I would share in witnessing to the Kingdom until my children returned from school at 1:30 p.m. In Sudan, our days are governed by the heat of the sun, and we have rahat el zuhr, or a midday rest period, from approximately 2 until 5 p.m. But by making good use of the mornings I could spend up to ninety hours in witnessing activity each month. My eldest daughter accompanied me on many occasions, and meetings for Bible study were held in our home. The group was still small, but with the addition of my family it had suddenly doubled in number. My youngest son, then about seven years old, remembers the tea and cake that we would provide after these meetings. How he looked forward to the end of the meeting to share these unusual good things in our home!
In May of 1959 my husband and I and our two eldest children were baptized in the waters of the White Nile, in symbol of our dedication to Jehovah. A few days later, we enjoyed a visit from the president of the Watch Tower Society, Brother Knorr, who was passing through Sudan on a service tour of Africa.
Those were busy days. I was now a “regular pioneer” publisher of the good news. Almost every day I could be found hurrying through the labyrinth of the sandy, uneven streets of Omdurman—here crossing the path of a milkman seated with ankles crossed over the neck of his donkey, while milk cans dangled loosely from each side, and there hesitating while a camel crossed my path on its way with a load to the market. As a Muslim provision for the thirsty traveler, large earthenware jars of water are located in the shade of trees on almost every street in Omdurman. But I now took little note of these. I had been refreshed by waters of truth, and I was determined to find others who wanted to be refreshed also.
I studied with each of my children separately on different days of the week, giving them individual attention. My youngest son learned how to read Arabic from the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, even before entering school.
JEHOVAH PROVIDES DURING HARD TIMES
Then a time of crisis came suddenly upon us. My husband lost his job, and we had no income. What could we do? I sold some gold jewelry, three carpets and other items. Then we turned to our pigeons, and during this time the pigeons multiplied almost miraculously. My youngest son was able to take two or three pairs to market each day, selling them for 15 piasters (45 cents [U.S.]) a pair. We even had enough pigeons to supply part of our daily food. Jehovah provided for us for almost a year in these circumstances. One day, when I was preparing to go in the Kingdom service, I found that not one piaster remained. What was I to do now? Then my daughter discovered an old tin that we had previously used for saving some piasters and that we had overlooked. There was some money! It was enough to take me to my territory for service and to buy our food for the day.
In the month of March 1962 I was invited to join the ranks of the “special pioneers,” who devote 140 or more hours to explaining God’s kingdom to people each month. I have enjoyed this privilege ever since.
A visiting brother came to our home early in 1963 and told me about a Christian convention to be held later that year in Munich, Germany. How much I wanted to go there to be with many more of my Christian brothers, but, of course, it seemed impossible! Then, six days later, my eldest daughter obtained employment as an overseas airways hostess. This opened the way to my obtaining a roundtrip ticket for a nominal sum, and thus I was overjoyed that I could gather with so many of like faith in Munich.
My second son and my younger daughter were baptized in 1962, and my youngest son in 1965. I have been happy to see their zeal for Jehovah. This daughter developed a desire to serve Jehovah full time and has been a “regular pioneer” Witness since 1968. In 1971 she joined me as a “special pioneer,” with which privilege she has continued into her married life as the wife of a ministerial servant in our congregation. The youngest of my three sons now has a job that provides for himself and his wife and allows him to enjoy the privilege of serving as a ministerial servant in the congregation.
A wonderful thing to me is the way in which our standard of life has improved during the time that we have put the interests of God’s kingdom first. We have always tried to put spiritual matters ahead of the material, and in doing so we have been blessed as a family in helping more than thirty persons to dedicate their lives to Jehovah and get baptized. But we have also prospered in other ways. Since attending the assembly in Munich, members of my family and myself have attended other international Christian gatherings in Europe and various parts of Africa. After passing through our financial crisis, we moved from Omdurman to Khartoum, and we now have a home large enough to accommodate the meetings of an ever-expanding congregation.
My second son decided to follow up a fine educational record at school by taking a university course in Egypt. But after just one year he returned to our home to share fully with the family in contributing his energies to the furtherance of true worship in the Sudan. He is now an elder, and his abilities and devotion are much used and appreciated by the congregation.
What it means to come upon an oasis in the desert when one is parched with thirst can only be fully appreciated by the one whose thirst is quenched. And the happiness of seeing others refreshed is even more pleasurable. Thus have the waters of truth been a blessing to me and my family, and for this we truly thank the Fountain of Truth, Jehovah our God.
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