Refelcting On Mission From A Very Middle Eastern Tale

Walking in the centre of our town one evening, we lost our wallet. It had a considerable amount of money in it. We live in a town of around 60,000 people. We had been in the country for three months by this stage. This is what happened next…

Three days later, I miss a phone call from Omar, a Christian acquaintance who lives not far from us. I receive a message from him to get in touch about ‘something important to (me)’. The other few times I have seen Omar around town, he asked me how the Arabic is going, and wanted to help. He invited me previously to come and drink tea in his home and talk Arabic so I assume his new message is along these lines. He rings again a few hours later, and I answer. He asks me straight away, ‘Tim, have you lost something?’ I say that I have, that I have lost a small duzdaan (wallet) in town, it was on Saturday evening, and he mentions something –his detail is cryptic – about something being found with a receipt inside. It was a receipt from the small dukaan (grocer) next to his house where he and I had talked together five or six days earlier. He says I should come and meet him there.

“Ok, thanks Omar. I will be there in ten minutes, insha’Allah”

I walk up the hill in the drizzle, the only rain since that first shower of the season four weeks ago. Fifteen minutes later, we meet at the store. He introduces me to Hamsa, the owner’s son and an employee of the store. Omar explains to me that a woman had found the wallet and that she is on her way to meet us here.

Moments pass. Omar, Hamsa and I exchange a few sentences in my broken Arabic. Our angel with the wallet arrives and looks at me with half an inquiring ook. Perhaps she is surprised because I am a foreigner, one of the few in our town. Jane is from Madaba but she is proficient with English and she isn’t covered. Two rarities in our town.

She asks me about the lost purse and then tells me that she lives in town and that even though she never walks to church...on Saturday night she walked to church. She found the purse on the ground outside the bag shop. She opened the purse and found that there was only money inside. But when she opened it again, she noticed that there was a small docket inside with the header DUKAAN LIMON. She made her way across town, called by the store, and spoke with Hamsa.

“Is there anyway you could find out who this docket belongs to? I want to return this purse to the owner.” The two collaboraters – one Muslim and the other Christian go to work, trying to piece together who might own this wallet.

Hamsa spends hours that evening scanning the CCTV footage from the store cameras. The CCTV ‘clock’ was not set to the right time so he had to troll through the whole reel to find the right moment. When he found the right footage on the video stream, he could see through the hazey picture that it was me standing there at the counter with the same red wallet that was in Jane’s hand now in front of him. Once he had replayed the footage over and over, Hamsa remembered that he had seen me talking with Omar outside the store on the previous Friday. Because Omar lived next door to the store, he went straight to see him and asked if he had any way of contacting me. Omar had my number and called me. This was the phone call I missed earlier that morning.

Jane continues. She asks me how much money was in the purse. She nods when I tell her, and hands me the wallet. I don’t know yet whether some or all of the money will be in there...

It is all there.

She has hardly stopped smiling since she walked in the door. I am happy and grateful and disbelieving at the same time. The unlikely series of events, the unambiguous intent of our new friend, the resolve of Hamsa to help, the smallness of the docket. Omar comments that this docket is more valuable than the money, because without the docket there would be no money. This is typical of his ponderings.

I don’t have the Arabic to express my gratitude and disbelief to these three conspirers. But my hand is on my chest, and I am happy to be here for these brief moments and acknowledge their kindness. I tell Jane that my Syrian friend and I spent three hours at the police station on Sunday. I said to him then, ‘Khallaas, its lost’. He said, ‘in New Zealand, it would be lost, but in the Middle East, sometimes these things find their way back to you’. Jane smiles again.

I leave the dukaan with Omar. It is raining more heavily now. I go to put up my umbrella so that I can walk home but Omar interrupts me and tells me he needs to drive into town. ‘I will drop you on my way.’ We make the drive home, Omar commenting that ‘she never walks, but God told her to walk to find your purse’. When we’ve pulled up outside our apartment, I invite him in to drink coffee but his daughter is visiting today with his granddaughter so he will return home to see them. I’m glad he knows where we live now. He turns and drives inconspicuously in the opposite direction from town, back towards his home. I notice.

I am awake today. This has been my part to play, a small one next to the chief actors in this story – but a crucial one.

I arrive home and throw the purse on the couch next to where Angela and Louis are sitting. Angela looks inside, amazed, and I recount the details. We marvel at it again.

Because he had been there when we lost the wallet, Angela messages our Syrian friend to tell him the news. He is amazed and he replies immediately: “Eleven minutes ago I was sitting here thinking to myself: they must have found the purse.” This comment is strange, but it’s not unusual in this story. It fits like a glove.

We have our purse back but there are details in the day which are more important still than the dinar being returned. What should I pay attention to in these details? Is this the narration over the story?:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower
and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from
my mouth:
It will not return to me empty

But I’m left with the question: was it for 250 dinar? What else did you sow today?

Elsewhere in Isaiah, we’re reminded:

“Who did this? Who made it happen?
Who always gets things started?
I did. God. I’m the first on the scene.
I’m also the last to leave.
Did anyone tell me that this might happen?
No one mentioned it, no one announced it,
No one knows what’s going on.

This story is one among numerous experiences that have taught us about seeing what God is already doing in a place. Perceiving that he is present, that the context we have arrived in is full of ‘good and perfect gifts’. Plenty of things that are broken and in need of shalom, plenty of things that are rich and wonderful. Not simply one or the other.

We can relax in his presence and partner with him. We do not need to see ourselves as bringing with us ‘the goodness’, ‘no he brings the goodness to us’ (Romans 12:3). Where initially we thought perhaps that this story was about us getting our money back, it became plainly obvious that is was about things far more significant than that.

We had made several new friends. We returned a few days later with a small gift for Hamsa to express our appreciation. He didn’t even seem to see his actions as outstanding, just a normal thing to do. Within a week, we had been invited to visit Jane and her husband (a high court judge in the capital).

By being in a position of dependence and in debt to these new friends of ours, we were far more likely to build bridges and connections than if we had come as the ‘top dog’.

It’s also part of our education - to learn that the world has grace in it. Not perpetual prosperity but the encouragement to live by a different script than the one that says: ‘everything is scarce, fight your corner, get to the top’.

Look. It rains (Matt 5:45).

Tim & Angela
Day 18