By Andy, Canada
The hint of urgency in the voice, as much as the words, prompted me to look up from my computer. The man standing in the doorway was likely about 40 years old. He had black hair and dark eyes; his skin tone and features were typical of someone from the Middle East.
That day in March 2018 I was alone in my office at the university. I wasn’t expecting anyone so wondered what this visitor could want. He held a memory stick in one hand and explained his predicament. He was a graduate student and needed to print out the material he was about to present in a class. Where could he do that?
Just behind me was a printer, so I offered to help. I introduced myself and learned that his name was Ali. He pointed to the background photo on my computer screen and said with surprise,
“That’s in my country! Have you been there?”
“Yes, I took that picture myself!”
He then asked about my job, which is in the field of Bible translation. I showed him a copy of the Scriptures that I had worked on previously, in a language of Central Asia. He flipped through the book with evident interest.
As Ali was leaving, with document in hand, I invited him to come again when he had time to talk. He eagerly replied that he would.
Praying for a new friend
For quite some time I had been wanting a cross-cultural friendship with someone closer to me in age than most of the international students I met. I had occasionally prayed about it, but was still truly amazed that here God had led Ali right to my door.
Then it struck me – I hadn’t thought to get Ali’s contact information! I could only wait for him to return. And I could pray.
So I prayed, at first nearly every day. I asked God to bless Ali and enable us to meet again. I asked others to pray for him. In September I tried reaching him by email through a friend on staff at the university, but received no response. As the months passed my prayers for Ali became less frequent.By the end of the year not only had I stopped praying for Ali, I had forgotten about him.
A step of faith
One day in early January I was sitting at my desk and caught sight of a man entering the office. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He smiled warmly and said, “Do you remember me? I’m Ali! You printed a document for me. Is this a good time to talk?”
I assured him it was and invited him to stay for tea. While I was preparing refreshments, he browsed the display shelves. He asked about my current work, so I mentioned a recent trip abroad to help a Bible translation team. “What’s the language of that project?” he asked.
It was a simple question, but I was unsure how to respond. The circumstances surrounding the project were rather complex, so I was reluctant to share anything specific about it. Stepping into the kitchen to get our tea, I quickly asked God for wisdom and immediately a phrase came to my mind: “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23, NKJV). I now knew what to do – give a straight answer, in faith. I brought the tea to the table and, trying to sound relaxed, told Ali the name of the language, which was a Kurdish dialect.
The cheerful expression on Ali’s face suddenly turned serious. Clearly, I had touched a nerve. His eyes opened wide and he exclaimed, “That’s my language!”
He hurriedly took out a blank piece of paper from his briefcase and proceeded to sketch a map and show me where his language was used. That began a wide-ranging discussion – not only about our personal backgrounds, but also about God and faith.
At one point Ali picked up from the table two bookmarks that he had taken earlier from the display. At the top of each was the beginning of a sentence completed at the bottom. But Ali held them side-by-side and read the words across the top of them both, “Look at this! ‘God’s love is … An invitation.’ That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?”
More than once Ali remarked that he didn’t believe in coincidence. He mentioned that he had in fact received my email, but then his computer had crashed and he lost my address. Once he had come by but I wasn’t there. He was confident, though, that we would meet again when the time was right.
After Ali left I realized that we had spoken for two hours! I was exhilarated about this new friendship and in awe at what God had done. He had used Ali’s need for a printer to guide him to my office. A colleague and I had once prayed for Ali at the very table where months later Ali and I would sit and chat. And what about those bookmarks that had caught Ali’s attention? It seemed that God was having his own conversation with Ali!
Then my eyes fell on the card in the bottom corner of my bulletin board. It was a reminder to pray for the Kurds, and it had come in the mail months before Ali and I first met! Without knowing it, I was actually praying for a Kurd the many times I prayed for Ali to return. And God answered that prayer for a new friend by sending him right to me, and at the right time.