We had planned to go and check on the opening of a hand-dug water well. We had not planned on one of our team members buying a young girl as a wife along the way.
During the famine and civil war in Somalia one of our most appreciated projects was assisting in the digging of water wells in remote villages. During the dry season the few rivers in the area would dry up with the result that young girls and women would have to trek many miles to get a dirty bucket of water.
Once we had addressed the severe situation of starvation in many villages we began a program of food for work. We would provide a village with food if they would provide labor for various projects. Often freshwater was the commodity most needed. We would provide the tools and villagers would dig, by hand, water wells that sometimes went down 300 feet! Once the wells were dug we would also provide concrete rings for lining the well to keep it from becoming contaminated or collapsing. These projects were very popular.
It was April 21st, supposedly the hottest day in Somalia annually. It was a scorcher and I was in a terrible mood. We had worked very hard in this village to provide a deep, freshwater well for a place that often had people dying from a lack of water. This area was not secure and we often had problems coming and going into this embattled environment. But finally the well was completed and we were ready to pull up the first bucket of the freshwater. But before we could draw the water, religious leaders from a nearby mosque showed up for the first time. They surrounded this freshwater well, quoting from the Qur’an, and adding their editorial remarks. On this scorching day of the year, one in which we felt that we deserved to celebrate the opening of this well and our partnership with this Muslim village, these religious leaders from the mosque sucked all of the joy out of the moment.
They said something like this. “We thank you Allah for sending these Christian slaves from America to serve your Muslim people. We now dedicate this water to Islam and we thank you for the way you make Christians serve Muslims.”
I was ticked off. I was quite angry that these religious leaders thought that they could steal my free will. I was angry these leaders attempted to enslave our team also; especially these particular religious leaders who had not shoveled one spade of dirt nor placed themselves in danger during the weeks the well was dug. Now I had to spend additional hot and dusty hours refuting the claims of these religious leaders while assuring the Somali people of this village that we had chosen to come to their village, chosen to love them in Jesus’ name, and we had chosen to be obedient to God by coming to their village.
Finally we began the long journey back to Mogadishu with my Chief of Staff and a retired bi-vocational pastor who had graciously come to Somalia with his wife, giving of their time sacrificially. This pastor was very gifted in getting his hands dirty while retaining people skills of such a level that he seldom met a stranger. It was at his suggestion that we stopped along the main road at what appeared to be Somalia’s version of a 7-Eleven store, just in hope that they might have a chilled Pepsi or Coke. While Hassan and I sat in the truck our older colleague went in search of a cold drink. I was beginning to worry that he had been gone way too long when he suddenly came at a trot from inside the tiny store.
Noticing his pale and scared face I asked him what was wrong. He blurted out, “I think I just bought a girl and I might have just gotten married!” I said, “Hassan please go into the store and find out how much trouble we are in.” Hassan was gone for about 45 minutes before returning and informing us, “Yes, we now have a new wife for our brother here.” Apparently this elderly man, forgetting all of his cultural orientation and training, had entered this small store that held three men and a beautiful young girl around 12 or 14 years of age. Though he knew better, he patted this small, Muslim girl on the shoulder and said with country charm, “You are so cute that for $50 I will just take you home with me.”
Very quickly the girl’s father recited some words from the Qur’an and the other two men agreed with the verses read and the shop owner pronounced to the bi-vocational pastor that his daughter was now the American’s wife!
I was sweaty, tired of the 120° heat, frustrated by the battle with the religious leaders, and now this. I asked Hassan what was the cultural thing that needed doing to get us out of this current mess and he went back into the store and was gone for about 45 minutes. He returned to where I was sitting in the truck, and where my colleague was hiding, and informed us what it would take for us to culturally extract ourselves from this “wedding”. The little girl was excited about being able to leave Somalia and her parents were thrilled with the thought of the resources which could come from such a ceremony.
Hours later we were finally on the road to Mogadishu having culturally dealt with, and extracting ourselves from, the marriage issue.
As we drove the two hours to Mogadishu we began to decompress and our older colleague was able to joke about his near-wife experience. Soon we were all laughing at how we had found ourselves in such a ridiculous situation and had finally extracted ourselves. Laughing, we finally arrived at our team house in Mogadishu. While Hassan and I thanked the guards and unloaded the tools and boxes from the back of the truck, our oldest colleague went into the team house and told his wife of many years of the “funny thing” that happened on the way home that day.
That was his second mistake.