Surrounded by 30 Muslim children struggling with hunger at the top of the Shebelle River in Imi, Ethiopia, Nik Ripken opened a case of military MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat). To his shock, all of the prepackaged meals were made of pork, unsuitable for feeding a group of Muslims. He regretted not checking them before this moment. How do you pray in a time like this?
In this episode, Nik wrestles with the efficacy of prayer.
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How do you pray?
“Dr. Nik, you can’t feed them this. But Dr. Nik, you cannot not feed them this, because they’re going to die,” commented the guard and the driver.
Nik thought for a moment. He remembered hearing stories of how Ethiopians loved zebra meat. Nik suggested, “What if I lay my hands on this last box that’s all pork and I pray to my God in Jesus’ name that he changes it all to zebra meat?”
The guard and the driver replied, “That’s what you must do.”
And so I bowed my head, I laid my hands on that box of food, and I prayed over those starving children, I prayed over this situation, I prayed on how they were going to die if we didn’t do something at that time and buy some days to where somebody else could get there. I just prayed my heart out, and said God, you’ve got to change this pork into zebra meat, and you’ve got to do it in Jesus’ name, and I said Amen. When I looked up, they were taking their bayonets, cutting open those MREs, and distributing them to all of those starving children around them – anybody who made it up that bank.
But when Nik Ripken prayed for divine intervention, he wasn’t sure that it would work.
Every Muslim… 100% of those Muslims believed that my God turned that pork into zebra meat that was kosher for them to eat. Why is it that the only person who doubted that miracle was the person who prayed that prayer?
Despite feeling unsure about whether his prayer would be answered, Nik knew that if God chose to intervene then there was still hope for the children in front of him.
Why Muslims don’t eat pork
For Muslims, the prohibition against eating pork is not a cultural or dietary restriction, but rather a religious obligation. Their Quran expressly prohibits the consumption of pork out of a shared belief that it is unclean. Those who intentionally choose to eat pork are considered to be in violation of Islamic law and are subject to punishment.
Nevertheless, Muslims believe that if they eat pork without intending to, they’re not responsible for the mistake. In other words, their Quran says that “there is no sin on [them]” (al-Ahzab 33:5).
Does God answer all prayers?
According to Psalm 139:4, God knows our prayers before we speak them. 1 John 5:14–15 explains that if we ask anything of God according to his will, he hears us. 1 Peter 3:12 tells us that God is attentive to prayer. Rest assured that all prayers are heard.
Yet the question remains… are all prayers answered in the affirmative?
No, not all prayers are answered in the affirmative. Just because somebody prays for something does not mean that they will automatically get what they want. In 1 Chronicles 28, David desired to build a temple but later said that God declined his request. Instead, David’s son Solomon would be the one to build this temple. Sometimes people may not get what they prayed for because it is not in their best interest or because God has other plans.
Does prayer work?
What really happened that day when Nik prayed for the food to be changed from pork to zebra meat?
First, we can have full confidence that God heard his prayer.
Second, because the children eating the MREs would not have recognized the taste of pork, it’s hard to be sure whether God answered it in the affirmative or negative.
We might have known more about what the children ate if Nik had eaten some of the MREs himself. As the only non-Muslim in the group, Nik might have recognized the difference in taste between pork and some other meat. He might have been able to compare the taste of the last case of MREs with the ones he had in the weeks prior. However, with more than 30 starving children in front of him, eating some of these emergency rations would have resulted in less food for them. This seems objectionable in itself.
The efficacy of prayer
So was it pork or zebra meat? If Nik had eaten some of the MREs after praying, he might have relayed to us that this was indeed zebra meat, thereby strengthening his testimony. In contrast, if it tasted just like salted pork, he may have had to face the cognitive dissonance of having fed pork to a full group of Muslims.
To know what would have happened? No. Nobody is ever told that.
But we do know that the group of children felt Dr. Nik’s love and care for them, and they were fully convinced he had their best interests at heart. The children saw that he was willing to intercede with God on their behalf. In this way, they were able to stave off hunger another day.
In retrospect, Nik’s deepest desire was that the children in front of him were fed that day. We see that came true, just as the psalmist said it would (Psalm 37:4).