The axe murderer, Kalafu, and a few other men ducked in through the low doorway entering the smoke darkened hut, his air of command immediately silenced the discussion I was having with my friends Fato, Kifeson, Ken, Yanis, and Faimpat. There was nothing inviting about his shaggy appearance that reflected his uncomely past, but his eyes were noticeably calmer than usual. I greeted him and wondered if his presence meant my meeting with the Bible teachers was immediately adjourned.
“Hey Kalafu,” I said, as he dropped to the woven bamboo floor between the fire pit and back wall. “I’m glad you are here because I have been looking for a chance to visit with you.”
He nodded so I continued.
“I was surprised when I heard you read the Bible in church yesterday. It made me so happy to know you learned to read. I found out that while I was in America you not only finished the literacy class but then also attended the Bible studies.”
His face lit up, as he nodded.
I considered turning back to the teachers so we could continue planning our future Bible studies, but then thought better of it. I looked back to Kalafu and asked the vaguest question possible, not wanting to make him feel uncomfortable in front of the others.
“So what do you think of the stories from God’s book?”
He looked at me and then down to the glowing embers of the fire pit in front of him. “Scared,” he answered. Then he looked at me and said, “The stories made me very afraid.”
Lord, give wisdom, I thought. Don’t let me say anything except what You want said. “How have they made you afraid?”
His brown eyes met mine and the memories of how he brutally murdered the women and children came rushing back. I had a hard time matching his gaze. “Because I know I have done terrible things and God must be angry with me.”
Suddenly my heart skipped a beat. Is the Holy Spirit working in his life? Is there hope the wife beater can change?
“Understanding your desperate condition in front of your righteous Creator is a good starting place, and I’m glad to hear about your fear,” I said, “but did you also hear the lesson about how God offers forgiveness and how you can become His son?”
“What can you do to become God’s son?”
Kalafu didn’t answer right away, but drew a tobacco leaf from his string bag. His thick brow was furrowed and I knew I should pause to let him collect his thoughts. He placed the dried leaf on a dying ember until it shriveled and began to smoke and then placed it on a second greener leaf, rolling them together to form a cigarette. One of the men who had arrived with him picked up a burning piece of firewood and held it in front of Kalafu so he could light up. Once he was drawing deeply he responded, his dark eyes turned away. “Be a follower of Jesus,” he said. “I need to obey Jesus.”
“That’s a great answer,” I said smiling, “but what do you mean by that? Do you think Jesus lived a very good life and that if you live a good life like His that God will make you his son?”
“Yes, that’s it. I will now be a very good man.”
I leaned back against the bark covered wall, wondering how to proceed, but then Ken spoke up.
“Jesus talked about that when He told the story about two men who came to the temple to pray. One was a religious teacher and thought he led a very good life. When he prayed he told God what a good man he was. The other man didn’t even bother to look up to heaven when he prayed but instead admitted to God how he was such a bad sinner that he did not deserve God’s attention. When Jesus told that story he said the sinner was justified in God’s eyes but not the religious man because the sinner humbled himself and sought God’s forgiveness instead of pretending he was perfect.”
I smiled at Ken, so proud of his depth.
“God wants you to admit your evil practices to Him rather than think you can gain his approval by being a perfect person,” Ken continued. “You can’t be as good as Jesus no matter how hard you try. God wants you to humble yourself to admit your sin and ask for forgiveness. After that you can ask Him to help you follow Jesus.”
I couldn’t believe how bold Ken was while speaking to his older violent cousin. This was the same man who had publically ridiculed Yanis and Ken and anyone else who professed to follow Jesus.
Then Samuel, who had been sitting silent until then interjected a thought. “Jesus died to pay for your sins so you need to believe that.”
I looked at him wondering if he wanted to continue, but Fato stepped in to support his friend. “You have done bad things and we have all done bad things so we were in trouble with God, but He made a way for us to find forgiveness and become his children by trusting that Jesus paid for our sins.”
Yanis and Faimpat also joined into what was the most exhilarating conversation ever. Kalafu continued to participate and stay engaged until we finally arrived at the place where we asked him, “Would you like to talk to God and ask Him for forgiveness based on Jesus’ payment for your sins?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I want to be His son.”
We all bowed our heads where we sat on the floor around the fire and Kalafu prayed. “I have done terrible things my whole life and there is no use in trying to keep them secret from you because you see everything we do. You sent Jesus to this land to pay for my sins so don’t think about my sins anymore, but instead see the death of your Son and cause His blood to wash my sins away.”
I could barely sit silent as he continued to pour out his heart to God in a simple and refreshingly childlike manner. Lord thank you for the new birth of this man who used to be such a hardened criminal that his presence struck terror wherever he went. May many others in this jungle follow his example and humble themselves to ask your forgiveness.