About a week ago I (Phil) was sitting in Sherife’s dark room while he held my hand. A few minutes earlier he had sent a message asking to talk to me. As I sat beside his bed it was clear that he was close to death. I could barely understand him but he was determined to communicate to me what was on his heart. With great effort he would say a few words and then lay back and rest while he prepared himself to speak again. Slowly his message became clear.
“I called you here”, he said, “to thank you. ‘Kiishukuru vadhulu voshukuru.’ I thank you beyond thanking. You have come and told me about God. I am about to die. I know that in an hour or so you have to go to the Bible teaching. I want you to tell the other believers that they should not pray that I recover. They should pray that God will do to me what He deems best. I am tired. I have fought long. I want to go and be with Him. I firmly believe that the Son will take me to be with the Father. I know where I am going when I die and I am not afraid of death. I want to thank God and to thank you for coming to tell me the good news. My previous way of life was evil. I was like a car without a steering wheel. I was uncontrolled, careening into things. Then you came and told us the message about God. Then God put His Spirit in me to control me, to keep me on the straight path. I am not worried about dying but I am worried about my wives and children. They are poor. How will they eat? I am worried about that.”
At this point he lay back for a long time, looking at the ceiling, saying nothing. Tears began streaming down his cheeks. After a long time he turned to me and squeezed my hand, he tried to say something but I didn’t understand it. He tried again. This time I understood it. He said: “Let me translate for you my tears.” Then he began to speak more clearly. “I am crying because of my unsaved family members. My wives come to the teaching. They understand. My mother comes to the teaching. She is beginning to understand. For that I thank God. But I have lots of family members who don’t come and who don’t understand. I am crying for them. I know where I am going but I am worried about them. With all my heart I want my family to come and hear. They need to hear. I didn’t know God until you came and told me about Him. Now I know Him. Now I am going to be with Him. Thank you for coming. Thank you beyond thanking. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you ….” Sherife died last night. We buried him early this morning.
The Lord has used Sherife in amazing ways. Right from the beginning through the process of getting permission to live in the village, to acquiring land, and building our houses he was one of the key relationships we had. Over time he became a good friend. (His main wife is Elin’s language helper and close friend.) He helped me to learn the Mwinika language and later became a translation helper.
Several years ago he was really sick and we asked a lot of people to pray that he would stay alive long enough to hear the teaching of God’s word. People from all over the world responded with prayer and he was able to recover. When we taught he faithfully attended and became the earliest, clearest, and most fearless of the believers. A few days ago one of the young believers (who is now teaching literacy and God’s Word in another nearby people group) said to me that he, and he suspected many of the other current believers, would never have become believers if it wasn’t for Sherife’s example and testimony.
In the meantime we ask that you pray for his family. He has been near death’s door so many times in the last few years and especially the last few months that his family is emotionally exhausted. To care for a loved one who is dying a slow and painful death in a place where there is no hospice or any palliative care available is emotionally wrenching. Pray for them in these days and for the small believers group as they seek to honor God in these events.
As a group we thank the Lord that his earthly suffering is over. I remember him telling me one time a few years ago: “I love to listen to that lesson about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. I listen to it over and over again. I cannot get over how Jesus was willing to die in order to save me from sins.” It encourages us to know that he is right now together with His Savior, that His tears are at an end.