Our camp sat at the foot of the Jordanian rock face at least a mile away. By “camp” I mean the back of an SUV, a few sleeping bags, and a portable grill. I don’t know who had the brilliant idea of a late-night hike, but by now my reluctance had worn off. My friend Rahim and I shuffled our feet through the sand, guided only by moonlight, and a general hunch that our shoulders faced the right direction. Formally known as Wadi Rum, the translation “Valley of the Moon” gave a much better description of our terrain. The Arab desert sand scattered in all directions interrupted only by monuments of rock shooting hundreds of feet into the star speckled canopy.
Rahim–self-professed “half Muslim, half Christian”—hiked next to me across the desert floor. His religious identity stemmed from his “variety show” approach to morality.
“I like some rules from Christianity and some rules from Islam,” he explained when we first met.
In reality, he found the size of his muscles and any enticing female body far more interesting. We walked, more for enjoyment than purpose, and talked, simply because we found each other fascinating.
They say never talk about religion or politics because people always disagree. Neither of us knew much about the other’s native politics so religion posed a natural choice. During the couple months I had known Rahim we had talked about our theological ideas several times. Most of those talks achieved nothing more than trying to figure out each other’s foreign brains. My plane departed in a few days, and I knew this would probably be our last time to talk.
“How do you make sense of the world, Rahim?”
The silence revealed his confusion with my question. I decided to explain.
“If you really want to know why I follow Jesus, it’s because it’s the only option that makes sense of my world. The Muslim god doesn’t give me a solution to my sin. Islam doesn’t offer the redemption this world needs. The Christian God gives me justice for the evil I see, healing for the evil in me, and a Savior too beautiful not to love.”
We both said many more words than I remember. The chill of the desert night brought out crisp dialog. Slowly, I saw our makeshift camp come into focus in the distance. Looks like our directional intuition didn’t abandon us today, I thought.
The few voices rising into the night sky revealed that the other members of our group had chosen a shorter trek through the valley. I decided to make one final appeal to Rahim about Jesus, hoping, but not really believing, something would take root.
“Does Jesus make any sense at all to you?”
A few more strides of silence passed. Fifty yards from camp he stopped walking and turned to face me. He rested his hand on my shoulder and locked his eyes with mine. “I understand what you have said. I really do.”
When his words finished, he turned away and joined the others at the back of the SUV. I stood still for a minute trying to process what had happened. Oh, how I wished his final words had taken a different form. They seemed intended only to assure me that my sentences had made intellectual sense. Cognitively he understood, but spiritually and behaviorally he was unmoved.
What more could I do? I felt like I had done nothing more than planting a seed in the sand. But, am I really supposed to do any more?