It was our last day in Murang’a, Kenya. With all of our official missionary work completed, we spent the day readying for the trip home and doing a little local shopping. Our first stop of the day brought us to a curio shop outside of town. That is where I met William.
Never Pay Retail
We piled into the CFF Church van and headed to Payne’s Fine Arts, in Sagana. The curio shop was situated along the main highway. We pulled off the road and parked in front of the large tin shack. We were immediately greeted by a group of salesman. It seemed that each of us were followed into and through the place by our own, self-appointed guide.
The curio shop was large and filled with everything a tourist would want to take home from a trip to Kenya. it all looked authentic. There were many beautiful and impressive pieces of art, with soapstone, ebony, malachite, and other beautiful natural elements serving as the artists’ palettes.
I sensed the presence of someone following me as I walked through the place. My eye caught a table filled with beautiful, stone chess sets. The moment I stopped, the person following me stepped in front of me and began to give me details about the various chess sets.
“This one has pieces carved to look like Africa’s ‘Big Five’ (the five dominant animals on the continent).” He said in English, in his heavy Kenyan accent. “This one has Maasai warriors.”
I had already decided to buy one of the chess sets. It was only a matter of choosing the one I wanted and negotiating the price. Bishop George Kariuki (our host) and Pastor Jeff Heim (our team leader) told us not to pay retail for anything. Haggling over prices is the name of the game at most retail businesses in Kenya. Our leaders told us to drive a hard, but friendly bargain.
“What’s your asking price on this chess set?” I asked. When he told me his price I tried not to move my Adam’s Apple as I gulped, or allow him to see his reflection in the dilated pupils of my eyes.
“No. That’s way too high. I won’t do that?” I replied.
“How high can you go? What’s the best you can do?” He asked.
I offered him less than half his asking price. From there, we played the fun game of back-and-forth until we ended up, in all likelihood, where both of us thought we would.
We shook hands, locking the price and completing the transaction. I likely still paid more than the chess set was worth. But how many times in my life will I have the opportunity to buy a hand-painted, soapstone, Maasai warrior chess set, in a Kenyan curio shop? Besides, with the economy the way it is in Kenya, William no doubt could use whatever commission he would get from my purchase.
William Kept an Eye on Me
William and I played the same game a few more times as I purchased small gifts for Mahria and the girls. Each time, while the final results varied, the way the bargaining game played out the same. William and I made our way to the counter near the exit where I paid for my purchases.
I walked out to the van. Brother Edwin, our driver, pried open the van’s sliding door. I stowed my purchases on my seat.
I stepped back into the curio shop to look around and wait for the rest of the team to finish shopping. William immediately began to give me prices on beautiful items made of malachite, on the table in front of me.
“I’m done, William.” I firmly and lightheartedly said.
“Okay! Okay!” William replied. “No charge for looking!”
I stayed near the table closest to the exit. I was abundantly clear William was going to stick close to me. i reassured him there was no chance I would reach for my wallet a second time in the shop that day.
Since William wasn’t going anywhere; since it look like the team would continue shopping a little while longer, and since our team were the only customers at the curio shop, I asked William a question.
Transitioning the Conversation
“What are your thoughts about God?”
“My thoughts about God?” William quizzically repeated.
“Yes. What do you believe about God?” I asked.
“I believe in God.” He answered.
“Oh, I know you believe in God.” I affirmed.
“I know I have to repent. I must be good.” William seemed to stammer as he searched for the words he wanted to say.
“Are you a Christian, William?”
“Yes, I am.”
Three Minutes to Live
“William, let’s say you and I were very good friends. You are a Christian, and you know I’m not.
“One day I come to you and tell you I had just seen my doctor. I went to his office for a regular check-up, and I felt fine before the tests.
“The doctor tells me that I have cancer throughout my body. He tells me that I only have a short time to live. I’m scared.
“You’re a Christian, and you know I’m not. What would you say to me?”
William looked me in the eye and thought for a moment.
“I would tell you to believe in God.”
“Which God should I believe in? People worship different gods.” I said.
“The Creator God. You want to go to heaven, don’t you?” He asked.
“I guess so.” I said. “You mentioned repenting. Why do I have to repent? Repent of what? I think I’m a pretty good person.” I was trying to help William along.
“You may be a good person, but you should pray.”
“And what will happen to me if I don’t repent?” I asked.
William mumbled something I could not understand.
“Where will I go when I die, William? I’m coming to you for help.” I said with some urgency in my voice.
“You will go to hell.” He said.
It was time to communicate the gospel to William.
Communicating the Law to William
“Okay, my friend. Let’s switch. This time I’m the Christian and you’re my unbelieving friend. You come to me just as I came to you, with news from your doctor that you’re dying of cancer. Here’s what I would say to you.
“‘William, when you die you will stand before God to give an account for your life. God will judge you by the law He has written on your heart.
“‘Like me, you were created in the image of God. You are an image-bearer of your Creator. As such, you know it’s wrong to lie because your Creator is not a liar.’
“Have you ever told a lie, William?” I asked.
With hesitancy in his voice and a slight shake of his head, William said, “No.”
“How old are you, William?”
“I am 40.” He answered.
“You mean to tell me in 40 years of life you’ve never told a lie?” I asked, with a little sarcasm in my tone.
“No. I’ve lied.” He said.
“Have you ever stolen something, even if it was when you were a boy?” I asked.
William laughed. “Many times!”
“Have you ever looked at a woman and though about having sex with her?” I asked.
The question caught William off-guard. Again he laughed. “Of course!”
“Have you ever been so angry with someone that you thought to yourself that you hated that person?” I asked.
“God sees hatred the same way He sees murder.
“William, this is how God sees you. He sees you as…..”
William interrupted to defend himself. “But, I repent.”
“Hang on. Let me finish. God sees you as a liar, a thief, an adulterer, and a murderer. God, on the other hand, is holy, righteous, and just. Unlike you and me, God actually is good.
God’s standard of goodness is moral perfection. Jesus said, ‘You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48).
“You can’t live up to that standard, William. Neither can I.
“When you stand before God, He will find you guilty of His law. You will be punished in hell, for eternity. I don’t want that for you, William.
“A little while ago you mentioned ‘repenting.’ What does that word mean to you?” I asked.
“To ask for forgiveness.” He answered.
Taking William into the Courtroom
“Have you ever been in a courtroom as a result of breaking the law?” I asked.
“Well, let’s say you got caught breaking the law. You find yourself in a courtroom standing before a judge. Having been found guilty, the judge asks you if you have anything to say for yourself. You answer, ‘Yes, your honor. I do. I’m sorry and I would like you to forgive me.’ Is the judge going to forgive you and let you go?”
“No. He can’t do that.” William replied.
“That’s right.” I agreed. “The judge must follow the rule of law. And just as the judge will not let you go simply because you are sorry for breaking the law, God cannot and will not forgive you of sinning against Him because you are sorry.
“God must and will punish lawbreakers because He is holy. No sin or sinful person is allowed in His presence. The punishment for sin is eternity in hell.”
William never took his eyes off of mine. He was locked in. And the Lord was graciously blessing us with uninterrupted conversation. No one else had pulled off the road to do some souvenir hunting at Payne’s Fine Arts of Sagana, Kenya.
“William, let’s say the police came here and said you are illegally doing business. I’m not saying that should or will happen. I’m just trying to paint a picture to make a point.
“Once again, you find yourself standing before a judge. Your ‘I’m sorry’ defense won’t work. In fact, the judge tells you that the punishment for your crime will be a fine of 100 million shillings, or the rest of your life in prison. Could you pay the fine?” I asked.
“No one could pay such a fine.”
“That being the case, the judge must send you to prison for the rest of your life. But just as the judge is about to impose the sentence, someone walks into the courtroom–someone you do not know. He approaches the judge and presents 100 million shillings to pay your fine.
“The judge looks at you and says, ‘You have broken the law and you deserve to be punished. It is a just sentence to lock you up in prison the rest of your life, since you could not pay the fine. But I am going to set you free–not because you are innocent. I am going to release you because this person has come here and paid your fine. You’re free to go.’
“William, would that be good news to you?” I asked.
“What would you think of the person who would pay such a fine on your behalf?”
“I would thank Him many times.”
“Let’s see if that’s true. The person who paid the fine is Jesus.” I said, and then I communicated the gospel of Jesus Christ to William.
Showing William He is Not a Christian
“William, what if I came to your place of business and I told you I could teach you everything you need to know about being a successful business man? What if you said, ‘Okay. Tell me?’ And what if I said, ‘it’s simple; you just put stuff on a table and ask people to buy your stuff. Just put stuff out and take people’s money.’ Would you believe I know anything about running a business?” I asked.
William laughed. “No.”
“Of course not!” I exclaimed.
I put my hands on William’s upper arms.
“William, if, based on what I told you, you wouldn’t believe I was a business man, then why should I believe you when you say you’re a Christian when you couldn’t tell me how to become one? Are you sure you’re a Christian? Have you ever truly repented and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? You don’t want to be wrong about this. We’re talking about your soul–about where you will spend eternity.”
William silently stared at me.
Calling William to Repent and Believe the Gospel
Is there anything that would keep you from turning from your sin and turning to Jesus Christ, right now?” I asked William. “Is there any sin in your life that you love so much that you are willing to spend eternity in hell so you can continue in your sin?
“I don’t know if I’m ready to make that kind of decision. I need to think about it.” He answered.
“Well, don’t make a decision about Jesus for me. If you do it for me, then one thing is certain. You’re not saved.” I explained.
I warned William that he was presently under the wrath of God and that he wasn’t promised his next breath, let alone promised to see another sunrise. I thanked William for giving me so much of his time, and I assured him I would pray for him.
When William saw a van-load of muzungus arrive at the curio shop, I’m sure he was hoping to sell lots of merchandise. I hope William received a whole lot more than he bargained for.