Today, I went into a fitness center to renew a membership. The manager was sitting off in a corner, smoking a cigarette, mad as a hornet that we were rude enough to intrude on her day.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “We’d like to extend a membership.”
“Can’t help you. Cash register’s broken,” she snarled without making eye contact.
“When will it be fixed?” I asked.
“Maybe today. Maybe not,” came out in the middle of a smoke cloud. Again, no eye contact. Service with a scowl. I walked out of there, kind of disgusted with people in Moscow. But then I remembered Shahid.
Shahid was pushing a “borrowed” shopping cart through the bazaar, offering to haul people’s purchases. As this Uzbek Muslim man wearing a prayer cap walked past me, we made eye contact.
Before he could finish asking me, “Do you need a cart?,” I squeezed in an “Asalam Aleykum!” This means “peace to you” in Arabic. Shahid stopped in his tracks as he doesn’t hear that very often from a Russian-looking face. He told me his story. He had finished studying for nine years in a madrassa. At the beginning of Ramadan, he shamed the Muslim owner of the bazaar into letting him use a vacant room for their tradition of ritual prayers.
“Now,” he proudly told me, “seventy of us gather for prayers five times/day.” He is the prayer leader. As I offered to give him a Magdalena film in Uzbek, two Dagestanis jumped in and rudely demanded that he not take the film. Shahid, however, followed me out of the bazaar to the Metro. It was clear he wanted to talk. He ended up eagerly taking the film.
I have been praying for him since. Two days ago, I returned to that bazaar and called him. We met and talked near the Metro entrance. I pulled out my pocket Bible and read Hebrews 11:6 to him. He listened intently. I think his Russian was good enough to understand what I said.
He stared at the Book and then asked me quietly, “Can you get me one of those in Uzbek?” We stood there and prayed, hands open up to God, as people churned around us entering and leaving the Metro. Shahid did not care. Neither did I.
This is why we are here. And this is what you were made for, as well.