July 26, 2013

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

How do you spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s? By giving all for Christ

Debra Tomaselli “Come on back,” the social worker called to me.

I followed Gloria into a modest office in our local Catholic Charities building, prepared to interview a refugee they were helping.

She introduced us, but the foreigner’s name was so full of unintelligible sounds that Gloria suggested I simply call him Majik, an adaptation of his surname. Majik, 33, seemed OK with that, and the tall, gentle black man smiled and shook my hand.

After briefing me on the fact that Majik had arrived in metropolitan Orlando only weeks earlier from rural Sudan and spoke little English, Gloria suggested I proceed with the interview.

“What made you want to leave Sudan?” I asked.

Majik delivered a blank stare.

“Why leave,” the social worker said.

Majik nodded, looked at me, and responded. “Shot dad.”

Short phrases, sign language, facial expressions and interpretations from the social worker soon had us communicating.

I learned Majik was a rich man in his native Sudan, having owned two goats and a cow. I learned that Muslim terrorists invaded his town, cornered his family, demanded they renounce Christ, and ordered them to worship their god. When Majik’s father refused, they shot and killed him instantly. Then they imprisoned Majik and seized his livestock.

Weeks later, they released Majik, threatening to come back and kill him if he didn’t convert. Majik gathered his mother, wife and three children, and escaped by boat to Cairo, Egypt. They remained there for two years, while he applied for refugee status and worked menial jobs.

Life was difficult. The Egyptians spit at him and refused schooling for his children. Finally, the family was granted asylum. That’s when he found out they were being sent to metropolitan Orlando.

His story left me reeling.

Imagine watching your father shot to death for his beliefs. Imagine being rich with livestock, and suddenly having to use the ATM at a local bank. Imagine having to choose Jesus or abandon everything. What would you do?

I studied his peaceful presence.

“Majik,” I finally said, speaking slowly. “Wouldn’t it have just been easier to say yes to … those Muslims? Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay in Sudan?”

Majik nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “My sister did that. She stayed.”

“But I could not,” he added.

Reaching out, he touched his open palm with one hand and gestured in an upward arc.

“For me,” he said. “Jesus is everything.”

He looked heavenward.

“Jesus,” he reiterated. “Jesus is everything. I could not do that.”

Our interview ended, but I often wonder about Majik.

The paradox of his presence amazes me. After all, to a passerby, the refugee may seem poor, unintelligent and slow, but that’s not the case.

True, Majik doesn’t have a great command of our language. He doesn’t know how to attend a webinar or play the stocks. He never knew you could buy bread from a grocery shelf.

But don’t be fooled.

Majik seems poor, but he is rich. He has discovered the keys to the kingdom. He’s given all for Christ. We should be as successful.

(Debra Tomaselli writes from Altamonte Springs, Florida. She can be reached at dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

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