Makurdi was a man of slight build, past middle age, when I first met him. He was a subsistence farmer tucked away in the mountains in the great Sahara Desert. I do not know much about his family other than the history he gave me, that during the prolonged drought in the late 60s and early 70s his wife died. Because of the imminence of starvation, he was driven to leave his home area in search of relief (food), and he cme to the oasis where we were at that time.
He had a problem that brought him to our medical clinic. It was one of loss of pigmentation of the skin in a spotty sort of way. Africans who believes that black is beautiful are very much distressed when this problem afflicts them. There is no treatment. It does not cause discomfort, nor is it in any way a life-threatening disease; but it was this that brought him to our clinic. He used to come very faithfully day after clinic day, and he listened so well as I preached at the clinic. He usually sat on the first row and gave very close attention to what I would say. I told him on a number of occasions that there was no need for him to come to clinic; for there was no treatment for this problem which he had. I began to realize that he was not coming for the innocuous ointment that I gave him to massage the skin which would do no good, and I told him so. He was coming rather to hear the Gospel. He was one of those men one enjoys preaching to. When I would say something that needed an affirmative reaction, his little head would nod accordingly; or if it needed a negative response, likewise, the body language told me he was very much with me. It was a joy to preach to this man.
One day I used as my text the parable the Lord spoke concerning the two men who went to the temple to pray. The one, a Pharisee who stood and related how good he was—how he prayed, how he fasted, how he gave alms. It is intimated that he was telling God what a privilege for Him (God) to have such a devout follower. But it also tells us that his prayer, which was given more to impress people than it was to petition God, was not heard. I reckoned it to the way the Muslims so often go about their devotion. They lay down their prayer rug in a prominent place; they make a great show of their ablutions. Then, as they go through the recitation of the creed and the daily prayers, they do so to be seen of men, reciting the memorized portion of the Koran in a loud voice so that all can hear how devout they are. They also do multiple genuflections and bow with the forehead to the ground. As a last act, they touch their forehead to the soil so that some of the sand will adhere to their forehead, which they do not wipe away. They want it to be seen that they have done their devotion. I likened that practice to the Pharisee of the parable. My little friend listened carefully, smiling and agreeing with the message that I preached.
Then I turned to the Publican, the tax collector, who so very often was dishonest in his dealings with the people, embezzling funds that should have gone to the government but which, in fact, lined his own pockets. I spoke of how this man, back in the shadows of the temple where no one could see, was so ashamed of his evil doings that he would not so much as lift his eyes to Heaven but beat upon his breast and cried out, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." My little friend listened intently to that portion of the parable, and I saw his head dip and his eyes did not meet mine. I went on to say that that man went down to his house justified. Makurdi did not even stay for his usual clinic visit but left, and I did not see him for several weeks.
One afternoon as I was visiting in the oasis, I saw him in one of the compounds. He told me that he was living with some of his extended family. He motioned for me to come in, and he led me over to a rather secluded corner of the compound where we sat down on a mat together. After the exchange of greetings, he said, "Do you remember that sermon you preached about the two men who prayed?" I said I did, and then, almost word-perfect, he recited the whole sermon that I preached that morning several weeks before at the clinic. He said, "I used to be like that first man—a devout Muslim. That's all that I had ever known; but it's only since I have been hearing you preach from the Word of God that I have begun to understand the necessity of praying the prayer of the second man." He said, "I used to go through my devotions to be seen of men, but I recognize that that is not right in the sight of God. I came back to my place here and prayed the prayer of the second man; and, oh, the joy that has been mine since I know that I have been forgiven of my sins." He said, "I no longer go to the mosque for the Friday prayers. I no longer say the prescribed five daily prayers. I do not do the other pillars of Islam that I was so accustomed to doing. I now am a child of God, forgiven; and I pray in the name of Almashihu, the Messiah."
I rejoiced with him and was thrilled to know that one more Muslim had come to faith in Jesus Christ. But he continued to speak to me. His family with whom he was living was not at all pleased. They tried to force him to go to the mosque, to say the prescribed creed, to do the five daily prayers; but he refused, saying "I'm no longer following the way of Islam, but I am now a follower of Almashihu. They were very unhappy and threatening to him. He intimated that he feared for his life. I wept with the old gentleman and again prayed and tried to encourage him to stand firm for the Lord. I went on my way.
A few days later, early in the morning, I was awakened with the clapping of hands and coughing outside my bedroom window, then a voice asking me to come out because he had a message. It was a friend of mine from the oasis. He said, "Have you heard about Makurdi?" I said, "No, I saw him a few days ago, and he was quite well." He said, "They're coming back from burying him. He died during the night." I said, "Oh, what were the circumstances of his death?" And when these were related to me, it gave me no doubt but that his own family had poisoned him. Why? For his faith in Jesus Christ. Another martyr for the cause of Jesus Christ.