The next morning just at the moment of dawn they pushed on, the heavy loaded carts cutting deep ruts in the sand. Suddenly someone shouted and pointed ahead. It was indescribable, like a giant cloud from heaven to earth, brown and moving fast, but it was no cloud, it was sand! The thing he had heard about and had grown to fear. Ayo had seen thick dust before floating in from the desert, but never like this. Beida quickly began to tie the camels together and they rushed toward a rugged rock reaching high into the sky. But… they didn’t make it.
Suddenly it struck. Sand burned into Ayo’s skin, as the strong wind sent him falling to the soft ground. He held on as the camels pulled him forward. He could hear distant screams, he coughed, choked, and his eyes stung. Then he remembered to wrap the headwrap around his face. He dived away from the wind and quit struggling with the camels ropes. He stumbled and fell along for a long time, then finally the camels stopped but the storm continued. His mouth was dry and he was hot but he could not uncover his face. He remembered that the camels with their long eyelashes had protection from the sand and that they could close their nostrils against the sand to keep it out. He moved and bumped into a big rock. He stuck his face in the corner of a rock and began to breath better, hours passed and he lay still, and even fell asleep with his arms wrapped in the guide rope. When he awakened it was late evening and the sky was clear. Sand had almost completely covered him. He stood and began to brush the sand from his hair and clothes.. .then-he realized he was alone! He stood in deathly silence, not a sound could be heard, as he looked around. Mountains and valleys, small ripples, and big waves of sand-only sand. Ayo and two animals stood in the valley of tan, dry sand in the heart of the Sahara-lost and alone!
He began to try to decide how far he had gone with the camels in the storm but he couldn’t remember whether it was minutes or hours, which way were they going? He had always depended on Yu, the camel man and Beida. He checked the supplies. One camel was laden with gold and brass ornaments, the other with ivory. No food, no water, no supplies, only riches! He began to laugh. “I’m rich, I’m rich,” he cried. “Enjoy it while you can-death looks you in the face!” He laughed more than he had in weeks, more than since he left the village. In his search for God, he had found gold, he had not found God, and he couldn’t buy anything with his gold! Then he felt the money belt around his waist and it was still there-but-what now?
He decided to make camp, moving behind a large rock pile that offered protection from the possibility of another storm. He lay down and then remembered a large piece of dried beef he had put in his money belt. He cut a small piece and chewed it, yet his mouth craved for water. His mind filled with thoughts: Which way do I go? Jerusalem? Ayo looked up at the sky and wished he knew how to contact God. He lay still in quiet silence and then drifted into a deep sleep.
Ayo awoke just at dawn and prepared to leave. He had remembered the direction the sun came up and that they walked with it to the right hand of them at dawn. He knew he must go on, there was no turning back now. He knew he must conserve his energy. The lack of food he could do without for days, but not water, so he rode on one of the camels throughout the morning, then afternoon. His mouth was now dry and cracking, two days without water, a sand storm and the burning heat, he was weak, dreamy, and everything began to seem unreal. He hung on to the camel as it made its way forward, night after night.
Then he couldn’t tell whether he was dreaming or whether it was real, but he could see figures coming toward him and voices grew louder. It was real! People-men, women and children, and fierce warriors! He grabbed his sword and lifted it in weak defense, but there was no response and the warriors surrounded him. Ayo tried to speak but no words came forth. A hand reached forth with a flask of water. He grabbed it and began to drink. He smiled and wiped the dust from his face with the back of his hand and said “thank you” in Arabic and Greek. Then he looked at the people even closer and realized that these must be the fearsome Baba tribesmen. He had seen some in the big trading towns but this was their territory and they were light skinned, a white color, even whiter than Beida.
One man spoke in Arabic, “You may come with us. We are going to Botou by the river. We will do you no harm, peace be unto you my brother. Did you get lost in the sand storm?” Ayo, his voice still breaking, said, “Yes, I lost my caravan and friends. This is my first time across the desert and I’ve lost my way. Can you give me some water? I’ll pay for it, and tell me which is the way to the Mediterranean Sea, to Cyrene!”
“Oh, friend, you are going the right direction. There is an oasis one day from here. You can reach it tomorrow night. Stay to the left of the mountain peaks. There will be caravans there that you can join, but it’s dangerous from here on for the next few days before you reach the sea and Cyrene; many bandits, robbers, and the worst lot of humanity you’ve ever seen.
Everyone is after the gold traders have brought back from across the sand. Are you an escaped slave?”
“No,” Ayo said firmly, “I’m free.”
“Oh, no offense,” the warrior said, “but traders in front of you will try to make you a slave. Come with us friend, we will help you.”
“Thank you, but no, I must go on and find my friend Beida and get…”
“Who?” cried out the warrior.
“Beida, my friend,” answered Ayo.
“Yes, how did you know?”
“Beida is at the oasis in front. I saw him yesterday. He said he was waiting for a friend to arrive, a black man named Ayo. We shall take you to him. We have known Beida for many years. After all, Jesus said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”‘
“Jesus! Have you seen him?” cried Ayo leaping off the camel.
“Yes, only a few months ago. I heard him preach a sermon as he sat on a mountainside. It was so beautiful, the most powerful words of holiness and truth I have ever heard. I believe he is the Christ, the Messiah. He surely is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! I could listen to him all my life and never tire. Now look at me, look about you at people. We once were the terrors of this area. Every trader across the desert has trembled to think of an encounter with us. We robbed, killed, raped and were filled with hate, but now love. Jesus said, ‘You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you!’ He said, ‘there is a wide gate and broad way, and many are on it which leads to destruction or hell, as he described it earlier, but he said there was another way, a narrow way with a strait gate that leads to life and few there be that find it.'”
“Oh, I wish I could,” exclaimed Ayo, “I’ve been seeking the truth about God for so long.”
“There is good news for you, son,” the tough bearded warrior said smiling with a big sparkle. “Jesus said, ‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you, for everyone that asketh receiveth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened…’ Look at us, we are no longer warriors as we once were, we are now peacemakers, seeking to let our light shine that all people everywhere shall glorify the Father in heaven! But how? I’ve done all sorts of things to please God. I’ve offered human life, animal life, gone through all kinds of rituals, but it leaves me empty and unsatisfied. Now I’m not one of his chosen twelve disciples, and I haven’t heard all His teaching, but I’m sure it begins by believing that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and turning from our sinful ways to His Holy life. And this may help also-He taught us a prayer. Try to remember it:
‘Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth, as it is in Heaven; Give us this day our daily bread, and Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Forever…. Amen.'”
The words were softly spoken but they shook with authority. Ayo looked around, every head was bowed, hands were lifted up and everyone had gathered in a small circle. He could see tears in the eyes of some of the people, but they were smiling!! “Smiling,” Ayo thought. He had never seen the likes before. Then he heard them singing.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies, Thou anointeth my head with oil, my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
Early the next morning. Ayo, rested and fresh, set off with the Baba tribesmen-there was a light gladness in his heart, as they wound their way over and around the huge sand dunes toward the ocean where he would see Beida again. His mind was mixed in thought about the happenings of yesterday evening. These people were strange, they acted like no other people he had ever met or seen, and he was astonished at a part of the song they sang, “Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil!” How could that be? All his life death had been the ultimate evil, the most feared thing in life, for beyond it-who knows? Yet Jesus spoke as if he knew, and even these people are not afraid to die. They even seemed a bit eager. No sacrifice at death? No fear? How could this be? But one thing he did know, he couldn’t wait to tell Beida the latest news.
They came up over a hill and in the far distance he could see a large valley. There were tall green trees and he could see smoke rising from the big camp but he could not see so well from the great distance. The caravan stopped and the big fearsome but smiling warrior rode up to Ayo with his white horse stallion, the most beautiful, powerful animal he had ever seen, leaping high and throwing sand everywhere. The camels were stopped but the horses charged through the desert as if ready to attack, then they abruptly stopped and the warrior said, “We must return to our journey. The camp is ahead. Just ask, you will have no problem finding Beida. We trust you will also become a disciple of Jesus. Remember, it’s not just what he says, it’s who he is! God bless you, in Jesus name. We must be about spreading the words of Jesus to our people.” They all charged like wild men back into the desert. Ayo stood waving and in the far distance he could see hands waving at him-then suddenly he realized he was crying! Big tears were rolling down his cheeks, he felt ashamed, quickly brushing them away with his hand. Then no longer did he feel ashamed, he felt peace and love-love, real love. He realized that these people loved him, and he had loved them! He was dying in the desert with two camels loaded with a lifetime of wealth, these people had come and shown him something he had never known before. He wasn’t sure what it was all about but more than ever he wanted to see Jesus and be changed like these people.
As he neared the oasis he realized it was more of a fort than anything he had ever seen. There were big walls around a large part of the area, some small crops were growing and much of the village lay outside the wall. As he neared the gate, he could see two warriors unlike any he had ever seen before. They wore helmets on their heads, breastplates, big shields lay nearby and strong tough swords hung from their hips. Each stood erect in the shade of the gate with a big spear at their side. As he started to enter the gate into the compound, the two soldiers stepped toward him and pointing their spears at him shouted, “Halt!” Ayo stood motionless with the two camels behind him. “Do you have any identification, or can you tell us your master?” one soldier asked. Ayo was so glad he had learned well his Greek as well as Arabic. “I am Ayo, I’m from across the sand, I’m a free man. I have no master. I am looking for a friend.”
“Shut up! Let’s see what he has on these camels.” Then they removed some of the covering on the camels and saw the ivory. “Just what I thought, another robber! Killed, robbed, and didn’t know we had moved a garrison of troops into the old fort to suppress this… did you!!” Both grabbed Ayo, pulling his hands behind him. He lunged forward, his hand went for his sword…then he stopped. “I must find Beida, he will work this out,” he thought. Then meekly he held out his hands. He was quickly chained hand and foot but loose enough for him to walk. They were joined by two other guards who took over the gate, as they led him away toward the headquarters of the garrison. Suddenly in front of him was… Yu, Beida’s helper. He was leaping up and down. “What’s wrong with you-crazy man!” shouted a soldier pushing him aside. “He can’t speak! I know him, he is Beida’s helper, he…”
“Did you say Beida?”
“Do you know him?” shouted one of the soldiers moving back. “Yes, I am working with him. We got lost in a sandstorm,” said Ayo, speaking with authority, as he could tell they knew Beida. “Take me to him!” Then the two soldiers moved off and began to whisper. Then they returned, unchained Ayo and offered him a drink. Ayo refused. They said, “Come with us.”
There were tents and mud-made houses along the small narrow streets, a constant flood of animals of all kinds and children running about everywhere. They came to a well guarded compound where the soldiers saluted and asked for the officer. Soon a middle-aged man, well built and smartly dressed, stepped up. “Sir,” they said, “We have found Beida’s friend. It is too long a story to bother you with, but we had a great idea and it worked. We found him alive and have brought him to you, your honor.”
“So I see, you have done a fine job. Write a small report of your daring adventure and you shall receive your reward!” exclaimed the officer with a question in his voice. “Follow me, Ayo. We are delighted to discover you; it will give Beida great peace of mind!”
“Yes sir, I shall be glad to see him. Is he well?” asked Ayo. The officer did not reply as they walked through the streets. Finally, he said, “How did you get here?”
“Some tribesmen, followers of Jesus, found me and brought me here, then your soldiers discovered me at the gate!” Ayo said the final words with a vengeance.
“So I suspected,” he laughed. “So you met the Baba tribesmen? I tell you if they all became like that we could go back home! They are going out to convert the rest of them! Can you believe it! I don’t hold much for this new Messiah. The Jews are always coming up with something special but if all his followers behave like that, it can’t all be bad. I have a friend who serves in a garrison of troops under Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. He has written me about this Jesus but I think it’s all blown up.”
“I am on my way there as soon as I can get there,” said Ayo.
“Well, I shall give you this address and a letter of introduction. I’ll send it over to you tonight by one of my soldiers,” said the officer.
“I must leave you now, Beida is in the village ahead. If I can help, call me, I’m at your service.” “Thanks, oh thanks,” shouted Ayo. Suddenly forgetting himself he ran ahead leaving Yu to keep the camels as they had always done. He could hardly wait to see Beida. Now the team would be together again-Ayo, Beida and Yu. He charged past a startled gate man and into the beautiful garden of flowers surrounding the house. He opened the door and started in shouting, “Beida, Beida, I’m back. It’s Ayo.” Then… he stopped, frozen, the radiant smile slowly melting away. The room was cool and quiet, five or six people around a large bed, every eye fixed on him and then he saw- “Beida,” he cried out. He slowly moved to the bedside of the old man who feebly lifted his hand, and a faint, ever so faint smile could be seen as his lips quivered! Ayo knelt beside the bed and tenderly touched the tough, calloused, but now weak hand.
“I am back. What is wrong?” said Ayo in slow emotional words. “I’m dying, my son,” the old trader said in broken words. “But you have come back to me. I was afraid.. so afraid. I’d never see you again. The last storm was too much for me. My time has come.”
“Oh, no!” cried Ayo. “The gods must have mercy…” Slowly the old man motioned for one of the men standing nearby. The man stepped forward with several large scrolls in his hands and began to unroll them on the table”This is to show that you are the son, the adopted son of Beida, with all the rights of a Roman citizen. You are a free man and can never be enslaved,” said the scholarly well dressed man. He looked at Beida and then continued, “Your name shall be called Simon. When you sign this you shall be a Roman. Here is the ring of the family and the seal. Beida has chosen you to be the head of his family. You have full authority over all his wealth, interests, and his two children. My son, at this moment you have become a very wealthy, prominent and important man. You are my boss; I will have time to inform you later as to the full extent of your property and possessions, but first sign here. “-and he dipped the pen into the ink and handed it to Ayo.
“What does all this mean?” he whispered to Beida. “Sign now, my son, quickly,” he answered back. Ayo moved to the table and remembering the letters he had learned along the way from Beida, he wrote his name at all the places the lawyer pointed to. After he finished, Beida said, “Alexander and Rufus are my two sons; they are young. You must educate them and make them wise. You shall see them soon. I…” The old man began to cough and choke, everyone moved closer to him and Ayo held the struggling man’s hand. “I’m not afraid to die, Ayo. Some Baba tribesmen stopped off to see me-they are old friends. They told me of Jesus. Son, I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. I shall see him face to face. I prayed and repented of my sins, I’m clean. He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. I bless God!” Beida’s voice now strongly filled the room, “That a sinner like me could find grace through Jesus. Yea I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” He was now sitting up-everyone tried to calm him and laid him down, but the old man was smiling.
He was looking up with his hands uplifted, “Oh the beauty, Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy…name”-he began to struggle, coughing and choking. His skin began to change color, then… all was still. Ayo felt no pulse…and Beida…was dead. No one moved. For what seemed an endless age not one sound could be heard, then slowly Ayo released the hand of Beida, stood up and walked from the room.