Arabic, Allah, and a Can of Beer

As I walked into the vast cafeteria for the first time, I suddenly realized more than ever that I was a stranger in a strange territory. This was my first day at the University of Washington as a linguistics graduate student. It was also the first time in my life to be a student on a non-Adventist campus.

After choosing some items from the meal line, I looked for a seat. My heart thumping, I spotted an empty chair at a table with five other people, who graciously allowed me to sit with them. I heard them speaking Arabic as I approached, but they stopped as I sat down.

“Please continue your conversation,” I said. “I enjoy listening to other languages.”

They smiled, thanking me, “You are very kind. Would you like a beer?” One can remained of their six-pack.

“No, but thank you very much,” I replied.

“Please, take the last one,” they encouraged me.

“Thank you very much for your generosity. I don’t drink,” I responded.

“You don’t drink? Really?” They were very surprised.

“Yes, really,” I replied, smiling. “I honestly do not drink.”

“But we thought that all Americans drink.” They were still amazed. “Are you a Muslim?”

“No, I’m not. I’m a Christian.”

“Then why don’t you drink? Other Christians we have met drink alcohol. It’s OK for them. What kind of Christian are you?” They seemed determined.

“Well,” I started, “I’m a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. My religion discourages drinking alcohol because Adventists believe that our bodies are the temples of God and that we should take the best care of them that we can. Drinking destroys brain cells and makes it difficult to make wise decisions.”

“Actually we are ashamed,” one of them confessed. “We are not supposed to be drinking either. We are Muslims.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “Don’t you think that Allah has eyes outside of the Middle East?”

“How did you know that we were Muslims?” they asked in surprise.

“You were speaking the same Nadji dialect of Arabic that my other Arab friends speak,” I continued. “I figured that you were probably followers of Islam.”

One of them got up from the table, gathered all the half-filled cans of beer, and placed them in the garbage can. He then sat down again. “From our hearts, we thank you for sitting with us. We know that Allah has sent you, a Christian, to our table to guide us back to the straight path. What did you say the name of your religion is? Seven days . . . ?”

“Seventh-day Adventist.”

“What does this name mean?” they asked. “Tell us more about your religion. We want to know more about it.”

Several hours later my new friends and I had discussed the beauty of the Sabbath invented by our Creator, why most Christians worship on Sunday, the difference between the Old and New Testaments, health issues, the earth’s last days, and Jesus’ second coming.

From that day on I realized the magnitude of every word that we say. I simply could have declined their offer of the beer. But I had also said, “I don’t drink.” That simple statement gave my Muslim friends an opportunity to hear aspects of the gospel they had never heard before.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5, 6, NIV).

By Janet S. Borisevich

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