From Kenya: The tale of a turban


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They told me they were born again. I continued to talk to them about their salvation and their relationship with Christ. 


As the conversation went on, they began to tell about their turbans. They cited a passage of Scripture—the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Zechariah, where the high priest Joshua stands before an angel of the Lord, and he is given new garments and a clean turban for his head.

They asked if I wanted a turban. I didn’t have money with me to buy anything, so I told them “no.”

They said: “ It’s OK. It’s OK. You can pay us tomorrow. We want to give you one.”

I thought that this was simply a present they wanted to give me as an act of friendship, but I was still kind of curious about the meaning behind it. As it turned out, the turban was presented in a formal ceremony—one that was both interesting and sort of uncomfortable. It involved five or six of us American missionaries in a very tiny room and three men who gave me the turban—none of whom spoke English. Needless to say, not everything was clearly understood, nor clearly translated. The men prayed over me, wrapped the turban around my head and prayed again.

I began to pray: “Lord, what’s going on? I don’t feel comfortable. May you receive the glory through all this someway, somehow.”

As we left the ceremony, one of the men told me that I could take off the turban only when I slept. That made me even more uncomfortable, and it prompted extensive prayer and Scripture-reading on my part. The next morning, I spoke to my new friends and explained I couldn’t keep the gift they had presented to me. Apparently the turban means more to them than just a cultural tradition. I wasn’t able to get the exact meaning, but I knew it had something to do with their religious beliefs.

I explained to them that the story of Joshua in Zechariah 3 was a depiction of the gospel. When we come to Christ, our filthy garments—our old selves—are gone, and our new image in Christ is present. The clean turban Joshua received doesn’t have much standing in today’s time, because Christ is the Head of our body. And in Colossians, the Apostle Paul talks about not holding onto human regulations that promote self. I told the men I had been crucified with Christ. I am a new creation in Christ alone— nothing more. Christ is enough.

I explained I couldn’t accept the gift because I wasn’t sure of its meaning. I felt like it was an act of promoting self, and Christ calls me to become less. As I explained this to my new friends, they didn’t agree. But truth was spoken, Christ was glorified, and a friendship remains for further conversations.

Al Johnson from the University of Texas at San Antonio is a student missionary correspondent with Go Now Missions .

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