|What's in a Name?|
The Sign of an “Aha!” Moment.
The mother of Arab civilization, Hagar, was the Egyptian maid-servant to Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and she was given to Abraham by Sarah in order to produce offspring. The result was Ishmael, the father of the Arab tribes. Now, following some self-centered behavior on Hagar’s part, and the consequence of some domestic fussing on Sarah’s, Hagar was sent away when she was pregnant with Ishmael. The Hagar story becomes quite touching at this point (you can read it in Gen. 16). Feeling abandoned, devastatingly lonely and in despair, she sits by a well and thinks that no one cares for her or her baby.
But God hears of her misery (v. 11) and speaks to her of his multiplication of Ishmael’s descendants. Now, to a middle-eastern woman’s ears, that was certainly promising good news of divine blessing. She’s overwhelmed. Surely, while living in Abraham’s house she had heard talk of El Shaddai, the Almighty. But now, it appears, she herself encounters the reality of his hidden presence and loyal, attentive kindness. She is to name the child Ishma-el – “God hears!” It’s truly an “aha!” moment for Hagar. Deeply moved, she blurts out: “You are the God who sees me!” and names the water source, in Hebrew, “Beer-lahai-roi”, that is, “the well of the living One who sees me!”
Does not this story capture the hope of the Lutheran Brethren Mission for the unreached Arabic-speaking peoples of Chad? The vast majority has heard of Isa (their name for Jesus) as a prophet, but they do not know him as the living One of Abraham, who sees their misery in sin and hears the cry of the needy soul and sends saving help in the living waters that flow from the pierced side of the crucified and risen Lord who is seated at the right hand of the Father Almighty.
So, in seeking a name for the LB Mission’s welcome center (guest house) in Chad, it is altogether fitting to think of this “aha!” moment of Hagar. For, it is largely to Arabic-speaking peoples to whom our African mission has turned her attention. Thus, if you change the word “well” in Hagar’s expression to “house” (as in a housing center) you have our new name in Chadian Arabic: Bêt al hayy al yichifni, the House of the Living One Who Sees Me. And under this title on our new sign is the French description Centre d’Acceuil Luthérien (Lutheran Welcome Center).
The Center was originally conceived with two purposes: first, to provide a strategic, safe and comfortable place for missionaries and their families to be lodged while traveling in this desert land. At the Center they can find rest, secure necessary provisions and medical assistance in town, or take a retreat for personal renewal (there is a prayer chapel for solitude). That is, it’s also a place where missionaries themselves can come to terms once again with the reality that there is a living One who sees, hears, and loves them and guides their lives. Secondly, the Center is a place for the continuing education of Christian workers. The Center hosts conferences for evangelical churches and missions who share the ministry of the Gospel to the Chadian peoples.
So, there you have it. In a nation of many languages and dialects, yet officially bi-lingual (Chadian Arabic and French), we honor our host culture with our new name. While historically our missionaries have spoken French, we now focus also on the Chadian dialect of Arabic in hope that Hagar’s children, and those who’ve adopted the language of Ishmael’s children, will come to meet the hidden, infinite and personal God in Christ. That they might know the living One who sees and hears the cry of Hagar and her children.