Christmas Time – and what better way to remember our Lord’s birth than with evidence of what that means. Enjoy!
He was a man of large stature. As he grew from boyhood he not only grew taller than most but also developed a commanding physique. He could outrun, out jump and overcome all the other young men in community wrestling matches. He was the envy of the other young men, admired by all the young ladies and the pride of his family.
He naturally became the leader of a large dance clan. Sukuma dances were divided up into clans, performed together on wide, open plains and the winner of the dance demonstration was the clan which drew to its side the major part of the audience. His clan was most often the winner.
In order to become “more important”, he decided that he should learn how to read and write. He had seen those foreigners and some Africans reading out of books and felt that if he also knew how to do this it would enhance his stature within his community.
Schools were practically non-existent in those days. Missions operated a few “church schools”, which were run by local evangelists, and that was about the only way one could learn to read and write. He was told that if he went early a certain settlement where there were some Arab traders, there he would find a person who could teach him.
Metusela went to the settlement which was a good distance from home. He was considered a “country bumpkin” and was ridiculed by the Arabs for wanting to learn how to read and write. Because he was so big and strong, they offered to hire him to run their sugar-cane press on the edge of the settlement. He agreed, built himself a little hut to live in and each day was spent driving the oxen which turned the mill press. But he was disappointed. Driving oxen didn’t help him reach his goal.
He persisted asking about it and finally the Arabs told him that there was an older man, employed by them in one of their other shops, who knew how to read and write. This man lived down the road a bit and that if he waited on the path near the big mango tree he would be able to see him as he came to work and ask him how to learn.
The next morning Metusela was by the tree bright and early. He mainly saw some women bringing fish and sweet potatoes to sell at the market and a crippled elderly man hobbling along. He didn’t see anyone who looked like he was “educated” enough to know how to read and write.
Being a good Sukuma man, he greeted everyone coming by. Being a good Sukuma man he didn’t draw out his greetings to the women. Being a good Sukuma man he greeted the men with the customary detail. “Good morning… Are you well… How are things at home… How are your gardens… How are your cattle… etc.” He greeted the old crippled man the same way.
But there was something different with this man. He was carrying what looked like a book. “Do you know how to read?” he asked. “Yes,” the man replied. “Is that a book?” “Yes.” “What kind of book is it?” “It is a Bible, the Word of God.” The crippled man showed him the book which, of course, meant nothing to Metusela.
“Could you teach me how to read and write?” he asked the older man. The crippled man, who really didn’t have much spare time since he worked at the Arab’s shop most of the week, said “If you meet me here at this tree, at sunup each day, I will teach you.” Metusela was overjoyed. He determined to be there each day. Teaching sessions lasted for about an hour after which both Metusela and the crippled man had to leave to get to work on time.
Teaching materials? Just scraps of paper and the Bible as the text book. It was hard work but as time went on Metusela was able to grasp the principles of reading, of vowel sounds and pronunciation using the vowels and consonants. Writing was another thing. He had never even held a pencil before and he literally had to learn from “scratch” how to get the pencil to mark the letters on the scraps of paper.
While he was learning, the message of the text-book started to work on him. Yes, we know it was the Spirit of God who was drawing him and it wasn’t long before he told his teacher, “I believe Jesus died for my sins.” Now, besides being a “reader”, he was a new man in Christ. And, after all, that is why his teacher had agreed to teach him in the first place! His teacher, though crippled and working for the Arabs, was the local church evangelist! Metusela attended that local church gathering, made a public declaration of his faith, enrolled in the catechism classes and when an ordained pastor came to speak at a near-by church conference, was baptized. It was then that he took the name Metusela (Methuselah).
And an aside – Arab traders did not trust any one with their money. They didn’t even trust banks and usually kept their wealth in a covered hole in the dirt floor of their house or in the bed mattress. And they regularly counted it to make sure it was always there and to determine how much their business was bringing in and increasing their resources.
And another aside – this crippled evangelist, who could read and write, was also good at numbers. And he had been proved to be honest. And, wonder of wonders, the Arab traders entrusted him with keeping their accounts. No, he didn’t keep the money (they still kept it “safe”) but he handled the financial transactions and kept simple but adequate records. They were satisfied; he enjoyed a good reputation and the honor that goes with it.
After several years away, Metusela returned to his home area. No longer were the tribal dances his focus; no longer did he revel in the attention of the young ladies; no longer did the young men have to envy him of that attention and clan stature. Now, in humbleness and with faithfulness, he gave testimony and evidence of the change Christ had done in his life. He witnessed to all; he gathered children together to teach them from the Bible; he started a small school under the trees to teach the basics of reading and writing. In due course a group of people were meeting together to hear God’s Word and a number believed. A church was established; he became the evangelist in charge.
I came to know Metusela in the later days of my ministry in Tanzania. I had been asked by the African church leaders to care for a number of churches in one of the pastoral districts and Metusela’s church was one of them. Whenever I visited he warmly received me. We ate numerous meals of African food together – cornmeal mush, dried fish sauce, chicken and sour milk – and drank untold cups of sweet “chai”, the real African tea! It was there, over several visits, that his story came out. Others who knew him in his younger days added details they knew; all bore witness to the real change God wrought in his life.
CHRISTMAS – the Saviour was born to bring Salvation and New Life!