One of the privileges of living in the city of Moyale is getting to discover the secrets of the town; finding the hangout places, the hidden restaurants that serve the best chai, or where to get Oreos – but my favorite is what we came to call “The Shadow Market.”
Arriving in Moyale, we immediately noticed the dress code among women. They wear what are called shibs; beautifully and vibrantly colored dresses. We quickly started asking how we could buy our own shibs. We learned that we first needed to buy the material, then find a seamstress who could sew it for us. So began our hunt.
Deeper and deeper into the city we wandered until we found the main market. We scoured the vast array of shops until we discovered a narrow pathway leading to a closed-in square. Everything was draped in shadows from the tarps and bags they had set up to make a roof over the booths. As we ventured in, our eyes were not able to take in all the colors and different materials that lay within the magical cave.
We started browsing the hundreds of materials, when suddenly, all these young girls surrounded me and began chattering excitedly, grabbing different fabrics and holding them up to me saying “beautiful, beautiful.” They were so young, yet I felt they knew so much more than the regular thirteen-year-old. They helped me pick out the perfect material and one of them ran off to get it sewed for me.
I tried talking with them as I waited, and soon, they had me seated on a stool with nine kids gathered around me, attentively staring and listening. As they grew comfortable with me, they began asking questions: Why was half my hair in dreads? Was I famous on TV? Why were my arms darker than my legs? I answered as best as I could, and soon we were all laughing.
One of the girls in particular stood out to me. She carried herself confidently and her English was perfect. She addressed me almost as if I were her test subject, and I could tell she was trying to figure out why I was here and why I was spending time talking to them.
Her name was Malia. When I asked her how old she was, she crossed her arms and smirked at me. “How old do you think?” she said. I answered that I thought she was 17. She had just turned 13. I began directing more of my questions to her and we talked on a more serious level, discussing dreams, families, cultures, and government. She was so smart and I was constantly on my toes trying to keep up with her wit. Every girl I asked said they “want to work here, selling dresses like my mother.” It was all they knew. But not so with Malia.
Malia wanted to be a journalist and leave Ethiopia and study in Europe. I have never seen such a look of determination when a child talked about their future. She wanted to share stories of her country and what life is like for an Ethiopian Muslim girl. She also wanted to discover what her “soul was searching for.”
She kept referring to her future studies as a “pursuit of truth.”
As I asked about her beliefs, she replied her faith was in Allah and in the prophet Muhammad. She said it was what her parents had given her to believe; it didn’t feel important to her. We talked about the Gospel, which she actually knew almost inside out, but she didn’t understand when the bible talked about the Holy Spirit and what “it” actually did. I told her what role the Holy Spirit played in my life and she looked at me very skeptically. I was getting excited and wanted to start preaching to her, but I felt God telling me to wait. I asked Him what he wanted me to do and I felt like He was telling me to just love on her. So, I changed the topic and kept asking her more questions about herself. I could tell she was surprised that I cared.
I continued going back to the Shadow Market over the next weeks. They were so hospitable and generous every time I visited. They were so proud of having a white foreigner as their guest, it became an amazing opportunity to share His love.
One day I returned to find that Malia had gone to Nairobi for school and would not be back before I left. It was so heart-breaking to realize I could not say goodbye or further encourage her in her pursuit of truth – but God reminded me that He wasn’t done with Malia.
Earlier on the day that we discovered the Shadow Market, I prayed that I would find a ministry that I could not only plug into, but one that I would really love doing. When I was seated the first time, looking at all the beautiful young girls, I knew I had found exactly what I had asked God for. I feel like everything that happened in the Shadow Market took place so the next team that goes to Moyale will further water the seeds that have been planted. God has given me such joy and peace with leaving Moyale because I know that it will not be long until more foreigners are talking with those same girls. I pray that the next team that goes will further discuss and encourage those sweet kids and draw them closer to understanding the love of the Father. I can’t wait to one day hear the testimonies from teams that decide to venture beneath the tarps and into the Shadow Market.
I believe God wants the Shadow Market to be a place of light, a community of believers that shine Jesus under the tarps of their stalls, in their homes, and amongst their family. I believe God is going to be calling those young girls out into incredible things. And I believe that in their pursuit of truth they will be guided to the path that leads to relationship with God.
Author: Bronwyn Crowe, USA
Fine Art: Hannah Mansfeld, USA