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A blazing sun beat upon the desert sands, painting strange images across an overheated horizon. A lonely figure walked with determined step along a trackless path toward his destination. His loose brown pullover shirt, his tan pants, his sandals seemed out of place in the desert. Only his desert headgear seemed to fit the scene. He was humming a light tune as he walked briskly along, looking here and there as if for something to distract him from the monotony of the barren wasteland.
Off to the right a young lamb staggered along the top of a dune, confused and obviously lost. The man walked toward the frightened animal, bent down, cuddled its head between his hands, and rubbed its ears gently. The animal didn't resist, merely looked up at him as if pleading. Picking up the lamb, he placed it on his shoulders, and continued on his way.
Hills of sand stretched endlessly on every side. How could anyone find his way in such a place, with no reference points? But the wanderer pushed on, knowing precisely where his steps were leading as if he had lived here all his life. Over one more sand dune, then another, and finally in the distance, an oasis: tall palm trees shooting majestically from the sand, tents spread like giant mushrooms around a pool of cool water that glistened like an emerald in the setting sun.
An old man sat pensively on an Oriental rug before a fire, with legs crossed, smoking a water pipe. His face was thin and taut, his fingers gnarled and tough like leather. The stranger approached him, and bowing, greeted him in Arabic, "Salaam aleichem, my friend. My name is Joshua. Wandering through the desert I found this lambwalking aimlessly. I thought it might belong to your family, so I am leaving it with you."
With that, Joshua took the lamb from his shoulders and placed it on the ground. The lamb spotted a little girl about nine years old and immediately ran over to her. The girl noticed it and screamed in delight.
The old man turned toward Joshua, eyed him critically, looking deeply into his eyes, and introduced himself. "My name is Ibrahim Saud. These are my family," he said as he proudly motioned with a sweep of his arm toward the hundred or so people milling around the camp. "I am grateful to you for bringing back my granddaughter's lamb. It is her pet and has been lost since early morning. She has been crying all day. I would be honored if you would stay and eat with us. It is getting dark, and the desert is treacherous. Sleep here for the night. It will be safer."
Children were walking timidly toward Joshua from different directions. When he noticed them, he turned and smiled. Gradually they walked over and surrounded him and the old man.
Speaking in Arabic, Joshua asked their names. The girl who owned the lamb told Joshua her name was Miriam.
"That is a beautiful name," Joshua told her. "It is my mother's name."
"Is your mother beautiful?" the girl asked as she kept stroking the lamb in her arms.
"Yes, she is very beautiful," Joshua answered.
"Where did you find my lamb?" she asked. She eyed Joshua from head to foot, noticing how different he looked.
"Not too far away, just over that hill and the next one beyond," Joshua responded.
"Was he looking for me?" she continued.
"He was looking everywhere but could not find you," Joshua reassured the girl, to her delight, then continued, "Couldn't you tell how glad he was to see you?"
"Yes, he means more to me than anything in this world," she told him. "He was my birthday present. My grandfather gave him to me."
"Isqar, your look tells me you have a thousand questions to ask me," Joshua said to a boy who kept staring at him.
"Yes," the boy replied, surprised that the stranger knew his name. "Where were you coming from, and where are you going? People don't just wander around the desert. The nearest bedouin family is miles away from here, and you aren't one of them."
"I am just passing on, stopping here and there wherever I am welcome," Joshua told the boy.
"Where are you going?" the boy went on.
"Visiting places I remember from long ago," he replied.
"From long ago?" Isqar said, surprised. "You're only a young man. How could you have been here long ago?"
Joshua laughed. "I may be older than I look."
As Joshua continued talking to the children, a wiry young man whose face was bronzed and wrinkled from constant exposure to the sun approached the old man.
"Father, that man is not one of us," he blurted out angrily. "He's a Jew. How can you show kindness to an enemy? How can you share with him our family hospitality?"
"My son," the old man said calmly, "I don't know he's our enemy, and he doesn't look very Jewish to me, though I suppose you are right. His accent is Jewish. Do you have any reasons that would convince me he is our enemy? He did return the child's lamb. He did not even ask for a favor in return. When you grow as old as I am, my son, you will see things the young cannot see. This man is not an evil man, nor is he an ordinary traveler. Allah walks in his shadow. As soon as I looked into his eyes, I saw the presence of God."
"In a Jew, Father?" the young man protested.
"Allah does not see Jew or Arab," his father answered. "We are all formed by the hand of God, fashioned in God's heart. Whoever opens his heart to His goodness, Allah blesses them with His presence. And this man is close to God. There is no evil in him. It is when we hate we drive God from our heart, and become like broken tools. Then we begin to do the work of Satan. Now, go, Khalil, my son, and leave me in peace. Your anger troubles me deeply."
Others in the family, just as curious as the children, began to encircle Joshua, asking him all kinds of questions. They were all wondering what a Jew was doing wandering the desert full of Arab bedouins.
Joshua took their questions good-naturedly, laughing at their last concern. "I walk through the world as a pilgrim. I have no hatred in my heart. I see a child of God in everyone I meet. My innocence threatens no one. Where I see hurt, I heal, if the heart is open to God's healing. Where there is no room for God, I walk on."
"You're a strange man, pilgrim," one man said. "Where are you going?"
"Passing through," Joshua replied, "wandering through places I remember from long ago, remembering the events that happened here."
"You are heading in the direction of Jerusalem. To visit Jews?" the man continued.
"To visit whomever I meet along the way. To bring God's message of peace," Joshua answered patiently.
"Do you think people will listen to your message of peace, pilgrim?"
"Yes, people want peace. Only sick people thrive on hate. Someday, however, when fathers learn to love their children more than their hatreds, then peace will come."
Khalil overheard Joshua's comment but said nothing, merely smirked cynically.
Miriam's lamb left her side and walked over to Joshua and started nibbling at his toes, which were exposed between the sandal straps. Joshua bent down and picked up the lamb. Everyone was surprised that the lamb took so easily to a stranger.
"See," Joshua said, "the lamb makes no distinction. Neither does God." The animal relaxed in Joshua's arms.
The old man had been listening to everything that transpired, and smiled as the lamb fell asleep in Joshua's arms. He called out to his wife, who came immediately.
"My husband, you called?" she asked.
"This stranger has found our child's lamb," the old man said to his wife. "Prepare a place for him at supper. He will be our guest tonight. Prepare a bed for him as well. It is not right that we send him out into the darkness of the desert."
The woman shot a furtive glance at Joshua, who was watching her. She left and disappeared into one of the tents, with some of the women following her. They were all curious about