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Dead Sheep in the Back of the Car

FPC member Sally Swanson has written the following article about partnering with our Afghan refugee families to celebrate Eid al-Adha. The Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. In Jewish and Christian tradition, Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac. In all three religions, God, seeing Abraham's willingness, stays his hand at the last minute and provides a sheep for the sacrifice.

After a less than triumphant quest on Tuesday for sheep which would fulfill the needs of the four Afghan families that we sponsor, we tried again on Friday. This time the two Amish farms near Sturgeon were able to supply our needs, and after the men paid the farmer, and marked the chosen sheep, a time was agreed upon for the job of butchering and bringing the meat back to Columbia for the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha, which is a high holy time in Islam.

After taking the men to a prayer gathering at a hotel near the mall on Saturday morning, which was a surprise in itself for me, the adventure began. I thought the gathering might be a few of their friends, but it was several hundred folks in their best clothes praying together in a building usually used for exhibitions, and today, a large enough space to be used as a Mosque. Watching the truly loving hugs they gave each other as they exited after the service started my day off with a warm, happy smile.

Most of the talking in the car on the way up the highway was in Pashtu, so I let my mind wander a bit, enjoying the birds and green fields as I drove. Then one of the guys started playing some Afghan music on his phone for us all to hear. At some point in the song, it sounded to me like the singer was saying something about sheep, so I sang along, making up my own verse – something about “we’ll get some dead sheep in that back of the car” la la la. They all joined in and that became our theme song for the trip.

Arriving at the farm, I was surprised to find a dozen or more cars with families setting out folding chairs and picnic food for the half day it was going to take for the butchering process. I tried to just read the book I had brought so I wouldn’t have to look at the butchering. I had made eye contact with a couple of the sheep the day before, so knew that I couldn’t take a chance the they might be the ones killed. I had parked my car in a spot where I could look out into a beautiful field of horses, which worked until the car next to me moved, making it impossible to not see where our men were doing the job they had come to do. I watched, and couldn’t look away, as two of our men dragged a sheep out of the paddock, and with the help of 2 more men, flipped it onto it’s side in the grass and cut its throat. The whole time, the sheep was wagging his tail and thrashing. And I cried.

Then I thought of Abraham. When God called to him, Abraham said, “I am here,” and when God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac, he went out prepared to do that. He had the knife ready, and was only stopped when an angel told him that God was testing him. Even as I write this, tears are forming in my eyes.

When our Afghan friends celebrate Eid al-Adha, they slaughter a sheep, totally focused on the job, and give part of that meat to poor and needy and clap their hands and sing with wild abandon something that sounds like “There’s a dead sheep in the back of the car.” What a gift it was for me to be able to be a small part of this celebration!

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