Charles de Foucauld, Silent witness for Jesus, 'in the face of Islam'

A lasting friendship has, obviously, to be patiently constructed and to grow of itself. In Beni Abbes, and while travelling in convoy, Charles had been a 'benefactor', giving what he had (and he had 'more' for this purpose), to help the needy, certainly, but also to 'win over' the other who was, not unnaturally, mistrustful in the face of the unknown and conquering stranger. Now, alone as a European (and therefore at risk), with no extra means of support (above his own strictly limited means), Charles was, simply, a neighbour: a special and peculiar neighbour, yes, but one with no other resources than his capacity to relate and to be accepted in relation. The small 'gifts' that he continued to give to this or that person, on special occasions, were a part of the local culture determining the proper way to relate.

After some two years of limited links, during a winter of famine, Charles noted: 'Am sick. Obliged to stop all work. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I give you my soul, my spirit and my life.'26 Charles was not a person to exaggerate his sickness. And he was desperate to continue his linguistic work. He thought he was dying: alone, useless, with nothing accomplished. Having given away the little that he had, he was growing weaker and weaker. But local people managed to find some goats' milk, and saved his life. Without his awareness of the reason for it, his relationship with the people changed:

'I see quite a few people, they come to see me ...'
After visiting him, his officer-friend Laperrine wrote:
'He came into my camp on horseback, amid a group of Touareg horsemen - he is more popular than ever among them, and they appreciate his presence more and more.'
Instead of being self-sufficient, he becomes, of necessity, the one who receives. The friendship is growing because it has become reciprocal.

This reciprocity is particularly evident on the level of cultural exchange. Charles begins to realize that the common way of looking at the Touaregs in his milieu - a view that he himself had shared - was inexact. To the French colonizers, the Touaregs were 'infidels and barbarians'. Had not Charles seen them as 'the furthest off and 'the most abandoned', far from 'the faith' and with no 'civilization'! He was most surprised to discover that the Touaregs saw the French conquerors in exactly the same light!

'You possess the earth, but we possess the heavens!'27
Charles heard these things, and he came to see that they were true. But Charles went further. He spent many hours with an interpreter, Ba-Hammou, to study in detail and in depth the Touareg language and, through the language, the Touareg culture. For ten years Charles patiently continued this work, often working, as he notes with precision, ten hours forty-five minutes a day!