Saturday, June 9, 2012

May I be like...

     I have been reading about something I would never have the courage to do:  about an American woman who gave up a lucrative career to go and live in Afghanistan for five years.  Her purpose in going was to create and manage projects that would ultimately benefit Afghan women.
     No. That's wrong.  Her purpose in going was simply to follow Jesus where He led her and in this case, He led her to Afghanistan where she quickly learned to love the women and also, maybe more slowly, learned to share the love of God with the men as well.  It was easy for her heart to go out to the Afghan women, who are, for the most part, oppressed and beaten down, literally. It was hard for her to reach out in Godly love toward the men, who were usually the oppressors, the ones who beat the women down. Yet God loves both groups equally.
     Afghans live and breathe a very strict interpretation of Islam. It is with them from the cradle to the grave, in the market place, in the family compounds, and in their hearts and minds; it is ever-present and seldom questioned.  They know that Adam and Eve (Father Adam and Mother Eve) existed and were Muslim, just as they know they themselves exist and are Muslim; for them, this is an unquestioned fact.   This acceptance of spiritual truths makes it easy to have spiritual dialogues with them; in fact, Kate found that  it's much easier to start up a spiritual conversation in Afghanistan than it is here in America.  Religion permeates everything they do: how they dress, how they greet visitors, how men and women interact (or don't interact), how children are educated,what they eat,  what they converse about and even how strangers arrange their seating in multi-person vehicles. (Men and women do not sit on the same seats side-by-side unless they are close relatives).
     ON the other hand, they also know without a doubt that every man, woman and child in the whole world is born Muslim and that to be a Christian means that at some point, the person had to  convert away from the true faith.  For them, this is an unquestioned fact.
     And they also  know that God is kind and merciful to those who learn to obey Him just as they know that He absolutely  hates everyone else. And never do they hear that God loves them.
     So, by definition, a "good" husband in Afghanistan is one who only hits his young wife until she learns how to obey him, how to please him. In this, he is like the one he follows -he is emulating Muhammad and his teachings.
     Again, Afghanistan follows a very strict interpretation of Islam.  As Kate walked and lived among the people there, she came to realize that we are all like the one we follow.  Many times she explained, patiently, politely, and non-threateningly:  I am a follower of the Honorable Jesus.  I have chosen this way and I feel it is right.  

    Many times people  tried to get her to simply say the creed of Islam which is a one-sentence declaration of belief in Muhammad and in Allah as Muhammad presents him.  In Afghanistan, anyone who says the creed is automatically considered a Muslim and this conversion is believed to be irrevocable.  Because Kate understood  how such a declaration would be interpreted by the Afghan people, she was careful never to say it or write it.
    Still, she was often pressed to say it.  Once a clerk let Kate's application for a license  just sit on his desk while, out of nowhere, he told her to say the creed.  His meaning was clear. Unless she said the creed of Islam, she would not get her work permit stamped.   Tension built as she stated simply, neutrally, "I am a follower of the Honorable Jesus."  Other people watched as the clerk looked off into the air and reasonably, simply repeated his instruction:  say the creed.  Finally, God gave Kate the wisdom to say something humorous, everyone in the office laughed, the tension dissipated and after a few minutes,  the clerk shrugged his shoulders and stamped the paper.
    The clerk was like the one he followed.  Muhammad taught that every person - no exceptions - must say the declaration of faith and then he must learn to submit.  He must learn to say the ritual prayers every day in Arabic; whether he understands the Arabic or not is unimportant.  He will be blessed if he simply recites the words.  Once a person has made the declaration of faith and memorized the prayers, he will be presented with their holy book, the Qur'an - but not until.   And this book will also be in Arabic.  Once the book is received, it must be kept in a colorful cloth and never placed lower than a person's waist. It must never be written in and for most of the Afghans, it will never be read with comprehension.  Again, parts of it may be memorized by the children but understanding  is unimportant.
    Obedience, as prescribed by the religious leaders, is everything.
    And so in their whole society, obedience as prescribed by the religious leaders is everything - when a person walks, eats, converses, stands, or sleeps, they must be in compliance.  They must be like the one they follow.
    And so, as Kate entered into the homes of her female friends, as she sat on the floor with them and shared their salt and their bread, as they told their stories and she told hers, she saw Muhammad through them. She learned about his teachings by watching them and listening to their narratives.  They were like the one they followed.
   At the same time, her Afghan friends, who had been told that all Westerners were cruel, immoral, pig-eating beings whom Allah hates, saw her and by extension, the One she followed. Simply put: they saw Jesus in her.  They heard her narratives, which came from the Bible within her.   (Since it was not safe to carry a Bible in her hand she carried it in her heart, read it in her home or the privacy of her office).  They saw her give food and blankets freely to the poor and understood this is what Jesus would do if He were in Afghanistan (which He is). They heard her laugh and also saw her tears mingle with theirs and learned that Jesus is acquainted with grief and because of this,  His followers also respect and comfort the grieving.  They saw her respond in love to less than loving comments and actions, sometimes violent actions and threats,  and realized that even here, she was like the One she followed.
    They fully understood that if Jesus was who He said He was, then He had the right to force everyone to bow down to Him. They perfectly understood when she told about the town that rejected Jesus' teachings and how His disciples wanted to call down fire on them.  Yes!  This is right!  If Jesus is God, then He would have to be obeyed!   The town should have been burned to the ground!  Then they were astounded to find  that Jesus didn't call down fire and brimstone on this town.  Why not? If He was who He said He was, why didn't He punish them? They deserved it!!!
     They saw all stories and all of life through the lens of Muhammad's teachings. Kate saw everything through the lens and love of Jesus' teachings.  When her Afghan friends and acquaintances finally understood the teachings of Jesus, many were amazed at His wisdom and His love and would often comment on how beautiful His teachings were. They saw  His beauty as He walked among the poor, befriended the outcasts, turned the other cheek to insults and directed His listeners to the love of God - directed but did not force.
     They learned that He loved His people unreservedly and asked His followers to do the same - husbands to love their wives; parents to love their children.
     They learned that while Muhammad required widows to be remarried, the Honorable Jesus, as He hung on the cross, directed His disciple to become like a son to Jesus's mother, Mary.  He did not direct that Mary be forced into a union with His disciple  so that she could have food and clothing, the basic necessities of life. Jesus did not require women to be forced into painful marriages.
    They learned that Jesus taught the rich to give their possessions to the poor. In Afghanistan, the wealthy were feared. They were above the laws of the land and could walk into any home and demand any daughter they wanted for a wife.  They could not be refused and, even when complied with,  they could still, on a whim,  use their wealth and their power to bring much harm to the regular people, most of whom were very poor and therefore powerless.
    They were amazed to learn that Jesus praised a poor widow woman who only gave two small coins to the offering and even more shocking, they discovered  that He was not at all impressed with the rich man who made a big show of giving a lot of money to the temple.  Jesus was not impressed with wealth and He honored the poor.
   In short, they -  who for the most part could not read and even if they could, would never be able to find a Bible -  these neighbors and friends and enemies of Kate's saw Jesus and "read" His story on a daily basis. Because she was like the One she followed and she carried the words of the Bible deep in her heart so that when they "read" her life, they "read" His.  She was like the One she followed.
    And as she entered into their lives and they entered into hers, Jesus became so much more precious to her. She saw His beauty so much more clearly in this land of stark contrasts and she gave thanks to Him for allowing her to walk with Him in this difficult land, among people who were so precious to Him and who were so hungry for His love.
    And now I find myself asking God, "May I see more of Jesus' beauty and may I be like the One I profess to follow."

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