Written by Sherry
Friday, 06 July 2007 08:54
Although I really enjoy doing original research through the use of texts, nothing nurtures my heart, mind, and spirit as doing research by listening and talking to remarkable people.
This past week, I had a wonderful luxury of spending relaxed, in-depth time with several intimate friends and my sisters. This is so rare in my life these days (especially the relaxed part!) and when you get to do so in beautiful Seattle during a period of really good early summer weather - you could hardly do better. I also had the chance to make a new acquaintance via a two hour phone call with an Orthodox priest interested in our work.
Such interesting conversations that covered such a breadth of Christ's redeeming work in the world!
My oldest female friend (I'll call her "Natali") had lived in the Muslim world for a total of 25 years in several different countries. Her Arabic is fluent these days and her network of relationships incredibly broad across many cultures, so listening to her is getting a chance to get a glimpse of the experience of Christians in Muslim cultures. Natali kept mentioning "Muslim background believers" who are now emerging into Christian leadership in the middle east. These are men and women who were born and raised Muslim and became Christians as adults. They are popping up everywhere - as individuals, in families, small fellowship groups - and rumor has it - in significant mass movements of thousands in some parts of the Muslim world.
But because the cost of following Christ is so high in the Muslim world, information is strictly on a need to know basis and even when given out, is always vague and full of pseudonyms and so even someone like my friend Natali has no idea how many MBB's there are. All she could tell me was that when she first went to the Middle East, there weren't any and now you meet them pretty regularly. We had a MBB on our C & G teaching team in Jakarta and I even met a priest there who was a convert from Islam.
There are also huge numbers of Catholic guest workers (from India, the Philippines, etc.) in the Muslim world who are often treated atrociously. Natali told me of one such woman who worked behind a counter in a grocery story and poured out her story in a produce aisle - the most private place she could find. You sign a contract - without being allowed to read it first!!! - and then find yourself working essentially as a slave for pennies and no way to get out because your passport has been confiscated. This poor woman had serious health problems but had to walk for an hour in 120 degree heat every day after her 12 hour work day to receive a single dose of medicine because the state would not trust her with the whole perscription. Natali has generously helped several people like this woman before and brought her plight to the attention of some wealthy expat women who could do the same.
A couple years ago, Natali told (in a lowered voice even though we were in private in the US!) of a Christian woman (no longer living in the ME today) who had actually made Arabic Bibles available to Muslim seekers who sought her out. But because it was so extraordinarily dangerous, they had to approach her three times before she would even consider it and only if she sensed they were serious - and not a government agent - would she do a delivery in a grocery store. A woman, covered head to toe in a burka, would come to the shop with a large shopping bag which she would set down for a moment. Then, just as in a spy movie, she would pick up an identical shopping bag nearby containing the carefully wrapped Bible, complete her shopping, and walk out without ever conversing with or acknowledging its source.
Natali loves the Arab world and its people and for 25 years has lived there as an intentional witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. She told me again this time that she doesn't feel endangered or afraid living there. She brought me up to date on Muslim friends that she had described over the years. She showed me pictures of her recent trek to the Bedouin families she has known and visited for years. She had taken an young American woman, a recent high school grad on a three week tour, and there they sat, on the floor, in their Bedu clothes wearing the henna face painting given to honored guests.
Muslims are people she knows and individuals she loves. In her world, historic realities that loom so large for us - like Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, mean little. All that matters is are you a "believer", a follower of Isah? or are you perhaps a true seeker like one wise Muslim friend of Natali's with whom she prays. This woman friend attended a Catholic school and has ever since had a remarkable trust of Christians.
It was good to be reminded that there is much more going on in the Muslim world of 1.3 billion people than the highly publicized acts of terrorism that dominate our discussions in the west.