The Hard Questions

and-more-minarets

It was late afternoon and the sun was slowly setting across the solid blue, desert sky. The call to prayer echoed across the city of a thousand minarets. My blonde-haired 7-year-old looked at me, her deep blue eyes serious. “Is Faiza going to Heaven?”

We were living in Cairo, Egypt and Faiza was our baby sitter extraordinaire. But she was so much more.

She was our informal language teacher, our cultural broker, our friend. And she would iron our clothes just to be kind so that we looked like we stepped out of a dry cleaner’s shop. We had been in Cairo for 3 years and Faiza was an essential part of our lives.

We loved Faiza.

Faiza was a devout Muslim and our children knew this. She prayed five times a day and faithfully fasted during Ramadan. She gave to the poor and cared for those in need. She had even gone on the Hajj to Mecca – something every Muslim is encouraged to do in their lifetime if possible, but for a woman who was a widow and had only the money she made from babysitting this was a huge sacrifice.

Faiza would arrive at our house clad in a long, plain galabeya(traditional Egyptian dress) with her hair completely covered by a white hijab, always carrying with her pita bread and crumbly white cheese known as ‘gibna beda.’ This was her lunch but my kids grew to think of it as their snack. She lived her faith out loud, praying in our living room as soon as she heard the call to prayer from the mosque down the street. She was ever patient and cared for my kids the way she would her own grandchildren.

“Is Faiza going to Heaven?” I knew my response was critically important to this little girl – and to myself. I sighed internally and shot up an arrow prayer to the One who’s always listening.

“I don’t know” I said finally. “I know that Faiza loves God very much. I don’t know if Faiza knows Jesus.”

The blue eyes continued to search mine. “But she loves God – isn’t that the same thing as loving Jesus?”

Now hear this: I believe with all my heart the words of John 14:6. They are memorized, branded on my heart. “I am the way, the truth, the life…

I believe there is one way to the Father.

But I have learned that there are many ways to the Son. God is infinitely creative in the way he draws people to his heart. Our God is not defined by nation or nation building; he holds citizenship nowhere but Heaven and extends his grace throughout the world. And so I have seen people find Jesus, find ‘the way’, through white steepled Baptist churches and through gold-trimmed icons in Orthodox churches; through Bible studies and small groups and through reading of Jesus in the Koran; through the irritating street evangelist on a busy city corner and through reading Mere Christianity. Those nail-scarred hands stretch out to us in unlikely spaces and places and we marvel at the mystery of Grace.

The way to Jesus must not be dictated by a North American construct for it is like trying to fit the ocean into a bathtub – it is far too limited.

So my words “I don’t know” were truth and honesty.

But I prayed then and I pray now for the Faiza’s of the world — those zealous for God, searching for truth. And I prayed then and I pray now for the children asking these questions, questions of eternal significance.

In talking with my mom, a long-time missionary to the Muslim world, she said this: “I remember hearing the late William Miller speak about his many years of work in Iran.  One statement stood out, and although this may not be an accurate quote, it is how I remember it:  ‘We will be amazed on the Day of Resurrection to see how many will rise from the Muslim cemeteries of the world.’

The mystery of grace will continue to confound and comfort until the day when all is made clear. Until that day I will continue to pray as I grapple with the hard questions even as I continue to proclaim the name of Jesus wherever and however I can.

So I ask you now: How do you answer the hard questions? The questions of eternal significance?

 

 

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Words Matter

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In health care we have a story we call “The 71-Million Dollar Word Story”.

It involves a young man from Cuba, the absence of a skilled interpreter, and a misdiagnosis.

The man was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. He was riding around with his friend when he complained of a bad headache. He thought it was because of the strong smell of gas in his friend’s car but by the time he got home the pain was so severe that he was crying.  He went into a coma soon afterward and was transferred to a local hospital in a comatose state. The family was sick with worry as they waited in the emergency room for this man to be assessed. The word ‘intoxicado’ was used and, in the absence of a professional interpreter, it was assumed that the young man was ‘intoxicated’, had taken a drug overdose and was suffering the effects. The family had no idea this was the way the words were interpreted. Had they known they could have attested that the young man never used drugs or alcohol, that health was extremely important to this young athlete. Rather, ‘Intoxicado’ was a word used in Cuba to mean a general state of being unwell because of something you ate or drank. It was the only word they could think of to express the sudden onset of his symptoms.

The misinterpretation of this word caused a misdiagnosis resulting in an 18-year-old becoming a quadriplegic, for in reality he had suffered a brain bleed and lay for two days in a hospital bed without proper treatment. Had the hospital staff made the correct diagnosis the man would have left the hospital in a few days, on his way to college and a normal life.

This tragic event resulted in a lawsuit and if this man lives to be 74, he will receive a total payment of 71 million dollars.

Because words matter.

Words are our primary way of conveying everything from symptoms to silliness.

All misuse of words doesn’t result in tragedy. Sometimes the results are humorous. Like when Pepsi translated a “Come Alive! You’re the Pepsi Generation!” ad into Chinese it was translated literally as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. Or when the “Got Milk”  campaign was adapted for a Spanish market, the phrase was understood as “Are you lactating”.  And then there was the more personal time when my friend called a Pakistani man a laxative instead of by his name – just the slip of one sound resulted in a not easily forgotten faux pas.

Because words matter.

Those of us who work across cultural boundaries understand and experience this on a daily basis. From asking for juice at a local grocery store to communicating during emergency situations, we need our words. Words are something we miss most when we first arrive in a country. We know what it is to struggle to communicate, to struggle to find words.

Most of all, we long for words to communicate the gospel story, long to put words together to form sentences and thoughts that have meaning; life-giving, God-breathed meaning.

There’s a well-known story in the New Testament where Jesus used words, words to convey living truth to a thirsty heart. He used words that confound and challenge, attract and puzzle. He used words with a woman who was culturally from a completely different background than his own. He communicated across cultural barriers and boundaries to a woman at a well who was just getting water, a normal part of her every day life. Jesus used words to change a woman’s life.  He used words to change hearts and ultimately an entire community.

Every time I tell the story of the 71 million dollar word, I am challenged anew. For as big and as tragic as the 71 million dollar word is, there are many times when our words have eternal implications that go beyond lawsuits and tragic life events.

Words matter. And so I work to use words in a way that brings hope and life to thirsty hearts.

How have you used words in the past week to bring life to the community where you live? Have you longed to use words more effectively lately? Join the conversation through the comments.

Marilyn Gardner – grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

 

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Boxing Match. with God.

I feel like we’re in an epic boxing match with God right now.

And he’s the one most definitely winning.

It’s as if we’re stuck living a bad version of Groundhog Day, the cycle of hope and disappointment playing out in a thousand different scenarios.

It goes a bit like this:

  1. We think God is moving in an area or situation. Circumstances shift to underscore this possibility. And, so . . .

  2. We pray. We get excited. We begin to think, “This is it–the realization of the Dream, the purpose for our lives, the plan God’s been orchestrating all along.”

  3. We taste hope and get drunk with it–  in finances or career, ministry, business, or relationship.

  4. The anticipation rises and gloriously carries us for a few days, until

  5. WHAM! Knock-down, drag-out, smack-down. The opportunity wasn’t at all what we thought. The position got given to someone else. Another donor had to drop us, oh, and the air conditioner just broke. The magazine didn’t like my writing. The ministry already has enough help. The business idea didn’t make any money, after all.  A well-meaning soul hands out gut-punching criticism.

And just like that, we deflate. Hope gets the wind knocked out of her, and we find ourselves on the mat, head spinning and nose bloody, wondering what in the world just happened to our dreams.

But, there’s still some fight left in us, we tell ourselves– at the beginning, at least.  There’s still some fight left.

And, so, we regather. We shake our heads and stand back to our feet, positive that that last experience wasn’t really “it,” anyway, and that God needed to make us stronger with that one, in order to give us this next one. 

But, in the sport of boxing, a fighter only has to taste three knockdowns before the match is called a TKO.  A body and a brain can only be pummeled so much, I guess.

Trouble is, it feels like suffering only three would be a vacation– an experience similar to lounging on the beach sipping little drinks with umbrellas.

Because what we are learning about this cycle we find ourselves spinning in

of hope, expectation, disappointment, and discouragement,

is that it can eventually begin to affect an outlook, a personality, a trust, a person’s ability to hope in the first place.

Because, really, how many times can a fighter get back up?

How. many. times?

Apparently, at least one more.

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Fighting anything lately yourself?

Related Posts: on Feeling Hammered {video of my kid battling waves}, on Depression, on Culture Shock/Culture Pain

 

*from the archives of Laura L. Parker, former aid worker in SE Asia