Tag Archives: thank you

Turning Back… and Around

He has two good friends here, this American living in the Middle East.  Both of them are named Abdullah.

David left his home and family to work in this region for a specific timeframe: long enough to mess up his plans for life, but not long enough to master the local tongue.  Early on, he met Abdullah A, a young man who had been friends with many of our center’s staff and interns over the years.

They connected over sports, stories, and meals.  Abdullah’s fluency in English and general likability not only made his friendship with David flow sweetly, but also helped Abdullah to get a teaching role with Young Leaders, our English and mentoring program for youth who come from limited resources, a few months later.

One day, the Young Leaders volunteered to do activities at a center for youth who face harder obstacles than they do, and David accompanied them.  There he met Abdullah B: sensitive, caring, and incredibly loyal to the troubled youth with whom he works.  David met him again when he attended a wedding with Abdullah A, in a city a few hours from where all three of them live.  Abdullah B speaks very little English, but when one of the youth he is responsible for started knocking on David’s door, he stepped in and helped to resolve things.

Now Abdullah B and David, without sharing language or history or faith, share a deep friendship.

Abdullah A and David’s shared love for running led them to run a half-marathon together.  But this was not a usual race— their path led through the desert.

During the warmest month of the summer.

At the hottest time of the day.

Without water or any refreshment beyond what they carried on their backs.

With just a few training runs under their belts, Abdullah A and David hit the sand.  They were doing well until they neared the end of the race and encountered dunes; not only were these obstacles exhausting, but they poured sand into their sneakers.  Blisters soon punished each step.

Abdullah A said he needed to walk for a bit.  David pressed on toward the finish line, alone for his last few kilometers.

And then— just at the finish line, just before earning second place— he turned around.

He returned to where Abdullah was now running again, and they finished together.  As a win-loving athlete, who knew that the drive to compete and achieve was something he shared with his friend, Abdullah was blown away.  He kept asking,

“Why?”

And no words, Arabic or English, would satisfy his desire for an answer.

A few months later, Abdullah A led 14 Young Leaders students in training for a 10K run for charity.  David was out of town on the day of the race.  I arrived at the finish line to congratulate them, and a few were done, with a few more still on the way.  I asked the students, “Where is Mr. Abdullah?”

“He got to the finish line,” they answered.  “But then he turned around to finish the race with the boys who were behind.”

—-

I had met Abdullah B a few times, as students from the Young Leaders program volunteered with the youth in his program.  When his birthday rolled around, he invited both me and David to join in the celebration.

Coffee.  Soda.  Snacks.  Conversation.  We arrived late, but early enough to enjoy all of these before the real meal was served.  The rest of the party, all members of Abdullah B’s close family, eventually arrived; Abdullah gathered us around a table crowded with twelve different dishes and four desserts (which would be served with more coffee and tea).

“Thank you for coming to my birthday celebration,” he started.  “Before we begin the meal, I want to take this opportunity to tell each of you what you mean to me.”

I attempted to explain what was happening to David, as Abdullah thanked God for specific things about each one in the room: his wife who had impacted his life so strongly, his adorable and high-spirited little daughter, his father and mother, in-laws, siblings, their spouses, and David and me.  But as we watched the family members’ eyes shimmering with tears, the cheeks kissed and hugs exchanged, and the two Americans drawn in with the language of love… I knew my English translations were not necessary.

Yesterday, David invited friends to come and celebrate a milestone– he is halfway through his time in this city.  I’m eating dessert leftovers to be inspired as I write right now, because in addition to the homemade mac n’ cheese, gourmet burgers, and roasted veggies  that he served, we had something that brought chocolate cake and peanut butter cup cheesecake together.

It tastes as good as you think…maybe better.

Before dinner, David sat down with all of us.  “If it weren’t for you guys, I would have been home a long time ago.”

We laughed.  So are you saying that it is a good thing we helped you stay here, or are you upset with us for keeping you from turning back?

He laughed, smiling over the shared memories– really good, really hard, really shaping and stretching moments.  And the knowledge that more will be arriving.  “No, just, before we begin the meal,” he said, “I want to turn this around and tell each of you what you mean to me.”

Turn things around.

Temptation is strong to run alone.  And other temptations run stronger when we run alone: to be discouraged, to think we have accomplished things on our own, to be so focused on what we think is the reward that we miss the real prize… or to turn back.

When you upend expectations and remember the community, inspiration comes to others to do the same.  And winning becomes not a solo act, but a joining together of companions.

The pace may seem slower.  And, I am confident, the prize will be greater.

Wholistic Community– A Story of Beginnings

What significant conversations would you have, if you knew you only had a few talks left with someone?  

Seven years ago, in Southeast Asia, I visited a remote farming village with an amazing husband/wife development pair.  Spent the last 15 minutes trying to remember their names, but with limited success.

I will always remember what they taught me.

Before we went to the village, they sat me down on a weathered gray couch, and spent hours talking through:

  • the origins of humanity (delving into Hebrew translation the first three chapters of Genesis)
  • the theology behind “wholistic” community development (from the first three chapters of Walking with the Poor, by World Vision‘s insightful thinker, Bryant Myers).

These together had shaped their work with rural farming families.  The idea is that we were created to walk in shalom— more than peace: wholeness and restoration– with God, other human beings, ourselves, and the rest of creation.  We fell; and evil separated our ability to connect healthily with God, others, ourselves, creation.

Ah, but the second story… God did something to restore those broken relationships.  And as our relationship with Him is being restored through the Son, we also experience healing with regard to others, ourselves, and the rest of creation.

So on the farm, families talked about being made in the image of God (a concept shared by Christians/Muslims), and how this would impact their interactions.  My hostess tirelessly modeled caring for one another, walking from plot to plot to pick bugs off plants and swap stories with women, in a local language.   The families refused to use the prolific chemicals that made land temporarily productive but barren after only a few years.  In that way, they found an untapped market for “organic produce” nearby.  Starting with an understanding of who they are in relationship to God, change was happening in their relationships with their community, the rest of creation, and themselves.

Friends and I here asked each other the question, If you only had a few conversations left with someone, what would you want them to know?  We were full of ideas.  For me, it always comes back to the conversation on the worn couch: people made in the image of God, in perfect relationships, broken.  Unable to find restoration again, without Jesus’ reconciling presence.  A second story.

A couple of days ago, a few university students and I talked about the beauty of confidence.  Their faces, framed by scarves, shone with delight as they realized that significance is not about appearance or performance. It does have something to do with knowing who you are, and aren’t…and I realized that I am on that journey with them.

I’ve been restored to God, and am being restored to Him, others, myself, and creation. So when we talk about development of body, mind, and soul, I come as a sojourner, a co-learner.

And A & T– I did remember your names in the end– if you see this, deep thanks.