Soran had many years of teaching the local language to foreigners under his belt and was influential in his community. His intelligence was only surpassed by kind-hearted life experience and wisdom. He showed great acceptance and patience in his interaction with people, whether the person was well known in society or a small neighborhood boy, playing with cars in the dirt. His gentle, simple lifestyle was inspiring and infectious to others. We cared for him deeply. Still do.
You cannot spend the entire morning, four days a week, for nearly two years, around the same kitchen table, sharing life together as students and teacher, without growing to care for one another.
There were occasional shared meals together after class in our home or his, with his sweet family. My husband walked ten miles roundtrip—in dress clothes— on a day of nationwide protests to attend the wedding of Soran’s daughter. Soran attended the grand opening of our business, sharing how pleased he was that students he had invested years in were trying to create jobs and teach skills to help his country. We felt so honored that he came.
Soran was a follower of the local religion. In a place where every aspect of life is intertwined, culture and religion cannot be separated. What is believed about God and the world affects everything someone is and does—not only major decisions, but every aspect of daily life as well.
A common saying is, “To be from that country is to follow that religion.”
“It is who we are.”
An ancient way of life unifying an entire region of the world, for thousands of years.
The traditional way of saying hello is an identifying mark of the country, culture, and religion. It is also a common greeting, no matter one’s beliefs.
There is, however, another way to greet someone. And it is not often used carelessly, as it indicates deep life changes. This hello identifies one with Jesus, the Messiah.
On one occasion we received an unexpected greeting in this way.
While it was normal for our friend Mela to walk into our home in the late morning during a language session, it was significant for her to greet us in this new way, identifying herself as a fellow Christ follower.
For a brief second, no more than the blink of an eye or flicker of a candle flame, Soran’s eyes met ours, then Mela’s. We held each other’s gaze for a moment, silently processing the significance of the new hello and the life altering announcement it was for our mutual friend.
With surprised smiles, my husband and I returned her greeting, acknowledging ourselves as Christ followers as well. The room was silent, but filled with the joy of a new, deeper connection with our friend. It’s always a privilege to love someone, but loving someone when you know you’ll be in each other’s lives forever is unparalleled.
Soran looked on, deep in thought, unsure how to respond, then deftly brought the situation into our language lesson for the day. He had been introducing new vocabulary for family relationships.
“Sister. Here is a new sister.”
Writing down the new word Soran shared, we became aware of the impact Mela’s decision was having on him. As far as we know he has not yet believed, but God continues to work in his life and we pray for him often.
From that day forward, we have also continued to pray for Mela. We all experience blessing and hardship after a life changing decision to follow Christ, but some situations are more intense than others. We wondered what the coming months and years would hold for her.
How wonderful it was to walk through a long season of life with our new sister, not only investing in her, but watching her grow, influence her own community, and share deeply encouraging time together between our two families. Whether she realized it or not, she became a teacher for us. From her we learned how believers in that culture follow Christ and how we could more effectively help while we were in her country.
We were not with Mela when she professed to wholeheartedly believing in Jesus and the desire to follow only Him. We were not responsible for it. And I’m genuinely happy to say so, because her cousin was the one who shared the story of Jesus for many years. She faithfully shared, without force or pressure, so that Mela could choose whether to believe. It was a work of God through His children, within cultural norms and family relationships, to help someone believe. He brought another person back to Himself.
No matter the location in the world, it resonates deeply in our being when we can be even a small part of someone being reconciled with their Creator. That God would redeem us and make us part of His work to redeem others is beautiful and deeply satisfying, even when life feels difficult. Experiencing life with our Creator is what humanity is meant for. To be human is to be made for this.
“It is who we are.”
©2018 Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
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“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” -St. Augustine