Friday, October 30, 2009

Why South Asia?

[My greatest worry in what I am about to say is that it may possibly offend someone (not on purpose, just due to my ignorance). I do not write with the intention to offend. I write so that you will get a glimpse into my heart--my flawed, sinful heart that God is changing little by little every day.]

So here goes:

I’m headed to South Asia in November with a small group of ladies. A country sandwiched in between India and Burma, the size of Arkansas with the highest population density in all the world. Natural disasters are frequent and devastating. Human trafficking is a major problem there. So is extreme poverty and malaria. And less than 3/10 of a percent of the people there know the forgiveness of Jesus.

There were a few things that led me to this trip. I will share just one of those today. Let me flash a disclaimer: This will probably sound silly, possibly irrational and without a doubt very, very politically incorrect:

I have a very real and gripping fear of Muslims (specifically those who want to eliminate non-Muslims).

Earlier this year I was flying with my mother-in-law to Dallas, TX and she sat across the aisle from a Muslim man about my age. As we prepared to approach the runway, the man ceremoniously lifted his Koran to the sky, closed his eyes and began chanting in Arabic. People all around us were visibly gripped with fear. No one was making a sound, they just looked from face to face to face of the other passengers. He then bowed his head very low, in between in legs, placed his Koran in the floor of the plane and began to read and chant aloud.

I had a nauseating feeling of alarm. You know how people say in moments of crisis, your fight or flight instinct kicks in? That day I learned that my natural instinct is “fight”. I immediately started formulating plans in my mind. Despite my fear, (or I guess, because of it) I had an overwhelming urgency to exchange places with my mother-in-law. She is a little-bitty thing (feisty though she may be) and I didn’t think she would be able to try to stop this man if he made a sudden move to do something destructive. She looked over at me in the middle of his outward worship (and what we thought was preparation of his entrance into paradise), and she didn’t have to say a word, Her face and the faces of everyone within 5 rows of us said all that their voices could not at that moment.

She agreed to switch places. No one was talking. It was eerie. I fly a good bit and I had never sensed universal fear on a flight like I did at that moment. (And I have been on a plane that lost all power and had to perform an emergency landing—and that was NOTHING compared to this!) I was in a cold sweat. The man was the only person that was within my sight that did not look completely panicked. He looked straight ahead. He was calm. Stoic. Focused. I checked and he did not have on a wedding ring. No family, I thought, Nothing to come back to. That makes the sacrifice a little easier. The cold sweat was joined by queasiness.

He continued to repeat those actions--staring, then praying, then chanting, then reciting--over and over again.

I knew someone had to do something, so I just started talking to him. Actually I was blabbering like a crazy person. My motives were entirely survivalist-based: Keep him occupied so that he cannot think about what he may be about to do (and so he cannot reach for that book-bag that he has not let move an inch from his legs). We begin to take off, and I am still just yakking away. I talked and talked and talked. I asked a billion and two questions.

The flight attendants tell us we can remove our seatbelts. Still talking. Refreshments were served. Talking. Turbulence. Talking.

As we continued to talk my motives began to transform into more of a egotistical/ humanistic approach: This is going well. You will be able to show him that all of us westerners are not the hedonist apostates that we have been painted to be. Show him that we, Americans, are not as bad as he has been taught that we are.

But after two-and-a-half hours of talking--as we began to prepare for landing (and I realized that he was not in fact going to commit suicide and kill all of us)--I had fully encountered his human side. And once that happened, all of my flawed preconceptions had undergone a major shake-up. As simple (and obvious) as it may be, I fully recognized his humanness. The fact that he is God’s child, just as much as I am. He is loved just as deeply and desires peace, forgiveness and restoration just as much.

I had forgotten that as a Christian.

It is not easy for me to forget that people like me need Jesus, but I think I had lost perspective that Muslims have those same needs. They have a soul, just like me. They too are dearly loved by our heavenly Father. And in the same way He desires "us" to come to a knowledge of Him, He desires to know "them" intimately as well.

It is one of those things that I think a lot of us know in our minds, but when we really look at the condition of our hearts, we do not have the same compassion for them as we do other people. Somewhere along the way, we have decided that they are just our enemy, not our neighbor that we are called to love more than we love ourselves. On that flight, God changed my heart from the former to the latter.

I talk to a lot of strangers, but that man made a impact on me that has been etched in my mind ever since. I can't shake him. I still carry his card in my wallet and pray for him every time I see it. Over the past year, my mind has literally been flooded with thoughts of that experience. It was that monumental in my life.

From that moment on, I have prayed that God would change my heart for the people who practice Islam. That my heart, which had become hardened with fear of a group of people, would continually be transformed to a tender heart of love and compassion towards them. That I would see them for what they are, individual children of God that He longs to be reunited with. And when I look into the face of any Muslim that I would think about the man that I met on the plane that day.

A few weeks ago I learned about an opportunity to travel to South Asia with a group of ladies to work with Muslim women and children. At first I resisted, but then I felt myself being gripped by the same feeling that I had on that flight to Dallas. That same urge to get up and go; to reposition myself (whether that means changing seats or countries) and going where other people may not want to go to do things other people may not want to do. To just talk to strangers and hopefully show them the kindness of a Sovereign God.

So that is what we are going to do.


Aunt Donna said...

Your blog touched me in so many ways. I no longer am going to say that God sent you to just our family, he sent you to everyone you come in contact with. I am so proud and honored to call you my niece.

Michele said...

Amazing Stephanie. I'll be praying.

Emilie Smith said...

This is such a neat post Stephanie and you're just the coolest thing : ) I am praying for you! love you!


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