Sunday, May 5, 2013

Stories from Afghanistan: Fear, Love, Friendship and a Snowball Fight

Post three in my "Stories from Afghanistan" series. For the context and background, I invite you to read the previous posts in the series.

Fear, Love, and Friendship

In my work with Peace Catalyst International, one of the really important things that we do is introduce people from very different backgrounds and perspectives. We proactively create space for Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others with real differences to engage in real dialogue and to begin building real friendship.

As I ponder this bridge-building work, I am often reminded of the admonition of John, perhaps Jesus’ closest friend. John wrote that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18, ESV). The inverse seems to hold true as well in that fear appears to push out love. Thus, fear and love are like oil and water—they do not mix.

Unfortunately, I see this regularly as I encounter “Christians” who are so gripped by fear and even hatred of Muslims that they have no capacity for love. In most cases, this fear is of the baseless, irrational variety—the kind of fear we are all prone to conjure up when we cloister with those from “our tribe” and work tirelessly to cast those from “the other tribe” in the worst possible light. My Muslim friends tell me that there is the same propensity among Muslims to believe the worst about Christians.

The encouraging news is that a growing number of Christians, Muslims and others are recognizing the problem and working to overcome it—expressly by finding whatever excuses they can to get to know one another. As this happens, stereotypes are crushed, irrational fear turns into respect and even love, and people with very real and evident differences discover they have far more in common than they ever could have imagined.

In short, these very different people humanize one another, build friendship on the common ground of our humanity, and learn to talk about differences and share deep matters of the heart in the context of that friendship.

With that, I’d like to help you get to know my dear Afghan and Turkish friends in Kabul by sharing some random experiences and observations from my recent visit there. As you know if you have read previous posts in this series, the Afghan-Turk Educational NGO is a Muslim non-profit focused on education projects throughout Afghanistan, and they flew me in to train some of their teachers and to explore additional avenues of partnership.

To help you get to know my friends, I have written five brief accounts of various experiences I had in Kabul. I will share one below and will post each of the remaining vignettes on subsequent days this week. It is my hope that what follows will offer you a glimpse into the lives and the hearts of my Muslim friends in Kabul and that in some way you will see yourself in them and in their stories.

Teachers Fighting in Kabul--Armed with Snowballs

During my last week in Kabul, I awoke one morning to a fresh snow covering of about eight inches. As my students and I were beginning our early morning class session, we heard a very loud thud. Looking toward the sound, we saw the remnants of a massive snowball that had struck (and nearly cracked, I'm sure) our classroom window.

About 20 feet beyond the window stood Mr. Gurkan, a veteran educator who was co-teaching the 15-day seminar with me. Mr. Gurkan had a smirk on his face that my students, experienced educators from Turkey and Afghanistan, could not ignore.

Desperate to rush outside to respond appropriately to their challenger and yet committed to being respectful of me, they jumped from their seats, ran toward me, and all at once exclaimed something like, "Teacher, PLEASE may we go outside to attack Mr. Gurkan?" As soon as I consented, the classroom emptied into the parking lot, where a ferocious but all-in-good-fun snowball war ensued!

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