One faithful reader of this blog is an American working as a teacher on the Arabian Peninsula. I asked her to submit a guest post as her region is in the news. I think you all will enjoy her perspective. It's a long entry, but worth the reading. At the end, you will find a list of her prayer requests. Please do intercede for her! I am grateful for her witness and labors where she is.
If you watch the news today, you’ll hear about protests and fighting across the North Africa and the Middle East. If you’ve been watching the news in the past year, you’ll have linked the names of certain countries across North Africa and the Middle East with terrorism and oppression.
But remember that the news highlights the 10% of life in these countries that is sensational and often overlooks the 90% that is merely interesting. And many of God’s most brilliant moments are hidden in the merely interesting or in the mundane, and you will never hear about them on the news.
I moved to the Arabian Peninsula in the summer of 2010 to help teach expat kids and to study Arabic, as well as to learn more about the people and culture of this region. Even though a year ago, I would never have run my finger down a list of countries and chosen this one to move to, God (naturally!) knew my heart and what I would love better than I knew myself. Living here has been fascinating and delightful, though certainly full of challenges.
One of the biggest challenges that I anticipated would be living as a single woman in my 30s in a culture that values early marriage and childbearing. Though everyone asks about my marital status and most good friends offer to help me find a local spouse, only one well-intentioned friend has reminded me that it is a shame not to marry young. Instead of being a stigma, my status has allowed me to spend lots of time getting to know my local friends. So I have found it easy to say, “Thank you, Father, for where you have me right now.”
I wish I could turn down the news noise where you are for a minute and introduce you to my friends here. Those figures shrouded in black that you might feel sorry for or—you might not say it out loud—be afraid of? They’re beautiful and stylish women who would open their homes and hearts to you and serve you milk tea until you’ll never sleep at night. They are daughters and sisters and mothers and grandmothers. They’ll talk freely about faith, because faith is the core of their lives. They’ll challenge you to articulate what you believe, and why. Their weddings, baby celebrations, work, and hospitality are a quiet backdrop to the protests and violence around them. I’ve learned to see the hearts under the veil, and I’m eager to return. I want my friends to know what I know about all that God offers them. Last night I pictured Him with his sleeves rolled up, telling me, “You all have done a good job here. Leave it to me now.”
I’ll let you in on excerpts of a few blog entries that trace my interactions with the culture here:
I hear "Welcome in -----" fairly frequently. There must be something about me that looks like I wasn't born here. Maybe the bad scarf job with the pin poking into my ear and the end of the scarf flapping in the breeze? It's probably also the local hospitality . . . and the chance for the speaker to practice a little English.
This is truly a country where almost anything goes. "Adi" ("normal") is the mantra. Did you just see a woman fall out of the mini-bus and roll on the sidewalk? Adi. See people cut you in the drive thru line? Adi. Have the man collecting your money in the drive thru tell you you didn't pay enough when you're 98% sure you did . . . because he probably pocketed the extra? Adi.
I told one of my students' fathers that I didn't desire to drive here. "Why not?" he asked me. "It's so free!" Well, yes. He is right. You don't have to stay in your lane. You don't have to use turn signals. You can go the wrong way on a one-way. Stop signs don't exist. You drive with your horn. You can nose out into traffic and people won't be surprised. Maybe that could grow on me.
It's exciting enough to be a passenger or pedestrian! You can also stop in the middle of the road and get something out of your trunk. You can walk out into the middle of traffic and expect people not to hit you (usually). You can whiz down the highway in someone's trunk, if you're small enough to fit. You can ride cross-legged on the mattress set on a truck bed—not in a truck bed, on a truck bed. I could watch him bounce. You can ride seat belt-less in the back of a taxi zooming down the road. (They actually are cracking down on seat belt use in the driver's seat and maybe the front passenger's. The taxi driver will wear a seat belt, but there may be none in seat behind him.) It's all adi.
Speaking of cell phones, I've heard that the locals use theirs regularly on plane flights. Speaking of plane flights, I heard that the local airline once had a plane that started to take off, then stopped, because the pilot realized during taxi that he was too heavy to take off. At least he figured that out before he attempted. Apparently no one had taken weight limits too seriously when loading the plane.
Speaking of ice cream, which I wasn't speaking of (but it can contribute to human overweightedness), a friend told me the other day that she witnessed a worker at the local Baskin Robbins come on shift, then pick up a plastic spoon and test every single ice cream flavor one by one down the line with the same spoon. She'd had a friend who'd seen the same thing another time. Okay, count out x workers a day on x shifts with x plastic spoons . . . That could be a lot of germiness living in those glorious flavors. Does freezing kill germs? Because I sure like Baskin Robbins. But that's adi. Everyone shares dishes here, so it probably never crossed the workers' minds that that might be a problem.
There comes a point where you really have to laugh! It's all so crazy and bizarre, because it's so unlike home. It doesn't mean that it's all wrong, though! My teacher friend pointed out that, because people tend to be more fatalistic in their mentality ("if it be the will of God"), they actually tend to be more patient. If someone stopped in the middle of traffic at home, he might see multiple obscene gestures. Here people honk, but they're not going to scream and be mad because they're missing an appointment. They accept more.
Well, I do feel welcome in -----. And I do have a lot to learn. But I'm not sure that I'll ever use "adi" as wholeheartedly as the locals . . . unless I'm laughing.
At home, I ask Father to bless my day . . . to control the weather . . . to heal the injury Bobby got playing basketball. Here I find myself asking that people I love won't die because they follow JC . . . that people who resist Truth will strangely soften . . . that people who hate and plot will start to love and forgive.
I'm not knocking my requests back home, or yours. I'll ask the same kinds of things here, because that's appropriate. But when you look giants in the face—at home or here—your faith has to grow. And here I see giants every day unlike many of those I see at home.
We drove by a cemetery yesterday, and a friend said, "Probably none of those people ever heard the [good news]." Giant giant. Please, please ask with me that all of these giants will fall.
I read in the tour book that legend says that a southern city on the AP was the site of Noah building and launching the ark. "Huh," I thought, "that's a dubious claim to fame: 'We are the hard-hearted people who watched Noah build the ark and refused to listen to his message!' I wouldn't be so proud of that."
It was a couple of weeks later (I'm a little slow) that I realized that, if that city were indeed the site of Noah's home and mega-boat construction, that meant that God looked all over the world, and the only place he found faith was here.
May he find faith here again.
There’s not space here to sum up everything—my cheeky lists of “Ways You Could Die Here” or “You Know You’ve Been Here Too Long," my homesick moments, things God has shown me, or miracles I have seen during my short stay. But next time this part of the world pops up in the news, please remember the ordinary people who live here. God is moving and shaking in this part of the world in a big way. Pray that political dissatisfaction will turn to spiritual dissatisfaction and thirst. Pray that all difficulties will make people seek and find God. Pray for righteous leadership. Pray that more people will come here to be signposts to God, even though this region might not be their top travel destination. Pray that hatred and revenge will be replaced by supernatural love and forgiveness. And pray that God’s brilliant moments—perhaps hidden right now—will shine lots of light on his name.