It wasn’t long before we turned to the more meaty matters of this world. It couldn’t be avoided after the Paris and San Bernardino Bombings. We would discuss the heart of the world and how sadness plagued mankind. I sat on my comfy warm couch sipping my $5.10 venti-skinny-vanilla latte, in the safety of my livingroom, and he in his base, or tank or resting while on a mission sipping his monster drink – only for me to say “you shouldn’t drink those, they are bad for you and could kill you.” He smiled, and said nothing.
Over a year ago through the wonders of social media and the cross connected world that we all share, I made a friend.
Our opening conversations were random, sometimes ridiculous, most definitely Italy cautious with a hint of curiosity, but always genuine. Every so often, events in life, both personal and global would spark up those topics of life which seems to have infected the world, and we would talk. Sometimes we would view the same and other times our answers differed according to our different worlds, culture and beliefs.
He was an interpreter in a now forgotten war and a respected soldier of 12 years who fights the battles our kids play on their video games. His fellow US soldiers carry ranks and titles we make movies about. He is the real thing. Our North American military forces have a saying that no man is to be left behind, and yet after the US shipped out of his country, he remains. His people have been left behind. They now fight a war that is worse than when the US originally stepped in back in 2001. In fact, since the election, he said the enemy today, is a very different enemy than 6 months ago. He fights for his people, and his enemy are those we read about in our news feed. “War” he said, “is very bad. I have seen enough for five lifetimes. My heart and my brain is dead.” Soon after we started talking, our conversations became listening moments and I began to learn his heart journey.
At first the subjects were funny. He’d ask questions like when he first was an interpreter, how different slang words in English confused him. Everyone’s need to use the F-word every second word made no sense when trying to translate; what did sex have to do with everything? I laughed and laughed imagining the internal conflict and confusion he must have faced only to counter with “Do you really poop like that? Squatting?!?!??”
The initial shock I felt after learning that in the Islam religion birthdays’s are not celebrated, took about a week to get over. My response, being somewhat of a birthday fan, promised him that if I ever got to meet him we were to have a cake for ever year he was born because he was special and God celebrates his being. He laughed at my absurdity, but I assured him I meant every word. Of course this would only happen once we figured out how old he was exactly, a whole other topic of conversation and educating experience of which I’m sure amused him.
We both carried a listening ear.
I’d cry about the struggle with my kids and he’d give me perspective of food, shelter, clothing, education and health among other things I take for granted. When the Russians had invaded Afghanistan, his family fled to Iran. It was while in Iran he was treated very poorly as they didn’t like Afghani people and he had talked about how his third grade teacher beat him because of his nationality. It wasn’t until he was 12 years old that upon his family’s return to Afghanistan and had lived homeless for about a period of 6 months, experiencing poverty at its worse. So again, he reminded me that they are loved. They are safe. They have a roof over their heads. They are blessed to be in a country with freedoms and hope. It was then he said something that shifted my focus and sunk deep. When he spoke, it was tenderness and care; “Jennel, I know without a doubt you love God and your heart is good. You have peace. I know this. I can feel it when we talk. Gods not going to leave your kids. Trust in that.”
There wasn’t a subject or topic that we didn’t discuss. If you can think of it, we talked about it, yes even the ugly ones……as ugly as they get. Religion. Who God is. The trinity. Evolution. What happens when we die. Child marriage. Child rape. Women in our cultures and the roles that they play in society and within the marriage. Head coverings. Wife abuse and stoning…. and many many more.
The willingness to step outside our comfort zones and debate the matters of this world, albeit mixed with his wonderment of my absurd personality and grotesquely underestimated sense of humor, This then followed with times of shock at my bluntness and flat out hyped opinionated flare for the dramatic. If i had an opinion, I shared it. Sometimes the listening was more jabs and pokes on my end to see what he would say. I’m sure there have been a few eye rolls but I think he enjoyed it. In fact, I know it. Sometimes he would say with a chuckle “in my country women don’t talk like that.” To which I would respond matter-of-factly “Ya, well block me……or deal with it” followed with a flashy toothy grin. He liked that I was a fighter. I stood for something. I didn’t give in to the masses. He too, has a problem with the masses in which direct his world’s way of thinking. We had a lot in common.
Most times the conversations were calm and in genuine friendship…..and then there were times where my pride and indignant pestering, poked at the heavy subjects of our cultural differences, while I admit they were cloaked in fear based prejudices, which tested his ever calm response….and yet he persevered with tact and dignity. He never once lost his cool. I’ve seen him cry. I’ve heard fear in his voice. I’ve heard the calm manner when he listened to my stories, but he never once lost his cool. His manner of being upset can be likened to that of a teddy bear or as my daughter would say “he’s kind of emotional and girly for a man let alone a soldier.”
Yes, my children has spoken with him. I too have met his family and spoken with his sisters, his mother, and waved to his dad. They are most intrigued with my daughters hair and often express concern for her safety because it is so beautiful and rare within their world. Again, after having spoken for about a year at this point, I understood the nature of their question and the reasoning behind their concern. I smiled and reassured them she was safe, in school and loves to play soccer.
So why am I writing about him?
He’s has changed my perspective and shifted my sight onto a more deeper understanding of who I am in Christ. Our conversations have taught me to listen, to offer understanding and most of all that we are all created equal. We all fall short of the glory of God and yet we are all created in the image of God and all seek a desire to know and be known. Christ came just as much for him as he did for me. We all have these deep recesses within our heart that define who we’re are when life demands action, we are challenged in diversity. Do we take up this challenge or do we hide in shame and have fear and assumption shape our world? Or do we ask questions? Do we get to know another’s heart journey thereby growing in our own? All these things and more I have had to ask myself and learn about my being and identity in Christ as my Lord and Savior.
If you want to know why you believe something or why you carry foundational truths, whatever that may be, then engage in friendly conversations with another whose world is juxtaposed to yours – which basically includes everyone on this planet in one way or another. Challenge yourself and get to know how to have those uncomfortable conversations.
Too many people shape their world within the confines of fear and scream truth. God is so much bigger than anything in this world, there’s no reason for fear and real truth leads to life.
Get to know those around you. Be silent and listen. Get to know the depth of yourself by standing up for your truths in conversation but staying soft in love for others.
Firstly, If prayer is a part of your life, I ask that you would pray for my friend. Without going into detail, his life makes our life seem elementary. Otherwise, if prayer is not in your daily routine, keep him in your thoughts.
Secondly, have those conversations with others and gain understanding. Life is much more abundant than when we stand stagnant, unchallenged in our own little world.
Lastly. Stay true to the truths that which define you but do so in gentleness. You might just make a friend.