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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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Mohammed is Greater Than Jesus?

Posted by admin in April 8th, 2009
Published in faith, missions

“Monkeys will fly out my nose before I go there!” I was very serious and very firm with Daryl. He’d made an agreement with UNESCO and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education that he’d bring a team of academics to Kabul for university faculty training by March 2003.

“You know I can’t go to a Muslim country. And from everything I read about Kabul it is total chaos there. No! I’m not going. And that’s final!”

He knew I meant business because my arms were akimbo. That always means: final word.

Stupid Terry Mitchell. Daryl made an announcement at one of the IICS Vision Conference sessions (www.iics.com) that he was looking for folks to go with him to Afghanistan. I usually like Terry Mitchell, but after the session, I was standing too close to him ‘cause he started talking to Daryl about how much he wanted to go to Afghanistan and how much he loved Afghans and to count him in and that he was really excited about the opportunity and somehow the Holy Spirit, which was supposed to be on Terry Mitchell, spilled over and hit me! It was almost involuntary and I found these strange words coming out of my mouth, “Well, I’ll go if Terry Mitchell goes.”

And that was that. Suddenly I was in love with Afghanistan. Couldn’t point it out to you on a world map, but I was madly in love with the country. (Warning: don’t stand too close to Terry Mitchell or anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit). So by the fall of 2002 we had our four-person team lined up and we all started getting ready for “Afghanistan March 2003.”

Before we even arrived in Kabul we knew we were heading for a mess. We flew from Dubai on Ariana Airlines (Afghan Air). The plane was an old Pan Am 707. (Remember, Pan Am went out of business in 1991). The seatbelts still had the Pan Am logo on them as did the plane’s seat covers. Oh, and I need to mention here, two thirds of the seatbelts didn’t work— including mine. The plane had seats missing. Those that remained were broken; the backs wouldn’t stay upright. If a passenger stood up, the seatback would fall forward. We shared the flight with livestock and saddles. Okay, are chickens livestock?

We landed among debris at the airport. All along the runway there were crashed aircraft, old machine parts and things that were burned beyond recognition. Welcome to Kabul!

One of the things the team agreed to was that we’d obey the laws of the land. We four are all evangelical Christians with hearts for winning souls. We all believe that Jesus is the only way to God. There is salvation in no other name under heaven or on earth. But Afghanistan’s government made it clear we were not to proselytize. Fair enough. Afghanistan needed help and holding these faculty workshops for university professors (some hadn’t been in a classroom in 25 years) was our cold cup of water in Jesus’s name—even if we couldn’t speak his name it was right for us to go and help.

People often ask me, “What good is it to go to a country where you can’t share the Four Spiritual Laws?” And believe me I’m what CS Lewis called a “Hot Gospeler.” I love evangelism, but evangelism isn’t the only thing that brings glory to God. A good housepainter if he does his job well and worships Christ as he paints is still bringing glory to God. A new mommy that is nursing and changing her baby’s dirty diapers, if her focus is on Jesus—that brings glory to God. Because truly, in the life of the Believer, there should never be a separation between sacred and secular. There is no bifurcation in the Christian life. Whatever we do in word or deed we are to do it all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks. So our little four-person team was willing to go to Kabul and hold workshops and in-service training sessions and give of what knowledge we had to the Afghan faculty members even if we were never given a chance to preach the gospel. Our going was more about obedience and serving others than a head count of souls won.

So we went. And we taught. And we prayed. And we asked the Holy Spirit to help us give to these war-torn, exhausted and weary colleagues something of value. Every day we asked the Lord Jesus to guide us, anoint us and to let us smell like him. We wanted to be the fragrance of Christ in those classrooms.

So we all agreed: no evangelism, no proselytizing, no hidden agendas. The team went to Kabul knowing we might not have an opportunity to share our faith. Workshops, seminars, and interacting with faculty were all ministry to us, even if Jesus’s name was never mentioned.

The final week I was conducting a workshop on philosophy of education. Right in the middle of my presentation a creepy, bearded, turbaned man stood up (some of the Afghans had warned us that those men who still wore beards and turbans were usually Taliban sympathizers) and said, “Dr. Teri do you believe in Mohammed?”

Well, I paused and tried to think of a win-win response. “Of course. Everyone knows about Mohammed. He is a historical figure with…”

The man interrupted, “No! I mean do you believe he is the prophet of Allah?”

Uh oh. Faculty heads went down. No one looked around. It felt as if it was just the two of us in that room.

“Well, I defend your right to believe that,” and I tried to steer the conversation toward democracy and freedom of speech. But this dude was persistent.

He shouted at me “Do you follow Mohammed or Jesus?”

“Uh…Jesus. In fact Jesus Christ is my very best friend!” It’s a line I picked up from Daryl. You see I thought if this guy believed I was a mental case, he’d leave me alone. I mean who can be best friends with a man who has been “dead” for 2,000 years? Right? Didn’t work.

“Mohammed is greater than Jesus!” he barked.

“Okay,” I responded.

“No! Say it! Say that Mohammed is greater than Jesus!” his face was dark and his eyes very narrow. He was shouting and leaning forward. He was, well, scary.

You know that passage in the Scripture where Jesus says if we deny him he’ll deny us? Well, that, with some other stuff, was rolling around in my head. You see I don’t mind dying for Jesus, but living in a filthy Kabul prison—that would be really tough on me. I have bleach under every sink in my house. I like clean. I like tidy. I like to be comfortable. Death, hey, no problem. Life in a dingy, stinking, cell? Hmmmmm.

Anne Lamott says there are only two actual authentic prayers: “Help me! Help me! Help me!” and “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!” I was chanting the first one silently.

My ears were hot which meant my face was red. My knees were knocking, but not too visibly under my long tunic and trousers. I was not going to deny Jesus. But was there anything behind door #3?

Now in preparing for this trip to Afghanistan I had done a bit of studying about their culture. They are a very familial people. They also have a long history of honoring the elders of their communities. So, and I believe with all my heart it was God ‘cause I wasn’t thinking too clearly, I asked radical screaming guy, “Do you have a grandmother?”

He was so surprised by my stupid question that he actually took a step back and sucked in air. “What? Of course I have a grandmother. Well, she’s dead. But I had a grandmother!” His face was scrunched up and he looked a little confused.

“Did you love your grandmother?” I asked

Folks were starting to peek out from their bowed heads just to see what was happening.

“Of course I loved her! What do you mean?” he replied.

“Well, if I said those words you are asking me to say it would break my grandmother’s heart! Do you want me to break my grandmother’s heart and bring disgrace to her?” I paused just for effect because I knew I had him. So I continued…

“Is that what you want? You want my grandmother to suffer? Because if I say those words you are asking me to say that would break her heart and bring disgrace to my entire village.” (Okay, so I live in Lenexa, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City—I think I have the right to call it a village).

“Uh, uh, no!” he stammered, “You’re twisting my words. That’s not the point!” his voice was softer, I could see he had taken a direct hit.

Suddenly, the oldest member of the faculty raised his hand. This was the most respected man of the entire group. Out of the 130 participants, probably half were his former students. He was in his mid 70s (a miracle in itself knowing Afghanistan’s history), with beautiful white hair and he wore a hand-knitted skull cap that looked a lot like a halo.

“Dr. Teri, may I say something?” he asked.

In my head I was thinking, “As long as it is not ‘Kill the White Woman.’”

“Sure,” I answered.

In the room was a collective sigh of relief. They knew this old professor. They trusted his wisdom.

“Mohammed taught us that Jesus was a great and wonderful teacher. We know that Dr. Teri is a follower of his because she too is a great and wonderful teacher. And to be quite frank, my son, even our own prophet Mohammed would not ask Dr. Teri to say such a thing. You see, the Koran teaches us that God will reveal himself to anyone who seeks him whether that be in a mosque, a church or a temple.”

He paused, “May I write that verse on the board Dr. Teri?”

I handed him the marker. He wrote it in English, Farsi and Pashtu.

Just when he was finished the bell rang and everyone rushed the door heading for lunch.

Except four men who waited nervously for the classroom to empty.

Then they asked me, almost in a whisper, “Dr. Teri, we have always wanted to learn more about Jesus. We have always wanted to know him. Can you help us? Do you have some literature, or some articles perhaps? Something that we can read to help us understand Jesus and to learn more about him?”

Terry Mitchell had brought several copies of the Gospel of John in Pashtu. They were small little flier-looking things with pictures of Jesus speaking to crowds. At first glance, when Terry showed them to me, I thought they were children’s literature. But they weren’t. They were lovely small pamphlets of the Book of John. Terry made sure each man received his own copy.

You see, I didn’t have to break any rules or any promises in Afghanistan to bring Jesus’s name into the classroom. Scary turban, bearded guy brought Jesus’s name into that workshop. I didn’t have to steer conversations, or manipulate anyone. All I had to do was show up and God took care of the rest. I didn’t bring God into that classroom. He was already there.

To my mind we don’t have to manage people in order for them to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to always take the conversation hostage or worse, befriend folks for the sole purpose of evangelism. I think it needs to be more natural than that…more organic. To my mind sometimes being an effective witness for Christ simply means doing a good job, putting my whole heart into a task, praying, being open or just showing up. I believe that as followers of Christ, we do indeed have a responsibility to tell others about Jesus. Certainly. But it starts with a focus on him, our love for him, a desire to honor him, and trust that he’ll make a way for us to share our faith. Peace.

3 users Responded In This Post

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109. ndhorton said,
April 9th, 2009 at 7:29 am

Teri, sounds like a story right out of Randy Newman’s book Questioning Evangelism. Bravo! Praise God for His ability to bring life-giving water out of the rocks.

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111. jamie said,
April 9th, 2009 at 1:55 pm

T- I love this story. It is so true. I found that quote by O. Chambers that we have had on a small index card for the past 4 years…
“The goal of the missionary is to do God’s will not to be useful or to win the lost. A missionary IS useful and he DOES win the lost, but that is not his goal. His goal is to do the will of his Lord.”

Being an effective witness to Christ is one of the hardest things to do in our society especially. Opening my eyes to the awareness of the young man or woman bagging my groceries at the market, stopping to make eye contact with the Russian tailor who hemmed my jeans just perfectly and blessing her by taking the extra few minutes to communicate my thankfulness, or instead of first and most instinctively spanking as a use of discipline beginning by taking the extra time and energy to explain why it is not okay to behave a certain way. (that isn’t targeted to anyone unapologetically or anything!) 🙂 Point being…I firmly agree with your points! Focus on Him, Our love for Him, a desire to honor him, and our will of our Lord will be done. Well said my sista!

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121. Terry Mitchell said,
April 26th, 2009 at 9:00 pm

It was a great trip as was the next one. I’d go with you back to Afghanistan or to North Korea or to…whatever doors the Lord opens.

Thanks,
Terry

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