Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Salaam Alaikum

Tonight my head and my heart are going every which way. We just finished our 3rd of 6 lessons in Beth Moore's Deuteronomy series, and I needed that word like no word has ever been needed. Sometimes it just feels like, "How do I get through just today?" "What is the point of today?"

Nearly two years ago my then boyfriend (now husband) dropped me off at the DFW airport and stood at the security gates waving bye to me for what seemed like an eternity. Our first summer of dating, and I was headed for a trip without him. When he was out of sight, I was full of tears wondering how I would ever make it through TODAY.

Somehow I made it through that day, even though I'm not sure when that day ended and the next began as I was on a flight from Dallas, Texas to a layover in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My first time out of this blessed country, and I was alone.

The next flight went south and I stepped out of that plane, walked down those steps, found myself literally swarmed by the devil in a very non-blessed country in the Middle East. My first overseas experience was not only by myself. It was in a war-torn, devil-controlled, brutal part of the world. Every bit of failure creeped into me. Every bit of homesickness creeped out. And every bit of the confidence I had in those preceding months vanished the moment I felt what Satan feels like in a country where he has to fight no war to win.

To explain to you what the air not only smelled like but also felt like would not be justified in words. Stripped of everything I had known for 25 years, I was in a daze. Plus, the Americans picking me up were 30 minutes late. So I stood outside of the airport as an American woman by herself in a Middle Eastern country at 10:00 at night. I wasn't sure how I was going to make it through TODAY.

Finally, they picked me up. We went to the mall and bought me a cell phone and minutes as my American phone was of no use there. This phone was in Arabic, and to this day I look at it amazed. I named my bluetooth the word for "cash" in Arabic, and that was the most exciting thing I experienced while there.

My minutes that were supposed to last me at least 1 month were used up in 2 days. On top of that they had taken me to a local restaurant for my first meal, and I ate with one hand what I could barely stand to smell. I tried to go outside to get fresh air, but with my body wrapped head to toe and the entire country reaking of dust and spices it was to no avail. My stomach could not handle any of the food, so over a hole in the ground in the bathroom I hurled and hurled and hurled. I did not know how I would make it through TODAY.

But I did. I slept. Alot. I skyped. Even more than that.

I started teaching English the second day I was in country. I knew "salaam alaikum" and "alaikum salaam" in Arabic, and had no other words than that. I was also teaching beginning English learners. I knew no Arabic. They knew no English. I had been there less than 48 hours. They had never had a woman teacher or spoken to a woman outside of their family. I did not know how I would make it through TODAY.

Then a week of teaching was complete. I had learned to always wrap my last class up just 2 or 3 minutes early so I could get my materials out of the teacher room before the men went in for their prayers at 1.

The director of the school was always kind and brought us little snacks. I was not one for dates, the unofficial national fruit. But at that point I was so hungry that even dates were tasty. It was hard to eat them with one hand too. I have not had a date since I have left.

My first weekend all I could do was sleep. The other Americans (and the one New Zealander) and I had went out for dinner the night before. I discovered Egyptian hot dogs; I no longer starved. This place also had Fanta, so my craving for Dr. Pepper somewhat subsided. However, I could not stop thinking about eating barbeque. Possibly because I knew I would never taste it during those months.

The local shops were opening that next morning, but I asked my roommates to please let me sleep in as I was still reeling from the time zone difference and crazy heat of 130 degrees and of course the attire. Our apartment was set up so if it was locked from the outside, no one inside could get out. If it was locked from the inside, no one outside could get in. I was told we were in the safest area and they would be back soon anway.

I skyped with my sister, probably crying the whole time about the misery I was in. Then I crashed into a nap and set my timer to get up and skype with Cash a little later. With my phone laying next to me, I was in a zombie state as I dozed off.

Curled up in a ball, I was in a deep sleep. Then I felt a little nudge. Then a shake. My eyes started opening, and I saw the face of someone I had never known. And I saw a long, ridged knife inches from my face. I began to scream. But his hand flew over my mouth before a sound could come out.

Even writing this for you now my heart is pounding nearly out of my chest as I did not know if he was alone. I knew I would feel the knife stab into me at any moment. I feared other men would run into the apartment. My first thought flashed to my niece and nephew who were half a world away, and my exact thought was, "They cannot see me like this." My next thought went straight to my now husband. And all I could think was how I wanted to just go home and marry him and never be away from him.

The man flung his pointer finger to his lips and said "shhhhh, shhhhhhhh." That does not need translation. Some things are universal. I did not know how I would make it through TODAY.

It is no lie my eyes are a little larger than most. But in that moment I believe there was something behind them, in them, that this man saw. I locked eyes with him and at that moment with the power of the Almighty the look of my eyes alone gave him sense to scream himself. It is no doubt in my mind that God showed through to him, in a very real and present sense.

Then my voice. I cannot replicate its sound. My voice came out so deep and powerful to the point it shook the concrete walls of my bedroom. Without my control I shouted, "Jesus!!!!!" And then the man darted.

I began crying hysterically screaming, "Get out of here, get out of here!" At that time he was already gone. I locked all the doors of my roommates' bedrooms, the main door, and my door. I was locked into my room for the long haul and prayed to God if any man was in a different room he would die of suffocation in the heat.

Frantically, I searched for my phone. I had it right next to my head when I went to sleep. But I could  not find it. Where was it?

There sat my laptop. My purse. My wallet. But no phone.

Luckily, I had bought extra minutes for my internet the night before. Call me a lawbreaker, but I used skype (very illegal in this country) to call Cash in the States. No answer.

I called my parents. Mind you it was 4:00 am at their house, their daughter is in a foreign country, and they get a very dreaded early morning phone call. "Get on skype now. Call Cash now. Get on skype. Get on skype."

My mother was already in tears by the time they got to their computer. I was in shambles. I could barely breathe to tell the events that had just unfolded. We got a hold of Cash. My mom had to tell him what happened as I could barely talk.

Hours went by, and I had no way of calling someone in my country. Then I heard a phone ring. In my bedroom. It was MY phone, and it was hidden across the room.

That's when it hit me.

He did not come after material possessions.

I lost it. And I don't mean for 5 minutes or 5 hours or 5 days. I mean for like 12 months. I lost it.

Finally, my director and roommates showed up. They said they would not be pressing charges as it could very well lead to his word being twice as much as my word; and who knows the results of that? I chose to take it safely and not press charges either. I didn't really have a choice. I did sneak his sandals (he was so kind to take them off before he came in my bedroom) out of the country.

They asked if I would consider staying to finish out the summer. Call me a quitter. I didn't. It took me 3 agonizing days to get a flight out of the country. That flight was grueling and has had life-long repercussions of my fear of flying. I was nearly the only woman on the plane surrounded by men wearing the exact same outfit of my intruder. My 5-hour long panic attack ended with me on the floor of the plane with a European stewardess fanning me and telling me so sweetly that all would be okay. I did not know how I would make it through TODAY.

KLM is the only airline I recommend. Those ladies saved me that day. I had little to no air and my face was ghostly white. And I have not been able to sanely fly since that day.

Once I got back to Amsterdam I could freely speak, and I could speak English to most everyone. We landed in Dallas, and I walked out of the airport, fell on my knees, and kissed the American soil. My mom, sister, and niece picked me up and drove me 2 1/2 hours west to have dinner with Cash in Abilene. Then we drove 7 hours back to Arkansas. At that point I needed Arkansas. My mom. Anything normal.

Normal has never been what normal used to be.

I would love to tell you in the past 2 years I have stumbled upon something profound. Or that I gleaned this wonderful insight into a culture. Maybe that I have a great Biblical interpretation for what happened. But I don't.

Sometimes I can tell my story. Sometimes I cannot. Never until now have I written it. Never will I tell the country I went to. The country itself does not need me to hold Christianity and willing missionaries from it. The country needs Christianity in a way you may not believe. I may not be the person who ever takes another step on the soil of the Middle East, and I may not be the missionary in its fields. But if I could tell one person how deeply that world needs Jesus, and if that one person could touch that country in a way I didn't get to see come true, then maybe it was truly my mission field after all.

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Look beyond your first person footprints. Leave more than a trace. God made a purpose for you TODAY. What is it?