We started our day yesterday with a ferry trip to an island just off the coast that’s a favorite destination for tourists from the closed country adjacent to us. Ministering to citizens from that country is the main object of our trip and we went to the island to connect with as many of them as possible. While our team was involved in several different means of outreach, the most effective was a small display set up by our partners offering free henna tattoos. Henna tattoos are temporary and use ink made from a local plant. They originated in India then migrated into this region and are especially favored among younger women. Many of them lined up to get their tattoo and gave our team opportunities to distribute material and have conversations.
The multi-national make-up of our team makes thing interesting. We have our own group then there are several folks from the closed nation who fled their homeland because of religious persecution, a collection of others from three separate Latin American countries, and one of our partners who’s from Texas and claims it as an independent nation in its own right. I won’t dispute that but do need to point out that when he teaches refugees English and makes them place their hands over their hearts whenever he mentions his home state, he might be going a bit far. But who am I to judge? This place is so layered with history, religion, ethnic diversity and desperation that normal rules don’t apply. Especially if you’re from Texas.
One of the refugees shared his story with us yesterday, a young man from the closed country I keep referring to. He and his beautiful wife are passionate people of faith and devoted to spending their lives in service to the Kingdom. He grew up Muslim, of course, and as a young teenager went through a personal crisis when his father died. He found no help in the religion of his homeland and so drifted into Satanism, something that seems to run as an underground current in his country. His initiation included cutting his finger and writing in his own blood the numbers 666 on his membership card.
The young man followed this lifestyle for several years until he had a dream in which our Lord appeared to him. Dreams like this are common for Muslims and many of them come to faith through them. That was the case with this young man. In the dream, the Lord was dressed all in white while he was dressed in black, his normal attire. He told us that we was angry in the dream and rushed toward the Lord in order to punch him. But as he approached, the Lord spread his arms and hugged him. His black clothes turned white and the Lord whispered into his ear, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”
A few weeks later the young man walked into a small church on a Sunday morning. The preacher was giving his sermon and the verse he was using was the same one the young man had head in his dream! He had a long conversation with the preacher a few days later and surrendered to the Lord. His conversion–like the conversions of those with him–cost him dearly and he was forced to flee his homeland because Muslims there who convert to our faith are subject to harassment, persecution, arrest and even death.
His story isn’t unusual. And one of the things I’ve learned about his nationality is that they are bright, passionate, engaging people who are admirable in more ways than I can go into at this point. Another one, for instance, is a 40-year-old woman with a Ph.D. in Physics who speaks four languages. They’re all part of an ethnic group whose nation is so at odds with our own that despite educational and professional accomplishments equal to any nationality anywhere, they may never find a place to call home.
Other nationalities fill this city, too, also dispossessed by the inferno in the Middle East. Some are in camps. Others live in outlying towns. Many stay in tents under bridges and walk the streets with palms held out, begging for enough money to get by for one more day. While this city may be the hub of the refugee crisis because of its location and transportation system, it’s only a small part of what’s going on throughout the region. What began as a trickle of people fleeing persecution, economic collapse and violence has swelled to a flood tide of suffering humanity. It’s now a world-wide catastrophe, with almost every nation being affected by it. All governments, including our own, are caught between the overwhelming need of the refugees and the growing protest of their own citizens about threats to their way of life posed by refugees being re-settled in their own communities.
In the middle of all this, a fledgling community of believers of all nationalities, patiently works and spreads the gospel of the Kingdom. They know that from faith’s perspective we’re all refugees because we’ll never find our true home on earth. A few of those folks are here, in this city, and it’s a great joy to spend a few days with them.