Anyone who’s travelled in a Muslim country will always remember the first time they heard the call to prayer. I’m sure my team will never forget the sound ringing through the city five times every day. From the minarets that surround us on every side, the “Muezzim” or singer, crys out in Arabic, “God is great. There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is his messenger.”
Few things are as indicative of the differences between the Muslim and Western worlds as the Call to Prayer. It’s a startling sign–alien and threatening to American ears–that we’re a long way from home.
But it’s not the only reminder. There are also the prayer beads that senior adults constantly move through their fingers. The coverings women wear–some so enveloped by black burkas that all you can see is their eyes; others wearing colorful head scarves with sunglasses perched on top as a reminder that in a male-dominated culture women still find a way to express themselves. I can’t help but smile every time I pass a woman dressed like that.
Street signs in dozens of different languages: Arabic, Russian, Turkish, Uzbek, English, Farsi. People of every race–blacks, whites, yellows and browns intermingle here in astonishing variety. The sound of strange languages fills the air along with the pungent smells of unfamiliar spices.
People as well from all different levels of desperation. Refugees from the endless wars of the region. Others who have fled here to escape the grinding poverty of surrounding nations. This place is the transit point for people desperate to be somewhere else. Like Casablanca in the movie, only without the romance; I’m sure romance disappears as quickly as hope for the refugees who end up here.
Then there is the continuous sound of a city that never sleeps, a hum of activity that feels as much as sounds like some great engine underneath it all.
And in this place the gospel is somehow taking root. Small signs of growth are everywhere. Fledgling groups of new believers are finding one another and discovering together that there’s hope in Jesus.
No, we’re not in Kansas anymore, but as difficult and painful as it is to witness first hand the darkness around us, it’s also an amazing thing to see the power of the gospel.