Lately I’ve been reading through my mission journal when I have a spare moment or two (which is less than I’d like to be honest). Today I came across something that surprised me quite a bit. For the last almost five years nearly everything I’ve done educationally and professionally has been centered on or somehow connected to the Middle East, Arabs, and/or Islam. However, that career focus is a relatively recent development. When I got home from my mission (was that really six and a half years ago?) I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. This whole Arabic, Middle East thing has been something of a happy surprise for me. Which is why I found this excerpt from my mission journal, dated 28 March 2007, so interesting:
The really cool thing [from tracting this one street]… was that we met a Muslim and had a really good talk with him. I learned a lot. For example, Muslims too believe Jesus Christ died for our sins and is the Spirit of God in the flesh. He is one of four great prophets, Moses, Muhammad, and one other who he couldn’t remember being the others, and there are something like 124,000 other prophets, but Muhammad was the last one. He said their one difference in belief about Jesus Christ is that they don’t think Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, he said they believe God has no such relationships, no friends, or children, or family. He also told us a story about the prophet Muhammad, about how every day as he walked to the mosque to pray a woman would throw dirt and garbage on him as he passed, day after day for years. Then one day she wasn’t there, nor the next day, and finally on the third day when she wasn’t to be seen he went to her home and asked if she was alright. This man used that as an example of how skewed people’s ideas of Muslims have become, that they are not all terrorists but strive for the peacefulness displayed by Muhammad in this story. I’m really very interested in learning more about the Muslim people. I have a feeling they will play a big role in the last days. I want to understand them. I think it’s impossible to hate someone you really understand, and there are a lot of people these days who hate them, and I think the key to stopping that is understanding.
(I should take a moment to clarify that from all the time I’ve spent studying Islam and talking with Muslims since then I don’t know that the statement about Jesus dying for the sins of humanity would in fact hold up with most Muslims. Also that fourth major prophet would probably be Abraham.)
I didn’t remember having written that. But there it is right there. My first real conversation with anyone about Islam. It’s kind of amazing to me. I had no idea at the time how that idea, that experience, which as a missionary was just one in an endless stream of daily significant encounters with others, would become such a big part of my life. I still believe what I wrote over eight years ago: understanding is key. So much of the fear and anger and hate I see and hear in media and people around me springs from ignorance. I feel like there’s a lot I could say about this, but I don’t want to wander too far down paths not related to the point I wanted to make with this post.
I think the point I had in mind for this is that it’s amazing to me the way God operates in our lives. While I was attending a fast and testimony meeting in Israel at the end of 2013 my professor Dil Parkinson stood up and began his testimony by saying, “It’s easy to recognize God’s hand in your life retrospectively.” Isn’t that so true? This old journal entry is a clarion reminder to me of that hand in my life.