Living Behind the Veil

I'm often asked what I wear in Afghanistan and what it's like to wear a veil. It's freedom. Freedom to have a bad hair day, freedom to arrange my chadar to conceal the curve of my breasts and backside, freedom to not be an expatriate for a little while. It means freedom to hide even on the street from the Afghan men's eyes which seem to strip me naked.
When I relax my shoulders and walk less purposefully, less confidently, my eyes downcast and covered by sunglasses, I pass for an Afghan woman. I hear the men whisper in Dari, "Is she a foreigner or local woman?" I chuckle but am silent. On the street, I'm also a free target....freely exposed to groping, sexual innuendos whispered to me as a man bicycles by, free to have stones thrown at me, freely seen as no one's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, or boss. I step inside my gate, and remove my chapan and chadar. Now I'm someone's boss, motherhood returns to me as little steps run to greet me, and I receive a kiss from my adoring husband. Now I'm free to his loving and gentle eyes which know and enjoy my curves, free to once again be under the protective umbrella of being a wife, mother, friend, colleague, boss, niece, sister, daughter, woman.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Martyrdom is the Easier of the Two

Martyrdom is the Easier of the Two WHAT? 

Martyrdom versus persevering through risk and suffering, day in, day out, for weeks, months, and years on end.

My personal greatest fear has changed and continued to grow.  I wrote about it in a May 2018 blog post.
My biggest fear has changed since I lived in Afghanistan.  It used to be more related to just rape or kidnapping...No, my fear now is that I will not remain faithful to Him under persecution-to-martyrdom and deny Him (Matt 10:33). 
In both martyrdom and perseverance, we are called to walk with God's Spirit, glorifying Him in all we do and say.

The natural question to ask, is how do I know that Martyrdom is the easier of the two? 

Empirically, this hypothesis cannot be tested and observed and commented upon after the fact. 

Of course I don't know by experience that martyrdom is easier, but after years of reflection upon my own experience in risk, reading accounts of hundreds of Christian martyrs through the past 2000 years, and reading through various books and articles on a theology of martyrdom, it's a gentle conclusion I've come to, although neither of the two options are at all easy.

Perhaps, if some day I'm called upon to be a martyr, I'll know more conclusively and will tell you in Heaven.

However, research reveals numerous stories indicating both the supernatural strength God bestows on those experiencing martyrdom at the moment of greatest pain and adversity as well as His presence.

The end comes, eventually, usually sooner rather than later, whether being burned alive, shot, beheaded, raped repeatedly until bleeding to death - the end does come, and He gives us the strength to not deny Him.

I think of the 10 friends/colleagues martyred in Afghanistan.  When the Afghan commander came upon their dead bodies, they had such peaceful smiles on their faces he thought they were still alive.

When those Huaorani Indians involved in the killing of the 5 men - Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, the Indians (much) later shared that there were angels standing around singing.

Years later Saint heard another dramatic twist to the story from some of the tribe, how after the killing, Mincaye and others in the raiding party looked across the river and saw what appeared to be a large number of cowodi [foreigners] above the trees, dressed in white clothes and singing. Other Huaorani, at other vantage points on the mountain trail, just saw flashes of light. But everybody heard the choruses of singing--it continued long into the night. They haven't forgotten it. (1)

I choose to trust Him and not fret, but I do have to remind myself regularly of this truth. In the meantime, doing laundry always distracts my mind from anxiety.

Jesus gives us the best template for facing and going through martyrdom.
I began to read the Passion accounts through the lens of [God's] love. What was Jesus like as a person during his Passion? How did he relate to people? As I immersed myself in his Passion, I was stunned. For instance at Jesus’ seizure at Gethsemane in the space of a few minutes, Jesus protects his disciples, reaches out to Judas, offers himself, rebukes Peter, heals Malchus’s ear, rebukes the priests, in short, deflates a tense situation. He is a Bruce Lee of love. He is anything but silent and passive.
 Jesus not only eschews the Jewish way of dying (passionately cursing your enemies) but also the Greek Stoic way of dying exemplified by Socrates dispassionately drinking the cup of poison. Jesus’ third way stunned his followers. Under tremendous pressure, incredible love poured out. The young church wanted to copy that way of dying. They were seduced by it. It captured their hearts and their imagination. Paul wanted his whole life to be characterized by that kind of dying love, “…always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (II Cor. 4:10). In fact, Paul wanted to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10). (2)

Those who are martyred and remain faithful, not denying our Father and Jesus Christ receive great rewards in Heaven. And we should honor all those who have given their lives and remained faithful.

But I was surprised by what a challenge it was to persevere in faithfulness under the constant threats. My experience overseas in Islamic war-torn countries was that it was exhausting to live in risk, to have threat after threat coming in.  It was hard to not yell and scream and kick and be impatient, to hate, to get tired of compassion, to give in to the "bad culture days" and view myself as a victim.

I was never so aware of my sinfulness as during the every day tasks when fears and anxieties threatened to overtake me.  I was never so aware of the battle between good and evil in my heart and in my attitude as I interacted with an abrasive culture.

I learned to fight back against the spiritual darkness and depression, to keep eternal perspective, to see the spiritual battle waging around me at the same time as the physical battle. The battle starts in our hearts, and we wage it from the inside out as we live and share the Gospel in dark cultures and among resistant peoples. Because we never knew if we would be the next one kidnapped and/or killed, we kept short accounts and appreciated every good thing of every day.

If we had no electricity, at least we had our solar chargers. If our solar batteries were dead, at least we had candles. If the matches were used up, at least we had the moonlight and we could see it.  There was ALWAYS something more to be grateful for, and that's what kept our focus on Him and not let ourselves give in to despair.

It was the most-glorious-hardest-experience-of-my-life-that-I'll-never-trade-for-anything. 
It is this challenge, "to live for God is to die, ‘daily,’ as the apostle Paul put it. It is to lose everything that we may gain Christ. It is in thus laying down our lives that we find them. “Those who want to know him [Christ] must walk the same path with him. These are the ‘martyrs’ in the scriptural sense of the word, which means simply ‘witnesses.’ In life, as well as in death, we are called to be witnesses’ – to ‘bear the stamp of Christ.’(3) 

Pre-field CAN'T prepare for this: 

The sounds of living in risk: 
I'd get a phone call and hear the tone in the other's voice, just knowing it was more bad news.  We'd hear a bomb; we'd hear gun fire; sirens; the fearful noise of a mob chanting as they went down our street; the mosque preaching going off at odd times; 
The smells of living in risk: 
Putrifying garbage on the street corner; the dank smell of a stagnant river where children swam, mother's did laundry, and the population threw their garbage; the smells of exhaust pollution; open sewers; and the smells of death; 

The sights of living in risk: 
A fortified city; sand bags and cement barriers 20-feet tall in front of some Important Buildings; shatter proof SUV Land Rover windows; MRAPS in the middle of civilian traffic with soldiers hanging out the top, pointing their gun at anyone getting within 50 feet; Barbed wire on top of everything; closed gated communities; dark tinted house windows; soldiers and guns on every street corner; always looking for the escape route; watching people and cars who could be surveiling to attempt kidnapping; 

Over the past 2 decades of living in dangerous countries, I discovered new things about following Christ into risk and suffering and facing death on a regular basis:

As years went by, that I grew in stress resiliency.
As years went by, my faith deepened and grew, but I still daily need to remember His faithfulness;
As years went by, I have more experience of His presence in the difficult moments.
As years went by, I can reflect on the times He gave grace when I had no strength to keep going;
As years went by, I remember the times of supernatural peace even when I was most afraid.
As years went by, I experienced Christ's Body supernaturally loving each other;

As He was faithful to me in risk, I am confident He'll be faithful if I am called to suffer and be killed. 

Romans 8:17
Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

2 Corinthians 1:5
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

2 Corinthians 6:10
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 12:15
So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?

Philippians 2:17
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.

Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Colossians 1:24-29
Both the sufferings of the Head and of the members are called the sufferings of Christ, and make up, as it were, one body of sufferings.

2 Timothy 1:8
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

2 Timothy 2:10
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

(2) Paul Miller

Friday, September 14, 2018

Surviving Bombs

This post has been on my mind to write for sometime.  It's information I wish I didn't know. The carnage around the region this past week has spurred me to write about bombs.

In the modern era, there is potentially life-saving information that civilians should know especially when living in and/or working in areas where suicide bombers, car bombs, and overhead bombs are anticipated as very real possibilities.

In the case of Syria, the civilians are being trained and actively using an App developed by a former US Contractor. The app is called Sentry (1).

Men and women around Syria see an airplane overhead and type in the identity of the aircraft type (transport, fighter jet, bomber, cargo), then type in the approximately location (village), and also the direction it's heading.  Another person a few minutes later may corroborate where they see it, and then Sentry estimates the plane's trajectory and immediately sends a warning to Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, letting local sirens know as well so that the alarm can be sounded.

In terrorist attacks, every 10 seconds can save tens even hundreds of lives.

People need to know what to do if bombs are falling. Syrians have been trained to open their windows so that less glass explodes into the home or building.

I never forgot when a suicide bomber detonated just one block from my home in Kabul - the windows went convex then concave due to the air pressure changes from the bomb but didn't break.

In most of the Middle East and Central Asia, windows are single pane very thin glass.  One technique that is helpful is to place wide (2-inch) tape across the inside of the window with strong tape in an "X" to minimize the glass shard damage.

If you have more resources, there is a special type of 3M Film you can purchase for better mitigation that will withstand the blast of a suicide bomber, or even an automatic weapons attack.  The 3M Safety & Security Film video below can be found at this link  to see how it works. 

Syrian children know to curl up into a fetal position under their school desks if that is all they have time for, but better to get to the basement. The Sentry app is helping hospitals prepare more quickly and people run to safety when barrel bombs fall.

Apparently, someone (Russia? Syria? USA? Turkey?) drops barrels filled with shrapnel, causing a wide amount of human, animal, infrastructure, and ecological carnage.

(This website discusses the barrel bomb image below).

In Afghanistan, there is a particularly vile approach.  Often a suicide bomber - person or car will detonate in an area. DON'T GO AND HELP...YET  The secondary suicide bomb is planned to kill even more.

Just this past week, the secondary bomb went off sometime within the 1st hour after the 1st bomb, killing even more than normal. (2)  I've never heard of the secondary bomb going off more than an hour after the first.  To my knowledge, there hasn't ever been a third bomb...yet.

Read this story to learn about the sad death of an amazing Afghan journalist this week in the secondary suicide bomb.

Our children were trained to not pick up anything from the street.  Evil people have booby trapped pens, dolls, shiny objects, things that attract children's attention.  Children and adults are trained to never go outside of the mine-cleared areas.

In Turkey, when a bomb goes off, apparently it's almost automatic that the Turkish police/military release tear gas to disperse people.  They planned this strategy back in 2013 when the government placed an order for 100,000 gas cartridges. (3) As a civilian, I've never understood the reason for this tear-gas-and-pepper-spray response.  However, tuck that info away if you are in Turkey - you have less than 2 minutes, maybe 1 minute to get out of the area of a bomb before the tear gas comes.

This is the kind of practical equipping that folks need when we send them to dangerous places. 

Sadly, ISIS has left large areas of the Levant mined as part of their evil strategy to kill people who do not believe and live the way they do. (4)

It's always the children and women who suffer most.

Do you have more civilian bomb survival information to add here?  People from around the world read this blog - Comment below and I'll add it to the post.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Organized Syrian Resistance

Apparently there is a lull today in the battle for control of Idlib, the loci of the battle between the various Syrian factions, ISIS, Russian, Turkey, Iran, and the USA.  Each have different interests and reasons for being there.

In the meantime, 3 million civilians are caught in the middle, 1 million of whom are children.

The battle for Idlib is predicted to be possibly the "worst humanitarian disaster of the Syrian war." (1)

Why is there a battle looming in Idlib? According to this source:
The province is the last major stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups which have been trying to overthrow Mr Assad for the past seven years.The UN says Idlib is home to some 2.9 million people, including 1 million children. Almost half of the civilians in Idlib come from other previously rebel-held parts of Syria from which they either fled, or were evacuated. (2)

While the world's powers battle over Idlib, there is some encouraging news.  Something awe-inspiring.  It's an organized Syrian Resistance.  They are called:

Civil Resistance Against Extremism.  Their web page is:

They are a highly networked group spread out across the country, with the goal of organized resistance against extreme Islamic groups aiming to take over the country, village by village.

Shariah law (extremist Islam) is hell on earth and cannot peacefully co-exist in a democratic society or republic. The Syrians know this, which is why they are risking their own lives for their children, grandchildren, their very way of Syrian life, their future, by working to actively expel the Islamic fanatics from among their midst.

Here is what 24CR says about the organized extremist attempts to take over their country, starting in Idlib:

it became clear to us that the society was systematically being radicalized by the extremists. Therefore, we began the monitoring of their actions across Syria, from Dier Ezzor in the east to rural Latikia to the west. Their actions and the way they are structured is the same and they only differ in some roots based on their popularity within the local community, and to what extent they rely on the locals to maintain their control. This has also led us to adopt different strategies for each society, as we cannot use all tactics and methods in a specific area and apply them to other areas without taking into account the local environments and differences. After one year and a half of serious and continuous efforts, we in the 24CR have a clear stance on the importance of such work due to being close to the local communities.

Make no mistake - from the spiritual perspective, there is a war going on in unseen realms for the very minds and hearts for the people of Idlib as well as all of Syria. 

Pray for those Syrians who have become followers of Jesus due to the war - all those across Syria and the diaspora in the bordering refugee camps to be bold in helping, bold in sharing, and to experience God's presence as this long, weary war marches on.

  • Pray for the 24CR resistance.  
  • Pray for sanity to return. 
  • Pray for the war to end and for a free Syrian people. 
  • Pray for the destruction of ISIS.
  • Pray for the restoration of Syria. 
  • Pray for Syrians, including the brave men and women of 24CR, to know their true Messiah, Isa Masi.