Words in the Dust

As a young boy in elementary school, when my dad came in to say goodnight to me at bedtime, I often asked him to tell me stories about what happened in World War II. My father served as a weatherman in the US Air Force, making forecasts for a group of pilots in a P-47 squadron. Once when the squadron was stationed in France, he was driving a jeep from his quarters to the base, when a German fighter plane came roaring toward him, guns firing. He was able to jump out of the jeep and take cover from the gunfire behind a stone wall at the side of the road. When the plane turned to come back at him, he climbed over to the other side of the wall to safety. The German gave up. I asked my dad to tell me the story again and again, and I wanted to hear other stories about the war. My father kept two large volumes with vivid photographs about World War II in his home office. I perused these books often and with great interest. In my school library I found books about the military airplanes of World War I and World War II. I was fascinated to learn about the capabilities of the airplanes. My curiosity about the war and what my father experienced is surely typical for young boys.

As a child, it never crossed my mind to think about what the war looked like to German or Japanese people. They were America’s enemies and as such, the bad guys. When I graduated from college at age 21, I took on an assignment as a volunteer in mission serving in West Berlin, Germany. I learned to speak German. For two years, I worked with German youth in the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg. I learned something about what the war had been like for the parents of the youth I worked with as well as from elderly German people. I also learned that God’s mission embraces all the peoples of the earth.

War is always a terrible thing. But even in the midst of war, God is at work. There are lessons we can learn from the people who lived through it.

America’s war in Afghanistan is now over. It has been America’s longest war. For most of us, Afghanistan may seem like a strange and godforsaken place we seldom think of because we have never seen it, except in the news reports on television. Those who have lived in Afghanistan will remember the sights, sounds and smells of this Central Asian nation only too well. The recent reports of the US military’s evacuation has surely raised powerful thoughts and emotions. And some of the men and women who served with the US military in the Afghanistan war are now raising families.

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Afghanistan is a place where real people with a real history live real lives. What did the war look like to people living in Afghanistan? Trent Reedy was a soldier in Afghanistan. He saw the tough challenges faced by the youth there. The story he wrote called Words in the Dust, paints a vivid picture of the realities faced by Zulaikha, a young girl with a cleft lip. The neighborhood boys call her “monkey face.” She hopes for a good relationship with her stepmother. She dreams of learning to read. Should she dare to hope that these dreams might come true? This story tells of the ways young Afghan girls are pressured and intimidated by the rough tribal ways of rural Islam so widespread in Afghanistan. During the American occupation, girls received better opportunities for education. It will be more difficult for them under the regime of the Taliban. I encourage families to read this book together.

Leaders are readers. Did you know that people who read are ten times more likely to be actively engaged in serving in communities than non-readers? This is because reading equips people for life. Hearing stories read aloud helps children to develop spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and socially. Hearing stories helps all of us project ourselves responsively into a myriad of situations we have never experienced. It allows us to imagine ourselves in life situations we have never faced, and thus it trains us to be nimble in responding to real situations we face in life.

God has a church in Afghanistan. It is necessarily an underground church, keeping a very low profile, but this church is no less dear and beloved to God than we are. Pray with your children that Jesus will protect, preserve and encourage his little fold of sheep, the secret Christians of Afghanistan. To help your children understand who the people of Afghanistan are and what life there is like, read Trent Reedy’s wonderful book Words in the Dust aloud with your children.

For almost 200 years foreign powers have invaded Afghanistan with their armies. In the 1800s, the British marched in twice. In both occupations they suffered horrific, bloody and humiliating defeats. In the 1980s the Soviets attacked. They too were repelled and defeated. In 2001 the USA took the offensive and drove the Taliban from power. The initial victory has proved illusory. None of these great nations was able to subdue and civilize the fierce Afghans.

From the point of view of Afghans, who are Muslims, all these invading nations represent Christianity. Is the gospel likely to take hold among Afghans when it is associated with foreign invaders? Let us pray that despite this perplexing association, Jesus Christ will make himself known to the people of Afghanistan.

Pray with your children for the people of Afghanistan. They face a tough road ahead. Some of the Afghan people are Christians. They have become Christians quite recently. They are courageous and bold in faith, but they have not been believers for long. They will certainly face new and tough challenges under the Taliban.

Donald Marsden

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