Dangerous Love by Ray Norman

Ray Norman was national director for World Vision in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania where he worked with his wife Helene.

His book Dangerous Love looks at the challenges and cost of mission work, where Christian witness requires the casting aside of a lot of “western” preconceptions.

As well-educated and comparatively wealthy foreigners, we easily succumb to the notion that we are somehow higher in the pecking order, that our important objectives and busy schedules should take precedence because “we know best”. And too often our image among the poor is tainted, and our actions reflect a sense of entitlement and thinly veiled arrogance (in spite of our good intentions…

… In much of the world outside of Europe and north America, people are less achievement-oriented and place significantly higher value on relationships. On days after an unexpectedly long exchange with farmers, I might glance at my watch and mumble something to the effect that there was still much I had not accomplished that day. I would often hear words such as, ‘Yes, but those things can always get done tomorrow. At least today we have done the important thing and gotten to know each other better.’

During his tenure in Mauritania, an act of extreme violence against Norman and his daughter Hannah challenged the family’s resolve to continue the work they felt called to do. They were also made aware of inadequacies in the way fellow believers reacted to them in the aftermath of that violent incident.

It seemed that even our own pastor in France, a man who, along with his spouse, had been a source of support and encouragement to us over the years, seemed to strufggle with how to respond to us. He had been informed of what had happened, and once we arrived in Calais we expected to hear from him or his wife but never did. I eventually called him on our third or fourth day there. He told me that he’d heard our news, and he listened quietly as I chatted. But it seemed our situation was beyond him…

Eventually, the healing process began when the family chose to return to their work in Mauritania, and the greatest help came from those intended to be the recipients of the Norman’s ministry work. A clear example of this came from the women of Arafat, a nearby poverty stricken township, who invited Helene Norman to their community.

We understand because we too are women. And we want you to know that we are here to walk with you, to support and encourage you in this experience in which you have suffered deeply. So please know, Madame Norman, that we have brought you here among us to let you know you are not alone on this journey. We are here with you.

Ray Norman reflects on this as his wife tells him the full story:

I stood there in stunned silence , and between her sobs, she began to explain in halting words how the women of Arafat had provided for her, in her deepest time of need, what no friend or gathering among her many Christian acquaintances across three continents (Africa, Europe, or America) had been able, or had the insight to provide. How in the most unlikely of places, she had found common ground with those who suffer, and how God had touched her heart and demonstrated his promise of faithfulness in a remote land through ‘the least of these’ (Matt. 25:40)

I haven’t found this book to be an easy read, although there are many interesting parts within it. At times I considered putting it aside and returning to it later after reading something different for a while. However, perseverance paid off.

It starts off “well”, taking the reader up to the life-changing act of violence that frames the subsequent events in the Normans’ lives; and then I felt things got bogged down in uncertainty for a time while the family came to terms with the after effects of their experience and how it could impact the viability of their ministry.
The “payoff” comes in the last few chapters when they decide (Ray reluctantly) to contact the perpetrator of the violence against Ray and their daughter, and in doing so set in motion life changing consequences that only God-inspired compassion and forgiveness can bring about.

Advertisements

Stranger No More, by Annahita Parsan

It wasn’t what I expected.
The flood of Moslem refugees across Europe was constantly in the news two or three years ago, and most books I’ve recently seen about refugees have been about those escaping from Syria.

I thought this would be the same, but instead the story dates back to the late 1970s, early 80s and the Iranian Revolution.

Annahita Parsan’s abusive husband Asghar found himself on the wrong side of the new Islamic government in Iran after the Ayatollah Khomeini deposed the Shah of Iran. Together they escaped Iran via Turkey, where they were imprisoned and brutally treated. Eventually they were freed and allowed to move on to Denmark as refugees.

Despite the potential for a new life, Asghar’s violence against his wife increased in frequency and intensity and there seemed to be no escape for her.

But a seed was sown when visitors to her door gave Annahita a bible in Farsi.

Ever since I had been given the Farsi Bible, I had picked it up and prayed from time to time. The worse Asghar’s attacks had gotten, the more I had prayed. I found that it helped, much like drinking a glass of cool water took away the dryness in my mouth on a hot night.

She started to become aware of ideas about God that were different to what she had “learned in a mosque”.

There it was all about fear and rules and the difficulty of earning a route to paradise. I had never thought of God being interested in helping me, let alone being with me all the time. I liked the idea. It gave me courage.

 

In time that courage helped her to take steps towards freedom for herself and her children. Freedom from the violence of her husband and towards the freedom of a new life of faith.

Annahita Parsan now works within churches in Sweden, ministering to former Muslim refugees.

Beersheba and “God’s Work”

Paul Daley (see previous post) wrote an interesting historical account of the Beersheba charge in today’s Guardian, which includes the following observation:

The charge, coincidentally, narrowly preceded the British war cabinet’s proclamation of the Balfour declaration in support of a Jewish state in Palestine. Such was the alignment of these pivotal moments in Middle East – and global – history that some evangelists and Christian Zionists have claimed that the light horsemen were somehow doing “God’s work” in re-establishing a Jewish homeland, as biblically prophesied.

This has always seemed utterly fanciful to me. While some horsemen certainly knew of the places they were traversing (Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem) from the Bible, there was nothing to suggest in the hundreds of letters and diaries I’ve read that any saw themselves as actively doing God’s work.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/postcolonial-blog/2017/oct/30/beersheba-centenary-lets-remember-that-story-is-not-the-same-as-history

 

I find Daley’s view expressed in the above quote is extremely naïve.

It doesn’t surprise me that the participants would have no idea of what role they may have been playing in God’s purposes and their ignorance of it can’t be offered as evidence of the claim’s lack of validity. Man’s knowledge and complicity aren’t determining factors of truth.

Mankind increasingly sees history in political and cultural terms, driven only by man’s decisions and actions, that the future is in our own hands, governed by our own choices. Any thought of God or any Divine intentions are mostly ignored or ridiculed.

Even many who acknowledge God’s reality tend to sideline Him, making God more of a spectator than someone with an active interest in His creation. They overlook the possibility that he may actual have a very defined purpose in mind for this world and its inhabitants, and that man’s actions will not and can not change that ultimate purpose. Instead, God is more than capable of using any of mankind’s actions (including the evils of war) to move towards His purposes being realised.

 

 

As I wrote elsewhere:

Mankind wasn’t driven along an unavoidable predestined path to war. War came about through choices, freely made by sinful mankind. The extent of man’s sin was displayed in the horrific acts committed and the resulting conditions arising from those acts; some of which I’ve described quite graphically in an earlier post.

God did not cause or ordain those acts, but He was more than able to USE those acts to further His purposes. He is more than willing to give mankind over to the consequences of our own choices, and will even give us a helping hand in achieving or obtaining what we’ve chosen in place of Him. (refer Romans 1:24-32 and 2 Thess 2:11-12)

What mankind meant for evil, God could turn around for His good, to move a few steps towards the fulfilment of His eternal plans.

https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/anzacs-and-wwi-part-5-the-part-god-played/

 

 

In His Strength, by Noriko Dethlefs

Letters from Afghanistan 2005-2009.

A journal-like record of life in Afghanistan as observed and experienced by a Japanese-Australian teacher.

Noriko Dethlefs’ husband was posted to Afghanistan to serve with the Christian Blind Mission.

This account of her life in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2009 gives an insight into the different cultural attitudes and religious beliefs she encountered as well as the daily dangers faced by both locals and foreigners.

She also writes about the lack of comforts that we in the “west” take for granted that Afghans do without throughout their lives.

The book shows that despite all of those differences, there is a shared, vulnerable humanity.

That’s something too often forgotten or purposely avoided when it becomes politically expedient.

Read more here:
https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/across-the-cultures-a-shared-need-of-god/

Too Many to Jail, by Mark Bradley

At the beginning of February I finished reading Too Many to Jail by Mark Bradley, a book about the growth of Christianity in Iran. I thought I’d written a “review”,  however, I couldn’t find it and suspect my memory was of an email I sent to a friend at the time.

The book tells of growth in the underground church in Iran, and suggests that Iran’s history and culture has prepared the country for the gospel of Jesus Christ

In recent decades, the Islamic government of Ayatollah Khomeini , followed later by the Khomeini inspired Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency, caused a lot of disillusionment among Iranian Muslims who couldn’t reconcile the words and actions of “Allah’s representatives” with their own idea of what God was like.

Bradley writes of aspects of Iranian society that helped make Iranians look favourably upon Jesus and how some had been primed to respond to the gospel through dreams, visions and miracles before being led to someone who could share the truth with them.

After around 100 years of mission work leading up to Khomeini coming to power, traditional churches in Iran could only count around 500 believers – now motivated by home-grown house churches, the number of believers is thought to be in the 100s of thousands, a number causing problems to a government trying to crack down on Christian activity. As the title suggests,  the increasing numbers means there are far Too Many to Jail.

Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loc

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte, is one of several books I’ve read over the past couple of years about WWI, its origins and its ongoing effects.

What it says about the spiritual conditions leading into (and through) the First World War seems disturbingly familiar. The specifics may have changed, but the general spirit of those conditions is unmistakably in the world again today; disguised to a degree – but with a flimsy mask.

“The alliance of church and state allowed the secular goals of government to get mixed up with the spiritual goals of Christianity.”
“Add to this the rise of the most potent political ideology of the hour: nationalism. The nation-state was replacing religion as a powerful source of meaning and identity in people’s lives…

…For devoted nationalists, their patriotic faith was equivalent to membership in an alternative church. For religious believers, nationalism offered a grandiose political outlet for their faith commitments. The result was the birth of Christian nationalism, the near sanctification of the modern state.”

That hybrid of nationalism and religion may have worked well at first for the recruitment of willing soldiers (“for God, King and country”) but it later had a detrimental impact on the faith of many. Christianity and God had been portrayed as being aligned with the cultural, political and philosophical systems of the age leading up to WWI, so:

Since Christianity was considered integral to Europe’s political and economic system, the perceived failure of that system was a spiritual failure as well.

…the Great War had defamed the values of the Old World, along with the religious doctrines that helped underwrite them.

Loconte writes about the despair and disbelief affecting the generation that lived through the War, and how it was reflected in post-war literary expression.

Postwar writers seemed to have no mental category for the nature of the conflict, no set of beliefs to understand it.

However he observes a difference in the work of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis who “rejected the sense of futility and agnosticism that infected so much [literary] output of their era”.

The dark horrors of their experience such as the scale of death and destruction informed their writings”

Central to their experience was an encounter with the presence of evil: the deep corruption of the human heart that makes it capable of hunting down and destroying millions of lives in a remorseless war of attrition.
A conviction emerged in both of these authors, however, that the problem of evil was not explainable only in natural terms. Rather, evil existed as a darkness in the soul of every human being and as a tangible spiritual force in the world.

But they also drew on aspects of “light”, things like the strong and often sacrificial relationships that sustained men through their time in the trenches. That close interdependent bond is the strength that, despite setbacks, ultimately leads the authors’ characters through the obstacles they face, looking ahead for the hope and promise of victory. But that hope wasn’t based on mere, vague wishfullness.

After returning to England from the front, Tolkien and Lewis might easily have joined the ranks of the rootless and disbelieving. Instead they became convinced there was only one truth, one singular event that could help the weary and the broken hearted find their way home: the Return of the King

xa-hobbit-a-wardrobe-and-a-great-war_jpg_pagespeed_ic_-ws7jyhfp8

…the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess 4)

[All quotations, apart from the last are from A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher.

Edith Cavell was an English nurse who helped establish a nursing school in Brussels, at a time when nursing practice in Belgium had low standards and little community respect. Cavell sought to change all of that by training young women to the same kind of standard she had learned during her own training in London and through her experience as a practising nurse in Britain. In 1907 she accepted the role of matron at the new training school in Brussels.

edith-cavellIn 1914 Germany invaded Belgium, thereby drawing Britain, allies of Belgium, into the First World War. Cavell chose to stay in Brussels with her trainee nurses and helped to look after wounded troops from both sides.

When wounded French, British and Belgian soldiers were in danger of being killed by the German invaders, she started to help the Belgian resistance to get them to safety across the Dutch border.
In August 1915 she was arrested and two months later was tried, sentenced to death and shot by firing squad.

This book tries to piece together a part of Cavell’s life that has probably been omitted from many other biographies: the way her Christian faith prepared her to face premature death.

The author looks at the religious routine Cavell followed throughout her life, first as the daughter of a Church of England vicar, and later as a continuing part of her daily devotions, following the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and readings from other devotional books known to be used by Cavell.

Apart from Cavell’s own story, the book touches on the role of religious practice across general society, particularly within a hospital environment, where it is said that prayer and bible reading were the essential starting point of each day in the wards.
How things have changed!

Cavell was shot at dawn on the 12th October 1915.

“Her last glimpse of life on earth would be the gloomy mists of an autumn dawn in Belgium. Her expectation was that in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ she would be in the presence of Jesus.”