The Only Friend I Have in Mosul

frances-fuller-lowres_4824477720147-300x224By Frances Fuller

A long time ago we knew a young Iraqi whom I remembered today while reading the news. His name was Asal. Actually, I can’t figure out how to write this in English; that first letter does not exist in our language and to an American sounds like a vowel, a bit harsh, made down in the throat. The name means honey, and it feels inappropriate just to solve my problem by calling him Honey.

We were studying Arabic at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.  Asal, tall and lanky, with a normally serious expression, was studying English.  He comes to mind now, only because he was from Mosul.

We made a point of being friendly with Asal. After all, he was just a nineteen-year-old, far from home. He spent the night at our house on Christmas Eve, was with us when we read the Christmas story with our children and put them to bed with prayers. He was with us in the morning, as we had coffee and fruit cake and opened gifts, some with his name on them. I remember his telling me, sitting in our living room, looking around at our family, “Mr. Wayne is a very lucky man.”

The truth is that he admired Wayne a lot. Once he was in the car with us, in heavy traffic, when the car in front of us stalled, blocking our side of the street. The driver of the stalled vehicle was a woman who was obviously doing what she could. Wayne jumped out of our car, spoke with her for a moment, then threw up the hood of her car and did some little trick. The car started immediately, and Wayne waved the woman on her way.  Asal considered this a remarkable event. He talked about it for the next 10 minutes. “Mr. Wayne is so courteous. He is very kind. Mr. Wayne is so clever. He knows what to do.” I think he used all his vocabulary describing what had happened.

Asal was a Muslim, of course. We talked now and then about his faith and ours.  At least once he went to church with us, to a Baptist church in Arlington. I went to a Sunday School class for women, the children to their age appropriate classes and Asal and Wayne to a men’s class.  Afterwards, I was already sitting in a pew in the sanctuary, when Asal came ahead of Wayne and sat beside me. I asked him about his class, and with great enthusiasm he said, “The lesson was about God’s love, and it was wonderful!” This was the first time I had ever taken a Muslim to church, so I was glad, even maybe a little relieved, that he had been blessed.

I remember Asal telling me about praying at midnight as 1963 rolled over and he entered 1964. He talked of somehow setting up a formal situation, preparing himself, reading the Quran, and seeking God’s favor as he entered the new year. I was impressed that his prayer was so personal.

Asal really helped me once.  Someone who knew that we had Arab friends there at Georgetown sent me some evangelistic tracts in the Arabic language so we could give them away. The problem was that we were studying the colloquial language under a Lebanese teacher, and I could not yet read a word of Arabic. I was not willing to give those tracts to anyone without knowing what they said, so I showed one of them to Asal and asked him to tell me what it was. He read one paragraph and then told me, “This is something against Islam.” That was an important revelation.

Six years later I became the director of a small Christian publishing house in Beirut.  And, remembering Asal’s words, I determined that I would not publish anything that attacked or denounced or disrespected another person’s faith. I would attempt to share everything true and beautiful about mine and continue to seek God and encourage others to seek God.  After all, our scriptures tell us that if you seek God with all your heart, you will find God.

My last memory about Asal relates to the death of President John Kennedy. He was truly grieved, and when I told him that we had taken our children to Arlington Cemetery and were standing beside the road to witness the funeral procession up close, he felt so sad that he had missed the opportunity. He clearly pictured it like an Arab funeral and said if he had known it was happening, he would have joined the procession. “I could have walked behind his casket!”  He felt this to be an honor that had slipped past him.

The school year ended; we went our way and, though we didn’t mean to, we lost touch with Asal. I assume he went back to Mosul. That was his intention. Now that Mosul has become a symbol of the war against ISIS, I wonder if he survived all that has happened. If he was lucky, with a wife and children around him, like “Mr. Wayne,” he should be a grandpa now. I picture him still erect and lanky with that thoughtful expression on his face.  I hope he kept seeking God. I hope he is safe in body and soul.

His significance to me at the moment is that he is my human image of Mosul, a good man in a city besieged inside and out.

It is possible, of course, that Asal is no longer in Mosul, for some good or bad reason, but some grandpa is there, some erect, studious man who is proud of his family and responds to God’s love. I can imagine a bit of what it is like to be old and see your city being destroyed around you, your country in fragments and still a battleground.  While the young may manage to dream of another day and find hope somewhere, the old may just die of their broken hearts.

That’s what I think, seeing Mosul in the news, all of its pictures dominated by rising smoke.

<<Read our interview, Frances Fuller: Publishing in A War Zonein-borrowed-houses-cover-4001

This article was used with permission of Frances Fuller, a former MAI board member. It originally appeared on her blog, In Borrowed Houses, also the title of her autobiographical book. The book describes her journey leading a Christian publishing house during Lebanon’s civil war. Baptist Publications, which Frances directed, continues today under the name Dar Manhal al Hayat, in Beirut, Lebanon. The publishing house is an active partner with MAI and Ophir Publishers of Jordan in a program to equip Arab Christian writers from across the Middle East.

“I Felt Locked In…”

By Mark Carpenter, Brazilmark_carpenter

As a young teenager growing up in a small town in Brazil, I had little access to the outside world. Only two TV channels were available, and the city newspaper carried only local news. I felt locked in.

Then the son of a Japanese immigrant opened a news kiosk downtown, featuring periodicals from all over the country. I was enthralled. It became my favorite haunt, and there I began to discover news about the dictatorship in our country, the war in Vietnam, the counterculture movement, and much more. I couldn’t afford to buy more than one or two newspapers a month, but Massao, the owner, would allow me to flip through the books and magazines. I was exposed to great journalism and news about economics, politics, art and culture. And my world was never the same. These writers, photographers, designers and editors opened up new channels of understanding. From a young age I had wished to serve Christ with my life, and now I began to imagine the world and dream about my own future.

Photo courtesy Chai25182518, Freedigitalphotos.com

Photo courtesy Chai25182518, Freedigitalphotos.com

I ended up dedicating my life to expressing truth through writing and publishing. Every week at our publishing house in São Paulo we receive letters from readers who live in remote areas, or who are locked up in prison, or who feel imprisoned in difficult churches, families or marriages. As we respond to them, I remember my teenage years, and I am reminded that our own writers, photographers, designers and editors can be the channels of truth and insight that will encourage, broaden perspectives, introduce biblical reality and point the way to new solutions.

Massao opened my mind to the world. As writers, we too hold the power to unlock imagination, inspire action and provide encouragement to those who feel excluded or unimportant, or who can’t see a way out of hopelessness, or who feel trapped by the circumstances of life.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”1 Thessalonians 5:11

Lord, thank you for the education I’ve received and for the access you’ve given me to your Word, to good books and to your wisdom as expressed by those who are close to you. As a writer, I need your help in deciding what and how to write in order to become a source of instruction, encouragement and inspiration to my readers. Give me humility and perfect my gifts. Amen.

This article by Mark Carpenter is published as “The News Kiosk”  in our book, LighLight_Writers_Soul_MAI_2Dt for the Writer’s Soul: 100 devotions by global Christian writers. Order your copy of this inspiring and unique devotional book, available in print or ebook formats.

Mark Carpenter is chairman and CEO of Mundo Cristão, one of Brazil’s largest publishers of Christian books, and an MAI board member.

 

 

Meet Our Traveling “Physician”

Like a doctor who pays house calls to patients upon request in many parts of the world, our “Dr.” Ramon Rocha treks the globe to offer a confidential listening ear and advice for various publishing ailments. Since 2012, he has extended MAI’s consulting services to Christian publishing leaders and writers in 25 countries as Director of Publisher Development. In many cases, no other professional help is available. We asked Ramon to give you a sneak-peek at his itinerant consulting.

Ramon enjoys a break with Ukranian publisher Andrew Kravchenko of Ezdra Publishing at LittWorld 2015. Photo courtesy of Karen Crespo.

Ramon enjoys a break with Ukranian publisher Andrew Kravchenko of Ezdra Publishing at LittWorld 2015. Photo courtesy of Karen Crespo.

What does your consulting visit look like?
I try to come more as a friend than an expert. My ideal three- or four-day visit allows me time to listen to the publisher’s challenges and issues, brainstorm solutions with the team, identify possible action steps, and pray with the team. I check in afterward by email and at times video calls. A follow-up consulting visit may be as short as a day. Occasionally I lead brief trainings for local writers upon the publisher’s request.

Sometimes I have the privilege of sharing a meal or staying with the publisher’s family. I’ve been touched many times by the love and care of my hosts and their generous hospitality.

Consulting with the marketing and sales team of Editions PBA, an IFES-related publisher, in Benin.

Consulting with the marketing and sales team of Editions PBA, an IFES-related publisher, in Benin.

What do you carry in your “medical kit”?
I try to assess the publisher’s situation before my arrival so I have an idea if the need is marketing, finance, editorial or publishing leadership. I create a presentation and come ready with templates, Word or Excel files and links to helpful websites.

Sometimes I have to respond to an issue that surfaces during the consultation. Then I refer back to my “medical kit” of previous Powerpoints, charts and my Evernote files to find the appropriate tools. The publishers have appreciated stories from my business background and/or helpful steps other publishers have taken.

Have you ever found it particularly hard to help a publisher? If so, what did you do?
Publishers struggle with a relatively small reading public in some countries. Others face political, economic and social conditions that make it hard to achieve a healthier financial standing. Or a publisher may be involved in a long legal battle or a soured relationship with a problematic staff or director.

I urge them to refocus on their vision of how Christian materials can impact peoples’ hearts and minds. I also propose ideas to challenge publishers to look beyond their problems.

A magazine publisher in Bangladesh shares his concerns.

A magazine publisher in Bangladesh shares his concerns.

What is the most common publisher’s ailment that requires a clear solution?
Pricing with a profit is a major concern especially where people expect Christian books to be either free or very cheap. Sometimes the healthy tension between being a ministry and a business is evident, especially in determining the right price. How to reach a broader audience beyond the Church is another struggle.

A publisher has to be willing to change paradigms and do more than the status quo. I’d like to see more publishers become goal-oriented and disciplined to measure outcomes, and make adjustments quickly.

Tell us about a recent highlight on one of your visits.
On one return visit, I was so encouraged to find a publisher reporting higher sales and showing a net profit, plus soliciting feedback intentionally from readers. In another instance, I applauded a publisher’s success in moving books from its former inventory “cemetery” by slashing prices and donating.

What results have you seen?
One Asian publisher emailed me, “After you left, we tried to implement your recommendations to gradually increase our price to help our cash flow, to produce quarterly sales reports to monitor our bestsellers and slow-movers….We even renovated our showroom as you suggested. We are now seeing improved operational results.”

On one sad occasion the action steps we identified during my first visit were not implemented. I tried my best to be extra tactful not to scold, and to be even more encouraging. I knew I could only make suggestions; the actual work is with the publishing team.

Enjoying a boat ride with Georges Late, manager of Editions PBA, in Benin.

Enjoying a boat ride with Georges Late, manager of Editions PBA, in Benin.

How would you advise publishers to stay healthy?
Keep an eye on maintaining high quality editorial standards while remaining passionate about your mission and vision. Ingredients for long-term publishing success include: quality writing by reader-sensitive local authors, polishing by skilled editors, creative marketing strategies and effective distribution.


How does your own faith play into your work? How can friends pray for you?

I need to be consistent in drawing strength and encouragement from God’s Word myself. Please pray that I will not be too technical as a consultant or teacher but serve more as a caring friend.

Please pray for publishers to persevere, especially amidst a lack of peace and order, and political and economic tensions. Pray they will be courageous in publishing God’s truth in creative ways, build bridges to unbelievers and strengthen the national Church. Pray that these publishers will be financially sustainable, profitable and growing.

Christian publishers and writers “on the front lines” are being equipped and encouraged because of your partnership with MAI.