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.

Turkey: A Resilient Faith

While Turkey reels from terrorist bombings and refugees fleeing ISIS, its sole 0300x0300gokhantalasChristian magazine helps dispel despair. Since 2012 Miras magazine has been dishing up hope to a tiny Christian population—6,000 of its 70 million people. Before launching the bi-monthly magazine, Gökhan Talas and his wife were churchplanters until Islamist terrorists killed three teammates.

This June 23 to 25, Gökhan hosted a three-day MAI workshop for 14 writers near Istanbul. MAI’s Ramon Rocha, trainer Tony Collins of the UK and local Turkish author Pastor Ozbek led the training.

Learn more about Gökhan’s publishing ministry in our exclusive interview.

Do you ever feel like giving up in such a challenging context?
Sometimes I want to give up everything. But if you’re living in Turkey, you only have two choices. You can either serve or be lost and alone. I don’t want to be lost.

We have reason for serving our people—the darkness is very wide in Turkey. The Lord encourages us.

Tell us more about Miras magazine.
We want to be in touch with social problems. An issue last year focused on homosexuality and Christianity since a lot of our young people started arguing following the US Supreme Court decision.

Our contributors write on practical and theological topics. Each issue includes an evangelistic page, a teaching on the Gospel for unbelievers. A travel page introduces Christian historical sites in Turkey and nearby countries. We want to show Christianity has been here for years—Miras means “inheritance” in Turkish. We also feature an important person in Turkish Christian history. We include counseling topics, biblical perspectives for women, and more.

miras18_kapak-magazine-coverWho are your contributors?
We try to encourage mainly Turkish writers. Most of our writers are pastors or theologians in academia. If we find an exceptional article elsewhere, we will translate it. But we seek all local writers because our problems and needs are different from churches outside Turkey. We want to give our readers good vision for Turkey’s problems and Christianity in our country.

Tell us about your readers.
Since Christians are so few in Turkey, everybody needs each other. I’m the only Christian I know of from my hometown. In some cities there are no Protestant churches, so brothers and sisters attend the local Catholic church. We don’t focus the magazine on differences, but on common issues for Christians.

What is it like publishing for a limited readership?
People say, “You can’t sell anything Christian in Turkey.” The first generation of Christians gave all reading materials away for free. So now people don’t want to pay for books or magazines in churches. We sell our magazine for 5 Turkish Lira ($2 USD). To promote it we do public seminars on a topic related to the current issue of our magazine. It’s okay legally but there are risks we could get attacked.

What other challenges are you facing?
The postal system blocks us from distributing in eastern Turkey especially, so we’d like to make a deal with a private delivery company. We don’t have an office or vehicle—we carry the magazine copies from the printer in our backpacks. We’d also like to pay our writers more and hire a full-time editor.

Would you tell us about one of your readers?
A gay prisoner in İsparta wrote us and requested our magazine. He had been a prostitute, very dangerous work—nobody wanted to talk to him. My wife took him the magazine personally.

His life has been changing daily. My wife told him several years ago, “You’ll be married someday and have a child.” He replied, “My life is changing, but I’ll never be a man completely.”

A few months ago his wife had a baby boy. He wants to be a pastor and is currently on staff at a church. He’s starting to write his testimony as a book. He’s very brave.

>>Watch this 2-minute video with Gökhan Talas from our LittWorld 2015 conference

Christian publishers and writers “on the front lines” are being equipped and encouraged because of your partnership. Learn how your gift will be doubled.

Egypt: The Power of the World to Heal

The gruesome video showing beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in ubs-egypt-tract-two-lines-english1Libya last February spurred writers at the Bible Society of Egypt into immediate action. Within three days, a powerful tract began reaching the hands of mourning Egyptians, and ultimately 1.65 million readers. It became the most widely distributed Christian leaflet in the nation’s history.

The tract contained Scripture about suffering and Christian love in the face of evil, and a poignant poem written in colloquial arabic: “Who fears the other? The row in orange, watching paradise open? Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?”

We are reminded that the written word can comfort, heal and point hurting people to Christ at a time of questioning and crisis. While terrorists may have hoped to foment religious strife, Bible Society Director Ramez Atallah said that the killings have united Christians and Muslims in the troubled country.

Praise God for the bold and creative witness of Christian publishers and writers in the world’s hard places. MAI continues strategic partnerships with publishers in the Middle East.

“We cannot impact our Egyptian culture if 95 percent of Christian books are translations,” said one speaker at our June workshop in Cairo. About a dozen motivated Egyptian writers and four local editors discussed book ideas: a children’s book with creative exercises for Scripture memory, the story of a woman’s journey through depression, profiles of unsung heroes in the church in Egypt, a novel for young adults, an anthology of inspirational readings (a kind of Egyptian Christian “chicken soup for the soul”), and more.
Please pray for these infant writing projects and that the writers will stay disciplined. Plans for another training in 2016 are already underway with our local hosts. The need is urgent for quality Christian books and articles for the Egyptian people.

“I’ve never received this kind of encouragement,” a writer in her mid-twenties wrote us after the workshop. “It does feel like a new beginning and a boost to write. This passion in our hearts is truly a gift from God.  By discipline and grace, words will flow and stories will be told.”

Graphics courtesy of Bible Society of Egypt

Truth Is Costly

By Miriam Adeneyadeney-miriam-thumb

From Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon they walk in, sit down, and plug in laptops or lay out pens and paper. These 17 writers are each working on a book in Arabic in the Christian Arab Writers’ Initiative, a joint effort of MAI and Ophir Publishers of Jordan. 

Topics include women’s oppression in the Christian home. Covenant Theology for everyday Christians. Fiction stories. And a handbook on how the Church can use new media.

Rashid is writing a novel. One evening he stood before us and read about a young woman who was kidnapjordanian-writers-at-work-2ped and raped repeatedly for two months. Her parents sold everything, even their home, to pay her ransom. Yet when she finally escaped, people shunned her. Even her family felt awkward around her.

Nuns helped her work through her trauma. “Come, help us with the other girls,” they invited her. But the “other girls” turned out to be Muslims. No way was she going to serve them. It was Muslims who had grabbed and hurt her so badly.

Over time her heart softened. Eventually, when she was offered a ticket to Australia, she declined. Why? She wanted to stay and help more rape survivors in months to come–even the Muslim girls.

egyptian-journalistRashid is from Syria. This is where the apostle Paul became a Christian and some of the earliest Christians lived. Last year 5,000 of Rashid’s fellow countrymen were killed in violent confrontations between the military and ordinary citizens. For 10 harrowing days Rashid’s brother was jailed and interrogated. Two of Rashid’s friends were shot and killed. Rashid was threatened, and fled the country last July.

Other writers in the workshop face their own challenges and uncertainties. The Egyptians headed to Lebanon one day after parliamentary elections: What does the outcome hold for Christians in their nation?

While words of truth and hope are penned in Beirut, the Arab Spring seethes around us. Writing the truth is a privilege, but it can also be costly.

Trainers for this workshop included Stephen and Alice Lawhead and Dr. Miriam Adeney.

<<Watch a 1 minute video from Beirut
“I discovered I have great potential to write,” said Ruba Abbassi, director of Arab Woman Today Ministries.

<<Watch the video: What Christians are reading in the Middle East with Lebanese publisher Sawsan Tannoury of Dar Manhal Alhat in Beirut.

This workshop was the second in the three-year “Christian Arab Writers’ Initiative.” Participating authors receive specialized training that will increase their writing skills and impact in the market. The program also involves coaching, as well a writing contest that aims to encourage them to complete and submit quality book manuscripts. Judges will select the top three manuscripts, and the winning writers will be awarded cash prizes. In addition, all good manuscripts have a chance to be published by different Christian publishing houses in the region.

cawi-logo3Book publishing in Arabic lags behind much of the world and depends extensively on translated works from other languages.

“Middle Eastern cultures are traditionally oral,” explained a Middle Eastern publisher. “Most people do not have much formal training in writing since the educational system favors oral communication over written.” Arabic-language Christian publishing in the region also faces challenges from the surrounding religious culture.

Without training for writers and investment in publishing, Arab literature will continue to trail behind the rest of the world,” he said.

The success of this project is a result of cooperation between several groups. MAI provided training expertise and the cost for developing the CAWI website. Salt Foundation Inc. provided scholarships for the workshop participants. Dar Manhal al Hayat publishing house in Beirut helped with local logistics and provided use of their facilities. Ophir Publishers gave birth to this initiative in consultation with MAI.