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.

The Inconvenient Truth

By Josil Gonzales, Philippines

Like many Christians today, first century Corinthians believed that adversity was inconsistent with the Spirit-filled life. Paul needed to remind them that affliction, hardship, persecution and being struck down are part of the normal Christian life (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

Paul’s opponents claimed that God’s power is manifest best through signs, wonders and miracles. Paul maintained that God’s power is shown most effectively through hardship and distress. All our risks, dangers we confront, humiliations we face, and trials we endure are but opportunities for Christ to demonstrate His power in and through us.

This is a hard message for 21st century believers. But we Christian publishers, editors, writers and designers should share this inconvenient truth. We like to be in control and operate from a position of strength, not weakness. But Paul reminds us that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

In parts of the world, Bibles are still being confiscated, churches are still being closed, believers are still being arrested and imprisoned.

Does God always bring deliverance in times of persecution? I wish I could say “yes.” Our brothers and sisters in the Persecuted Church tell us, “Yes, we go through suffering, but God is always with us and that enables us to press on.”

That is the way of the cross. Jesus walked the hard and narrow road. Paul walked the hard and narrow road. We too need to walk that hard and narrow road, and share the inconvenient truth.

Josil Gonzales IsraelPilgrimageJan14d 001Excerpted and adapted from a devotional message by Josil Gonzales at LittWorld 2015. Josil has been serving the Persecuted Church for the last 20 years. He works in two creative access countries in South Asia as country manager. A graduate of AB Journalism from the University of the Philippines, he also served as publications manager for OMF Literature Inc, and managing editor of Alliance Publishers Inc’s monthly pre-evangelistic magazine, Sidestreets. He is the founding chairman of Christian Writers’ Fellowship. An avid runner, Josil has joined numerous races including two 42k runs.

<<Take Action and pray for the Persecuted Church. Download a monthly prayer guide to pray for persecuted Christians around the world.


A Legacy of Equipping Malaysian Writers

Kyrgyz woman and Stemmah by Jeam Wong

Stemmah Sariau (right) enjoyed fellowship at LittWorld 2015 with fellow writers and trainers, such as this Kyrgyz writer. Photo by Jeam Wong.

Stemmah Sariau from Sabah, East Malaysia, was a tireless trainer of writers, translators and editors in Malaysia. Even though she was nursing a bad cough, in early November she came to LittWorld 2015 in Singapore, because she was passionate about her calling and wanted every opportunity to hone her skills. Less than a week after her return from LittWorld, she was off to teach at the Sabah Theological College. Unfortunately, her lung infection never left her and, on the morning of Wednesday, November 18, after a light breakfast with her husband, she embraced him tightly then fell back on the bed and drifted away to be with the Lord that she loved so dearly. Stemmah left behind her husband, Pastor Richard Samporoh, their three grown-up children, and an uncompleted Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Bible.

By Lorraine Triggs

Stemmah Sariau was committed to equipping Malaysian writers, and especially women to pen their testimonies. “This is our legacy to our children,” she said, “If we don’t write, they won’t know what we’ve gone through and how the Lord has helped us.”

For the last five years of her life, Stemmah conducted workshops for women, frequently traveling to towns and rural areas in Malaysia’s eastern states. “In the 1980s, we used to have a lot of books published,” recalled Stemmah, “but then the restrictions came.” She pointed out that the situation is becoming quite risky for believers in Malaysia in recent months, with Bibles being confiscated.

Despite the risks, women came to Stemmah’s writer training, eager to hone their skills. An average of 40 women came to her trainings in East Malaysia, and 20 women in West Malaysia. “We didn’t want too big a group, and tried to make it affordable for any woman who wanted to come,” she said.

A practical bent was intrinsic to Stemmah’s workshops. “Don’t get too tied up with an outline,” she advised, encouraging the promising writers to practice “free” writing first. She always cautioned, “Look out for Christian jargon.”

Stemmah’s aim for these women was to write from their hearts. As the women discovered how to express how God had blessed them, the workshops were often therapeutic. “It was an added joy when their stories were published in books or church magazines,” she said.

Stemmah always felt torn between leading more workshops for women and working on other projects, including heading the women’s ministry for her denomination and a Bible translation project. But in all things, she gave of her best.

Lorraine headshot croppedLorraine Triggs’ writing and editing experience ranges from Sunday school curriculum to annual reports to electronic communications, but nothing brings her greater joy than interviewing people who are passionate about their ministries.

A Chinese Girl’s Christmas in Asia: No turkey died in the process

By Sofina Tan, Singapore

I only began to truly celebrate Christmas when I was 16 years old. And I am glad to say that no turkey died in the process.

You see, I became a Christian at age 16 in a Hakka Church in Singapore. Hakka is a Chinese dialect that I never learnt to speak, but I did develop a lifetime love and longing for the Yong Tau Foo dish that the church members served after we sang carols in their homes.

Hakka Yong Tau Foo is a dish that comprises vegetables and various kinds of Hakka Yong Tau Foo by The Food Canonsoy-based ‘yummies’ stuffed with flavoured minced meat. That includes Tau Foo or Tofu as most people know it, Tau Pok that’s like a puff, and my favourite Tau Kee (soy bean sheets).

We sang Christmas songs in Mandarin, read the Bible in the same language, prayed for the families we visited, and gave them a calendar for the coming year–which usually featured Bible verses in Chinese calligraphy.

Now I appreciate that the Chinese carols I learnt in that season of my life are not merely translations of familiar tunes like “Joy to the World” or “Come All Ye Faithful.”

I love those songs; but I believe in the beauty of being able to bellow joy, truth and the birth of Jesus Christ in one’s heart language and culture.

T’was the night before Christmas with no turkey in sight. No halls decked with coned-shaped trees or fake snow. No chocolates.

It was just a humble celebration of the coming of the Word* that transcends every language, but can be clearly understood in all cultures.

I hope my friends around the world will celebrate and express Christmas in their unique ways and languages. This will allow the world to see how rich it truly is. This will help the world to understand that Christmas does not look complete only if there’s a turkey, although I have nothing against turkeys.

Neither is Christmas incomplete unless there is Yong Tau Foo.

But perhaps Christmas is incomplete if we neglect to understand God’s love and purpose in sending Jesus Christ into the world.

Blessed Christmas, my dear friends!

How do you celebrate Christmas in your land? Comment here and email me your story. Perhaps we can compile a book that will make meaningful present for Advent in 2016.

*Jesus is referred to as the Word of God in the book of John in the Bible.

Sofina Tan Writer SingaporeSofina Tan L.M. ([email protected]) is a freelance writer from Singapore. She loves the Lord. She also loves languages. She blogs in English.

I Knew Nothing

Meet Nur Un Nabi, one of many worthy candidates for whom we are seeking to raise scholarships to attend LittWorld 2015, our unique Christian publishing conference.

By Nur Un Nabi, Bangladesh

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” –John 15:7,8

My father worked for a Christian mission as a maintenance worker. He swept the floor, cleaned the toilet, watered the trees, prepared tea for the staff and ran errands. The mission had a publishing department. I visited the office when I was 13. At that time I was a new believer from a Muslim background. I learned that the publishing department invited writing submissions for its Christian magazine. My father did not tell me to write for the magazine, rather a voice invited me to try.

I returned to our small and shabby hut. I started writing an article on Adam and Eve. I knew that neither my father, grandfather nor anyone in my family tree was a writer, let alone a Christian one. I knew nothing of the ways of writing. I had read nothing except textbooks from school. The voice just told me to start, and I followed. I wrote and cut, I cut and wrote. I thought and rethought what I had to write. I read and reread what I wrote.

IFB is publishing a free monthly magazine for MBBs called Omega Nur is a regular contributor He is showing his article in the September issue entitled Why are you called a Christian

Today Nur contributes articles regularly to Christian magazines besides serving as an editor and translator for a Christian publisher.

At last I finished my article and gave it to my father to submit to the editor. The editor graciously published my article, and I along with my father was very happy to see it published. It had been edited a bit but the publishing of my article ignited me to continue writing, especially for our Mighty Lord Jesus Christ.

Since age 13, I have remained in Jesus and His Word. I have not written a book yet but I have proofread, edited and translated many books. I regularly write articles for a monthly Christian magazine and believe that I am heading toward writing big things in His time, for Him. He is my master, speaking and guiding me continually in my publishing work. I am just His follower and agent of glory. What about you?

O, LORD, nothing is impossible for you. Make me your disciple as a writer. Amen.

Nur Un Nabi has been working for a Christian publishing house in Bangladesh as editor and translator for over 20 years. He contributed this article for MAI’s forthcoming devotional, “Light for the Writer’s Soul: 100 devotions for global Christian writers”.

Will you help worthy scholarship candidates like Nur gain valuable training at LittWorld 2015 in Singapore this November? Donate online now or email [email protected]