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.

Frances Fuller: Publishing in a War Zone

Frances Fuller tells her remarkable story of leading a Christian In Borrowed houses book coverpublishing house during the Lebanese Civil War in her new book, In Borrowed Houses.  The former publisher and MAI Board member shares personal insights from that experience, and her heart for the church and Christian publishing in the post-Arab Spring Middle East, in an interview with MAI intern Joanne Kim.

Q: How has your view of publishing changed through your experience working in a war zone?
The war made me focus on human needs and see that publishing was not about building my institution but about building faith and hope, providing helps for seekers and tools for servants.

The war actually improved our marketing system.  When war broke out our only warehouse was in a war zone.  We saw that we had to decentralize and began to work with people in other countries who could stock and sell our books.  The result was expansion and efficiency.

frances fuller HiRes_4824477720121Q:  What gave you the biggest satisfaction and joy amidst the difficulties and challenges your faced during the Lebanese Civil War?
The support of the Lebanese Christian community.

After we were paralyzed by violence for a year, our international board of directors sent me on a tour of Europe and the Middle East to search for a better place for our publishing house.  I went to seven cities in five countries.  What I learned made me understand the relationship between a publishing house and its community. I came back and told my board, “I would rather be in Lebanon with shells falling.”

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Staff of Baptist Press & Frances Fuller, seated front right

And the community stood behind me. People believed in the ministry and gave time to it. They helped me make decisions, accepted training and wrote materials. They dreamed and took risks with me. Because of them and their support, I never regretted my decision to keep the publishing house in Lebanon.

Q: How would you envision the potential long-term Kingdom benefits, if there are any, of the Arab Spring, in countries like Lebanon?
I wonder. The whole Middle East is in flux, evolving. Any good result may be decades in the future. Meanwhile the church has to go on being the church.  God’s people have to want just to be God’s people, whatever happens.

It is easy to feel hopeless, but Syrians who were once an occupation army controlling Lebanon are now needy refugees in Lebanon, and Lebanese Christians have swallowed their resentment to serve them. This is God’s people growing to be more like God. It is a small light in the darkness.

Q: What would be your word of encouragement to those in Christian publishing in the Middle East or other global hot spots today?
This is your day, not an accident, not a misfortune, but the day God gave you. Hang in.

Q: How can we be praying together with you for the Middle East?
That God will preserve His church.

In all this chaos Middle Eastern Christianity is threatened. This problem needs prayer and practical support.

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.



How to Critique Manuscripts in Languages You Do Not Read

By Miriam Adeney 

Working with writers using languages you don’t read can be tricky. However, even if you cannot read every word of every piece, with a little help you can still provide critique.  Here are a few hints on how to help writers make the most of workshops.

1. For your first public critique, select manuscripts in the language written by the majority of the class. Use these to demonstrate the application of the principles you have taught. Invite suggestions for improvement in organization, research, and biblical and cultural depth and balance. Modeling this process will help minority and majority language writers critique their own work.

2. Ask all writers to provide an outline for their manuscript in the majority language. Their outlines should include ideas, arguments, events and summarized illustrations in the order they appear in the writing.

Simply by studying the outline, the class can formulate questions, such as:

  • Miriam AdeneyIs there any research to support that point?
  • Here’s a suggestion for an illustration.
  • Does the sequence of arguments make sense?
  • Have you considered this cultural value?

You may ask writers to translate paragraphs or the beginning and ending of their work to give a sense of style. Try to minimize your requests so as not to disrupt their creative process.

3. Require writers to find someone who reads his or her language to critique their work. This may be someone from the class, community or home region who can keep in touch via email. Provide a simple critique tool — possibly a series of questions — to help the reader offer feedback on strengths and weaknesses.

Put these tips into practice and you should be able to offer useful advice on ideas, organization, research, audience and some aspects of style to all members of your class, regardless of their language. Plus, writers will complete the workshop with practical tools for future critiques.

Photo above: Miriam Adeney (right) leads an MAI workshop for Middle Eastern writers creating books in Arabic.

Author and educator Miriam Adeney equips and encourages emerging Christian writers around the world. She is a trainer for MAI and a former board member. Miriam has written several books, including her most recent release, Kingdom Without Borders:  The Untold Story of Global Christianity.