Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 5, 2008

Are You Bilingual?

   Earlier this week, I was again reminded of the lasting impact of an act of kindness. Tired and in bed, the sound of my cell phone ringing startled me awake. I fumbled for my phone and took a quick glance at the Caller ID before answering. It was an overseas number — one that I did not recognize. I cleared my throat and mustered my best post-sleep hello. “Hello,” replied the caller. To my surprise, it was a Muslim friend from Pakistan. “Today is Eid,” he said, “and our village was remembering when you and Mr. Lee were with us on Eid in 2005.”

   2005 was a banner year for natural disasters. A tsunami in South Asia rushed in from the sea, swallowed up thousands of lives, and retreated with its human plunder. Hurricane Katrina busted down the door of weak levees and held Louisiana hostage. Hurricane Rita’s arrival triggered the unprecedented evacuation of our own city. And the earthquake in Pakistan simultaneously ended the lives of tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. In the span of just a few months, these disasters had rudely ushered thousands of souls into eternity.

   My friend Lee Pullin and I traveled to Pakistan to assist with earthquake relief efforts. With no agenda other than to allow God to guide us, Lee and I ended up in a remote village in the mountains of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier District. The entire village had been destroyed by the earthquake. Throughout the area, many bodies had not yet been recovered. “You will smell death,” said our translator. And, we did.

   After an assessment of the damage and an inquiry into available supplies, we learned that there was no more canvas and no more tents available for the displaced. So, we improvised. We purchased empty rice and flour sacks, filled them with dirt, stacked them into walls that could survive the frequent aftershocks, and then covered their span with sheets of tin. Our model home won rave reviews. With the harsh winter coming, the people of the village embraced this temporary but life-saving solution. So, we purchased enough supplies for villagers to build their own shelters.

   The night of Eid in 2005, Lee and I sat around the campfire with our new bearded Muslim friends. In the course of the conversation, one of the men talked about how much he admired Saddam Hussein. I replied that although Lee and I had seen much in the area, we had not seen Saddam. “And,” I continued, “if he were still in power I doubt he would have sent you any aid. But, we are here — two Christians from America who love God and love people.” Our host later told us that he was struggling to understand why the only people who had come to his village were two Christian men and not any of his own Muslim cousins. He said that our unconditional kindness had caused him to think about and to see Christians in a new light.

   Kindness is a language that anyone can speak and that most people understand. I just finished reading my fourth book on Mother Teresa’s life. The author observed, “She had to speak only one language to be understood by Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Americans. Her life of service spoke the international language of love” (Created for Greater Things, page 103). When you think about it, every Christian ought to be bi-lingual. So, learn the language of love and kindness and look for every opportunity to speak it. It will help others to see Jesus and His followers in a new light.

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