Snakes, 9/11 & Iranians

How fear can change a worldview, and not for the better

 

For so many years, Iran was the outline of the country, alongside Iraq or Afghanistan, on the news. Red arrows pointed in directions of how our troops were moving through and removing the regime of the dictator Saddam Hussein. Their stories were tales of extreme Islamic terrorists, terrorism, and how if we didn’t protect ourselves by hurting them, we’d be next.

I never understood, nor did I ever support, the idea that someone born in the Middle East was more dangerous and therefore someone to be feared. I noticed the hollow eyes of the children my age (then in third through sixth grade) looking through the news crew camera at me. I noticed we were nearly the same skin color and I thought, “They’re people God loves; why should wasting their lives be better?”

But I watched “Iron Man” when it came out, and took for granted the desolate rocky landscape, the harsh notes of the Arabic language and the gunfire. I saw the ads making “Arabian” women “exotic” in it, as seen in many other movies, TV shows, and ads, using traditional and cultural symbols to either promote this idea of a violent savage or a lush delicacy to be desired.

I didn’t expect to have my world rocked by two gentlemen in front of me one Friday.

Again, I’ve met, interacted with, and shared meals with Persians, Iranians, and other Middle Eastern families, thanks to my father having a multitude of multicultural friends (yes folks, soccer is an international sport). My brain, however, saw these families as the exceptions to the rule. They were in America. Therefore, they were more American, and less of the country they came from.

Back to these two gentlemen. They were in class to talk about how they’d come from the country of Iran–how the sociocultural and political landscape was so tumultuous that one faced jail for an anti-government statement slogan on Facebook, and the other escaped because he desired to live in a country that didn’t threaten curiosity with a gun.

These men risked their lives on rafts, crossing open ocean for nine days, all to reach safety, and now they face the incredible task of attempting to obtain not refugee status, not work permits, but the ability to have permanent residency in Australia.

They were–obviously–some of the most human people I’ve ever met. Yet in my mind, I’d allowed my culture to shape my perception of these beautiful, loved by God people steeped in a culture hundreds of years older than ours.

I felt an overwhelming sense of shame and sorrow. Grace given, I was a child and easily shaped, but for years, I’d had a perception dictated only by people who had no interest in the heart of Iranians (and no, they are not Iraqis. There is a HUGE difference!

Random but relevant story– The other night, walking down the street back to my house, I saw what I thought was a stick in between the street lamps. The closer I got, the longer it grew in my eyes until I saw a beady little eye and a small tongue flicking out to catch my scent. An internal shriek and short sprint later, I realized my understanding of Australia –the land of poisonous and deadly things–had me gone out of ever knowing what that snake was, whether it was poisonous or not, and whether it was aggressive or not. While I was safe, I’d lost an opportunity to have an experience. Yeah, it was dark, and yeah, I am not an ophiologist, but still; opportunity gone.

The next few nights I did a hybrid of high knees and ground pounding (vibrations scare snakes, not noises) as I walked down that street, but I quickly realized my encounter directly dictated my behavior. Although the snake didn’t attack me, and although I haven’t seen any since, my knowledge of what a snake can do, and the fact I was unexpectedly brought face to face with one, sprouted fear and effectively changed how I behaved and perceived that particular section of road.

did some rabbit-trail thinking about how I got to my “understanding” of their culture after they had gone – trying to understand how I could be so subconsciously two-faced. As an American, I know and remember 9/11. I allowed the idea of men in turbans (Muslims) or women in burkas were unknowable, alien, not like us, radically different, and strange.

Fear of 9/11, the wars in the Middle East, and terrorist attacks have given us an out for looking at the effects of what a few have done, resulting in a judgment of those who we don’t give a second thought to.

As followers of Christ, brothers and sisters, is it not our job to see the person, the created? Why do we spit in the face of a culture that cherishes the importance of family? Hospitality? Along with so many other things that yes, I still don’t know or understand.

Here’s my point: if we’re to make a ruling on a group of people based on the actions of a few, are we truly looking at these people and giving them a chance to be understood, acknowledged and loved? Are we letting fear of a possible outcome stop us from loving our neighbor?

These two men forced me to confront an worldview fed to me and made from fear.

I leave you with a challenge. Today, tomorrow, the next – go talk to someone you have a misconception about. Start a conversation, invest in a new group of people. We’re here to spread the gospel to people, and to love our neighbor. Let’s not forget that and let fear do our thinking for us.

 

 

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‘Australian Heartland’ (A Poem)

Excerpt from Laina Faul’s personal blog “Thoughts From Laina.”  Laina is a Spring 2016 ASC student from Belhaven University. Reproduced with permission.

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Charleville, Queensland, Australia | Photo by Sierra Tinsley

Australian Heartland
by Laina Jo Faul

She is a silent beautiful.
Thick-skinned and harsh,
bootstraps and tracks,
hot-iron branded,
She looks good in leather,
makes rugged fashionable,
and has so many hidden talents,
discovering them all is a talent in itself.

During the day,
She paints you in red dust,
invites you to experience her
fully.
Flies colonize your shirt back and
tell secrets in your ears.
Roos bound through low brush;
the Bush comes alive.
Cattle roam as the Ute engines roar;
dust clouds envelope the road.

At night,
the ground folds into sky
full of constellations I don’t recognize.
A whisper
a wish,
falls from the stars.
I wake to a risen moon,
wander back into dreamless sleep
and do not wake again
until first light.

Night air retreats,
makes way for rising sun’s heat,
the Cattleman already hard at work.
She shows him the way,
gives and takes;
She reminds him it is not his land.
She is Life and Death,
hope and regret,
the river in flood and drought.
Her trees are old,
her soil older.
We only know
what she reveals.

I,
a pilgrim,
a wanderer in this place,
came to her unknowing,
willing to taste her tastes.
She left satisfaction in my gut,
but a longing in my throat
to know the heart of home land
the way she wants to be known.

 

Last week we spent several days in Charleville, Queensland. The vastness of the land is difficult to fathom. The way life is sustained within a harsh environment is astonishing. There is unexpected beauty everywhere. Most of Australia’s population lives in its major cities, which are primarily coastal. Even so, most of the continent is bushland. Much of the country is the Outback, and even though most people do not live there or have spent any significant time there, it is part of the Australian identity.

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Outback sunset at Charleville, Queensland

Crossing Paths & Fleeting Moments

Excerpt from Shannon Nace’s personal blog “Crossing Paths and Fleeting Moments.  Shannon is a Spring 2016 ASC student from Messiah College (PA). Reproduced with permission.

Life in Brisbane:

 School: is busy but interesting! I’m learning a lot. My favorite class right now is a Communication for Ministry class which is teaching me all about effective communication in a ministry role. This is definitely something that will influence my career and I’m really excited about what my future holds.

Personal Life: I’ve started volunteering with Red Frogs Australia! They’re an awesome organization who goes to college parties and events to hold hydration stations, give out food, snacks and make sure that students get home safely at the end of the night! They’re really great and you should check them out.http://www.redfrogs.com.au

Weather: it’s beautiful! Finally cooling down so a t-shirt and shorts are good for the day and I can even where a jumper or pants around in the evening. It’s in the 70’s, which is my favorite weather. But it’s certainly still nice enough for the beach!

What I’ve seen: Cairns, QLD. Traveled with some mates for spring break! Coff’s Harbour/Red Rock, NSW. Went camping with my host family & Bree.Byron Bay, NSW. Got to stand at the eastern most point of Australia!…….I’m headed to the outback in the morning!

Friends: See Below!

 

Lessons in Brisbane:

One of my biggest struggles of being abroad is feeling like I’ve lost my support system. The people that I used to spend late nights giggling with in the basement of Mellinger or playing pool with in the Union. It feels like I’ve just been picked up and placed again on a different continent. I keep wondering where all my friends ran off to.

If you know me at all, you know that I love people and will find you and hug you and ask a bunch of questions. But imagine how weird that is when you’re in a country filled with strangers. At bus stations, in parks, in the grocery store with a bunch of people you will likely never see again. It is strange thing that people are living their own very personal lives amongst us and we often pass strangers by without a second thought. It’s times like those where it’s difficult to remember what it’s like to be surrounded by people whose stories you know and resonate with.

I had a revelation just the other day; I’ve met a lot of really awesome people here. At first, it was frustrating not having my people around but now; I’m quickly realizing it’s a blessing. If it weren’t for my lack of comfort, I would just be getting by without ever realizing the stories people are living around me; without finding others who are searching for something too. And I’m glad we’re all searching together. Life is confusing and messy and the thing is, we weren’t created to face that alone. As I travel and write my story, I’ve met some really great people who are feeling the same way.

People are genuinely nice, when you care about their stories. When you acknowledge them as a person and ask questions. Even if you might only see them for 1 week or 1 hour, investing in others lives is so very important. It’s in those moments where you find a sense of clarity, hope, fun and sometimes bravery. Opening your arms wide to others not only welcomes them in but welcomes joy and love into your heart, but only if you let it.

I have spent much of my life not letting that joy and love in. I loved people on the outside but never let them touch my heart. It wasn’t until I got here that I learned how important it is to take every moment for what it is worth. I used to think that only the people that I was close to or that I spent time with regularly were the ones who would change me. That what they thought of me, saw in my future, wanted from me, was all that mattered. When in reality, this experience has taught me that those lessons and clarity can come from people that you meet in fleeting moments.

I spent my spring break in Cairns (pronounced cans) with two of my mates. We spent some time on the Great Barrier Reef, in the clouds and exploring hidden beaches. It was a great time to unwind and relax. But you know that it’s in those moments where your mind starts to wander. I was on a beachside oasis when I got a message from a friend back home. He was asking about my experience and ways that he could pray for me. Much of what he said reminded me of the importance of taking a step back. I was looking too closely at my situation that I was missing out on the lessons that I was being taught. I’ve been too busy reading the fine print, and have been missing out on GOD written in big bold letters. That there was so much I could be learning from the paths I was crossing along the way.

  • After we landed in Cairns, we were waiting for the shuttle to our hostel when someone sparked conversation with a girl named Emily. She is a kindred soul from England who is living and working in Brisbane as an au pair. We spent some time chatting and decided that we would grab some breakfast and invited her to join. Over the following three days, we spent time hearing about her experiences, sharing our lives and getting to know one another. It was refreshing to meet someone from a totally different cultural context, experience and style. It had never crossed my mind that I may never see her again, but I enjoyed her company for the time I was able to spend with her. She taught me mostly about spontaneity and that is something I will always carry with me.

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  • During our same trip to Cairns, we spent a day on the Great Barrier Reef. It was a beautiful sunny day and our boat set sail around 8:30am. Around 9 am, I became a lone snorkeler as my mates were overcome by seasickness. At first I was really disappointed, because I wanted them to feel better and also because I didn’t want to snorkel alone. I was frustrated that I would have to experience one of the seven natural wonders of the world by my lonesome. After the first of three snorkels, we had time for lunch and I made conversation with the girl in front of me in line. Her entire family was on board vacationing from Buffalo, New York. We immediately bonded over our homeland but shared discussion in a wide variety of topics. I remember the passion in her eyes when she was telling me she just received a scholarship offer for her first choice, University of Michigan. After lunch, she asked me if I wanted to snorkel together and I immediately said yes. We snorkeled and had a great time. Her kindness, passion and excitement for life are something I will always carry with me.

Before this experience, I would have never thought to grab breakfast or snorkel the GBR with a stranger. Those experiences for me were reserved for my friends. But I’ve been learning that in those impromptu experiences there is so much richness and fullness of life. To hear about others passions and dreams is encouraging. Even though I know I may never see either of them again, I am thankful that when I think back on those experiences, I’ll remember their kindness, their laughter and their drives for life.

It’s a small, small world. It’s incredible to see the ways that God has comforted that need for me by introducing me to people who are in the same boat (literally and figuratively). People just trying to find their way. People like me. It’s cool to see how much of a community you can build just by spending time with people who are feeling a little like yourself. A little scared. A little hopeful. But mostly brave.