The following is an excerpt from a book I am reading entitled Neighbors and Wise Men by Tony Kriz. This tells about a time when Tony, a Christian from Portland, Oregon, is in Albania to share Jesus with Muslims at the university in Tirana.
They were a rugged duo from a small, outlying city. When I say rugged, I really mean rough, even a bit scary. When I first saw them in the dim corridor of their dormitory, I must adm it I was instinctually on my guard. They both had dark eyes and black hair with weathered skin. Ilir was the slighter of the two, thin, with sunken cheeks and narrow eyes. Genci was broad. He had crazy hair and thick beard groth. Both wore leather coats covered with creases and cracks.
My first impression, judging them as hoodlums, was not without some merit…That first day, the day we became friends, I was just wandering through their dormitory….As soon as Ilir and Genci saw me, they erupted in hospitality. They dragged me from the hallway and through their door. It was a typical room on the Tirana campus. It was small, no larger than a prison cell. There was one missing pane in their window, crudely replaced by a piece of cardboard…The beds were the only thing to sit on. [They] plopped onto the bed and took their places on either side of me. The other bed remained empty.
I was still not sure what to make of these scruffy men. I wasn’t sure I wanted them this close, their pungent aroma mixing with mine. By all indications, they could not have been more comfortable. Clearly they wanted to talk. I am not saying that there was any reason for concern, but I also knew that I wasn’t not going to do anything to upset them. I smiled to either side and tried to fully receive their physical offer of friendship.
After a while I asked if I could read them something about Jesus. They seemed unconcerned about the historical rift between their faith and mine. They seemed happy to just be together. So, I pulled out a small book.
I opened the pages.
Then, the most surprising thing happened.
Instinctively, Genci, sittting on my left, wrapped his arms around my arm, like a child, and laid his head upon my shoulder. His crazy hair brushed my chin and ear. He was ready to listen to whatever I might want to share.
At first, Ilir scooted away a bit. I thought for a second that he might be the more reserved of the two.
I was wrong.
After judging the distance, Ilir leaned over, sliding his torso under my right arm and placing his head square in the middle of my chest. He placed his right hand carefully on my belly. As I read, he could feel the vibration of my voice through my chest. He could feel my lungs rise and contract.
And there we sat for the better part of the afternoon. We talked about Jesus. We talked about family. They shared with me their story. They told me their dreams.
That year I started to read my Bible in a new way. I started to see touch everywhere, particularly in the Gospels…
And so, Dear Ones Who Read Here, I think about this as I watch mothers carry their babies in carriers rather than in their arms or wrapped on their bodies. I think about this as we feed babies a bottle in those carriers instead of breastfeeding or holding them while bottle feeding. I think about this when we plop toddlers and preschoolers in front of tv sets and Leap Frops instead of on our laps with a story book. I think about this as old people sit alone in their homes. I think about this when a young Afghan father is arrested for kissing his 18-month old child on the penis and when President Bush received bad press for holding hands at his Crawford ranch with Saudi Prince Abdullah (read more about that here). I think about this because my coworkers are giving gifts of massage for Christmas and I would not enjoy such a gift. Hmmmm
Pondering this Tuesday,