Getting close for Jesus: Touch and Testimony

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 inneighbors 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,



7 comments on “Getting close for Jesus: Touch and Testimony

  1. This post… touches me! (heehee) No, really. I think of my husband, in his prison ministry, who gets enveloped in crushing bear hugs from men that look like this. They just appreciate so much his taking time and effort to come be there with them. I also think it’s sad that we have had such a touch-me-not heritage, which has gotten worse in some ways because just two friends holding hands of hope in a crisis is now so much more likely to get misinterpreted… Too much lack of caring touch causes at least babies not to thrive… And I’d like one of those gifts, too!

    • You have such a great sense of humor, Sylvia. You are such a deep and complex individual. It is my gift to know you, even if only through cyber space. Perhaps some day our paths will cross and I will be able to physically feel that hug…oh stoic German that I am.

  2. Dear Dawn:
    Having been single for 20 years and living far from my grandchildren I am acutely aware of the lack of “touch” in my life. Sundays are often the one day of the week where I receive touch of any kind . . . a handshake, a hug or a warm hand on my shoulder. A hug will usually brings tears as does simply writing about this. I am personally not stingy with physical touch but in the work place and especially around all men it is generally not appropriate.

    Love the excerpt from the book, so moving and intimately wonder-filled.
    Wishing I was close enough to come and have tea and a hug.

  3. I so understand Andrea Dawn’s comment and I’m sending hugs her way . . . and your way, too, Dawn!!!! You, the stoic German, and me the distant, stoic Dutch who was raised in a distant, cold New Jersey where people don’t even make eye contact!
    Being a single woman in this day and age raises eyebrows, and to hug another woman raises questionable thoughts as to my sexual preferences. I know. I’ve been asked the questions many times. It’s more acceptable to live with another man unmarried than to live alone single. Amazing, isn’t it? Again, like Dawn, it is only in my church where I’m hugged and drawn into real love where people who care are willing to show it and live it out in their lives.

    I will never forget when a friend took a “baby sitting” job for a doctor and his wife. She ended up with the child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That child was clingy, sad, scared, unresponsive, skinny, and interested in nothing. We all felt so sorry for her and knew that all she really wanted was some love and attention from her parents.

    This post makes me want to hug someone today besides Buster. He already got his today!

  4. Dear Cora and Andrea Dawn,

    Thanks for chiming in with your ‘not so unique these days’ perspective, the perspective of the single woman. I had a period in my life where my husband was in school full-time away from the family. I was raising my kids by myself (sort of). It was really strange not being a couple socially. I didn’t know where to go to Sunday School (the singles class was either college age or over 70) and the couples class was, tada, couples. Couple friends didn’t include me in outings and I had no one to ‘be with’ the kids should I want to go ‘out with the girls’. I know your comments were more about physical touch and perceptions, but I wanted to expand on that. Singleness is a challenge. Hugs to you both!

  5. I went away from this post, pondering myself, and then I didn’t come back. But I want to share that I am deeply impacted by touch. As a touching child in a family of “non-touch”-ers, I was labeled as clingy and needy. Later, as parent and an OB nurse who had learned through my own needs how to use touch to soothe and calm and re-direct, I began to understand that I was given a great blessing in my automatic touch reflex. My hands have helped many people feel better, both physically and emotionally. Thank you, God, for letting my hands be your hands sometimes.

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