Thoughts of language school in Pakistan stir up lots of memories, some delightful and some excruciating. This one is a bit of both.
One particular day our vocabulary teacher introduced us to the word safar.
“Repeat after me,” she said. “Súh-fr.” We did, and of course, she kindly approved.
“Safar means journey, like when you travel. Often in Urdu words sound like the feeling they provoke.” She chuckled affectionately as she explained herself. “When you travel in Pakistan you suffer, because the roads are very bad here. Maybe that will help you remember the meaning of safar.” She literally laughed out loud, and we all joined in. Anyone who has traveled at all knows that travel can mean many things to many people.It wasn’t long before our family would take a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Khyber Pass through Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. We would travel on a historic steam locomotive that was built by the British in the late 1800’s and had recently been restored.
Before boarding the train, we were reminded that we would pass through tribal territories and numerous pitch-dark tunnels that had been blasted through the mountains for the railroad’s passage. Officials warned us to hold our personal belongings close in the tunnels, because often young boys would hop on the train and steal things while no one could see them.
The tunnels were certainly scary. We weren’t robbed, though, and the mountainous trek revealed scenes that traversed time. Along rugged ridges we caught glimpses into color-splashed courtyards where veiled women hung laundry and tended children. Goats, water buffalo and farmers adorned terraced hillsides. Grit from the wind that blew into our train car tasted like the ages we passed through. The scenes could have been the same a thousand years ago.
Suddenly, the train came to a stop. While we waited for some mechanical repairs, two pre-teen boys approached our open train window. They hurled some demands in their local language, but we couldn’t understand what they said. Menacingly, they lifted large stones and threatened to throw them at us.
Just in time, a friend nearby came to our aid and asked the boys why they were going to throw rocks at us. The boys’ answer harnessed our hearts.
“We want pens,” they said, “for school.”
Two things happened. First, we realized these kids never expected that a simple ask might get them what they needed. All they knew was what they didn’t have.
Second, we eagerly scrambled through our bags to gather all the pens and pencils we could find. The boys’ rocks fell to the ground as we handed our collection through our train car’s window to their own outstretched hands.
The boys looked with amazement at their handfuls of pens and pencils. Then they looked up at us. They smiled, and they thanked us.
I cried tears of joy and sorrow. We had what they needed, and we loved sharing with them. It’s what they didn’t know that still grieves my spirit. What they needed was free for the asking, all along.
Not a single practicing Muslim anywhere knows the Truth about Jesus. They know Him as a prophet, but not as God. They do not know that the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ (Rom. 6:23). What sorrow!
But we know all about the gift! We have received it freely, and now it is ours to share freely (Matt. 10:8), to the Glory of the Giver, for the sake of Muslims everywhere. What joy!