I stood on the steps of his home talking about the recent bombing downtown. I didn’t notice his tears at first—an unusual display of personal fear for an educated, middle-aged man in his culture. A calloused finger reached under his glasses as his voice cracked; his country was in crisis. As a newcomer, I really didn’t know what context to give the news commentators or how to read between the lines of a news article.
But he did. And the unmistakable context he gave the evening’s newscast was his boyhood memories of "the war." That's what took him directly to the afternoon 30 years ago that he miscalculated the trajectory of an incoming mortar. (They had learned the pattern of the targets; they figured they were safe to walk where a mortar had just landed.) As the familiar whirr moved uncomfortably close that day, his mind snapped into action. He leaped with all his 14-year-old agility into a gully within sight of where we stood.
“Right there. That’s where me and my friend landed. We barely escaped the explosion.” By now, beads of perspiration were forming on my friend’s forehead. “When the dust settled, it was…. Wonderful. Wonderful to stand up. Wipe off our pants. To run for the bomb shelter.” It sounded like he was recounting a memory. But it was still happening for him.
In a moment of vivid experience, I saw the dark thread of war woven into the country’s history and into my friend’s worldview. Whether short or long, any war experience is indelibly imprinted on the mind. But weeks in bomb shelters, water unavailable, death everywhere, social life on hold, hunger will shape a person, a country, and even a culture. When survival is the norm, it becomes part of life.
Regardless of one’s faith, war shapes a view of God as well--and His role in the horror. It molds the meaning of life and its priorities. It gives proof of a destructive and destroyed world. Everything is vulnerable. Daily security is gone. Trust is shattered. Personal ethic is tested and often re-defined for survival. Long after the daily mortars fall, the need for security remains. And a view of authority, change, death, possessions, and life very easily fall intothe shape of that war experience.
History is a fine-print encyclopedia for any cross-cultural, international worker. Bookshelves are stacked with titles that dare to understand the history of the Middle East. After living in my host country for several years, I've read a few. I realized how much it explains of the inexplicable around me.
But not all history is written in books. Or written at all. Story telling. Folks sayings. Humor. Some history is written the most clearly in conversations, decision-making, and even relationships.
Whatever that story is—conquest, civil war, a natural disaster, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, independence, famine—the shape is indelibly impressed in the peoples’ self-image, the heart never forgets. Anyone looking on and willing to listen is called to share in the story, to hear the weariness of the heart, and to let God speak peace, healing, and hope. --KL