I was meeting with New York Times bestselling author. This was our second meeting. I’d read her book a while back, liked what she had to say, and when I found out that another friend knew her, I asked to be introduced to her. Our first meeting had gone well.
It was a few weeks before the last presidential election. As we sat at a table at Starbucks, she started to tell me about the conversation she’d recently had with a friend who disliked Sarah Palin.
“I’m voting for McCain.” I told her.
“What?! You’re a Republican?”
“Yes, I am.”
I could tell she was surprised. People who don’t know me have a hard time pigeon-holing me. Some Evangelicals feel that I’m too liberal to be a Christian, and non-Christians are shocked to find out that I, a brown-skin Iranian, am a conservative Christian. She wasn’t any different. Her book, which I recommend very highly, is not something that every evangelical would have on their bookshelf. So, she had assumed I was a liberal.
Her curiosity got the best of her, so she asked, “Why do you like McCain?”
“He is for securing our borders,” I replied.
“I want our borders left open.”
Now it was my turn to ask questions: “Why do you want our borders left unsecured?”
“I want people to come here so they can be helped.”
“If you want to help them, why don’t you go over there?” I asked her.
That’s when everything hit the fan.
In the middle of Starbucks, she began pounding the table with a raised voice saying, “How dare you?! How dare you?!”
Those who know me know that I never shy away from a good confrontation, but I almost never go out of my way to deliberately provoke anyone to anger or hurt their feelings. My new-found friend’s reaction was a total surprise to me.
I had no idea why she was so angry with me. I was almost in tears and shaking. My brain began to search for the cause of her anger like my Mac doing a search on the hard drive for a lost document. If she had listened hard enough, she could have heard the clicking in my head. Then, Eureka! I figured it out.
She was angry because a naturalized American, me, had just told her, an American, to leave her country. But that wasn’t what I meant. It took me a while to explain to her what my point was, and eventually she apologized to me. I think I might have been as upset if I was in her place not knowing what the other person meant with those words.
I was simply referring to what I’ve practiced in my own life. For example, when I visited Tajikistan in 1998 (a war-torn ex-Soviet satellite, which is among the poorest nations in the world), I was so moved by the lack of healthcare in the country that the following year I went back with a medical team hoping to alleviate some of the pain I’d witnessed. I didn’t go around demanding that the government should bring all sick Tajiks here so Americans can take care of them. That was my personal issue. I was obeying Christ’s mandate.
In asking my question, I was telling my friend, “If you really care about helping people of other countries, YOU go over there and help them. Don’t turn something personal into a public problem demanding that others take care of it for you.”And to me, this is "Social Justice".
After my explanation and her apology, we went back to being friends. We have met once or twice since in the same Starbucks.
It’s the last day of a grueling seven days of providing care to over 600 sick people by an American medical team in Ghorghan Tepeh, Tajikistan—a Muslim nation. Except for me, everyone in the team has suffered from some kind of dysentery. Being born and raised in Iran has its benefits. For over a week we’ve had no water or electricity. It’s in the middle of summer and it’s quite hot. Although the team is under my care, I mostly act as a translator and at times help with crowd control.
We’re all tired, smelly and desperately in need of a shower. I am also quite frustrated. There is so little the team’s doctors can do with the limited resources they have available. They have no X-ray or CAT scan machines, and can’t run blood tests. So sometimes the best we can do is pray over the patient.
As Marvin (a team member who’s directed many medical teams before with his doctor wife) and I are guiding patients to where they’re supposed to go, a Tajik lady walks up to us. She’s crying. Our doctors can’t do anything for her.
“My in-laws want my husband to divorce me,” she tells me in Tajik.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because I’m barren and my in-laws demand grandchildren of us. But I love my husband.”
Now, I’m in tears. I know the pain of being barren. My wife experienced that for the first eight years of our marriage, but there’s nothing we can do. I explain to Marvin what the issue is, and then ask her if she would let us pray for her.
I want her to know to whom I’m praying, so I pray in Tajik. My heart is heavy as we send her away. She is crying and I’m wondering how God’s going to answer this prayer. Even if there was a medical solution, these people are so poor and can’t afford even the most basic surgical procedure.
As the end of the day draws near, I’m even more frustrated. There are more patients to see and we’ve ran out of most of our medicine. I’m grateful that our doctors have so sacrificially put aside their own interests and seen patient after patient for hours on end. But, I also wish they could do more. Frankly, I’m beginning to wonder if this has been a successful trip when our infertile lady shows up again.
This time she is full of joy. Her tears have turned into laughter. “What in heaven’s name could have changed her so quickly?” I wonder.
This is what she tells us: “By the time I got home there was a letter from the government telling us we’ve been approved to adopt the twins we’ve been asking for. We’ll start the procedures tomorrow.”
She then makes another announcement, “The twins will be called, Shahrokh and Marvin.” Dear God, I feel sorry for those kids. Shahrokh is a Persian name and can be handled with much less difficulty in that culture, but Marvin?
And finally she presents Marvin and me with a naan — a flat, round bread popular in that part of the world. “I want you and Marvin to each take a bite on different parts of the bread,” she tells us. We comply.
She takes the bread back and says, “We will nail the bread to a wall in our house and keep it there for as long as it lasts. This is our tradition; something we practice in memory and respect of people who have touched our lives.”
By the time we leave for the States, we have seen over 600 patients. We’re all filled with a sense of gratitude and fulfillment for being able to touch so many lives in such a short time. Yes, there are many more people to be helped, but none of us come away thinking that somehow every American is obligated to share our burden and bring the needy Tajiks to the US so they can be helped.