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FIRST-PERSON: Initial moments of panic, a year of trusting God

EDITORS’ NOTE: The writer is a young Southern Baptist who went to serve in the Arab world soon after the Sept. 11 attacks.

IN THE MIDDLE EAST (BP)–I arrived at the Missionary Learning Center in Virginia on Sept. 9, 2001, to train for my new mission assignment in the Middle East.

Two days later, airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

That day is a bit of a blur to me now. I realize for most people the details are firmly planted in their memories — maybe because they actually experienced it, whereas I viewed it from a distance, kind of like one of those little glass balls you shake and watch the snow settle over a village.

I do know that somebody made an announcement about the attacks to our missionary orientation group. We discussed what had happened and our feelings. I really didn’t understand the magnitude of the situation at that point. While the rest of the world was being bombarded with news broadcasts, we were living without televisions or radios in our rooms.

After the first day or two, many of us decided not even to discuss it. The general consensus seemed to be that we were more likely to keep our faith in the Lord’s will for us if we avoided focusing on the evil of mankind.

Consequently, while the world was absorbed in the 9/11 disaster, we strolled around our bizarrely peaceful camp, isolated in the middle of the lush Virginia countryside. We saw nobody except ourselves, and thanks to our busy days and activity-filled nights, we rarely talked to outsiders.

However, since I would be on the way to the Middle East in a month and a half, I decided I had better become a bit more educated on the history of the problems there. The more I read, the more dismayed I became that I had voluntarily chosen to go there! The dismay quickly returned to fright — which was only encouraged by the barrage of phone calls from friends and family telling me I couldn’t possibly still go.

Eventually, people stopped trying to convince me not to go and simply assumed I wouldn’t. That was when I began to wonder if I had made the wrong decision. I knew I had been called by God to go, but what if I had misunderstood the direction? Finally, in a moment of panic, I tried to call one of the missionary orientation leaders to tell him I needed to be reassigned someplace else. But I couldn’t reach him.

That night, I prayed like crazy that God would show me what to do. Sure enough, the next morning I was filled with peace, and I knew that I would stand by my original decision.

From the moment I arrived in the Middle East last fall, I have never once been persecuted for my faith. I have not once been afraid for my personal safety. The Arab people love to talk about politics — it’s a huge part of their lives. But a much larger part of their lives is relationships. I have never met an Arab who would pass up making a friend or risk isolating a friend for the sake of making a political point.

It was interesting to come to the Middle East when I did, because Christian workers were leaving and nobody was coming to take their place. Slowly but surely, however, more people are signing on to join us. I think that 9/11 — the very event that initially scared people away — will be the thing God uses to make people aware of the desperate need for workers here.

I can only pray that I will still be here when God’s plan really comes into focus — and we begin to see his name glorified in this land.
*Name withheld for security reasons.

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