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FIRST PERSON: Opening my heart to ‘enemies’

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–When I first heard about the death of Osama bin Laden from people at the mosque in my neighborhood, I was in shock. Little did I know we were both living in the same country — Pakistan.

When I turned to the Internet for more information, I noticed a Facebook friend in America had updated his status: “Never forget 9/11.”

Rest assured, I haven’t.

In fact, I vividly remember that Tuesday morning like it was yesterday. On a rooftop in New York, I bore witness to my generation’s Pearl Harbor. For 101 minutes the towers burned until they were no more.

My older brother was working on the 82nd floor when Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. He survived and joined thousands of ash-covered New Yorkers in a mass exodus across the Brooklyn Bridge. On the other side of the bridge, thousands anxiously awaited. Some carried photos of their loved ones; others offered free rides to the victims.

At my family’s home in New York, we gathered to watch and wait. The streets had been eerily quiet as I walked home. Phone lines were jammed. Only one TV station worked. Travel into Manhattan was banned. All anyone could do was wait.

In the days that followed bin Laden’s death in Pakistan, all anyone could do was wait to see what would be the end result of this major event. Public transportation was silent as people avoided the subject everyone else in the world wanted to talk about.

In the university classes I was teaching overseas, that silence didn’t last long. My students have always been open to discussing issues of faith, ethics and worldview. They’ll express opinions about Islam that would surprise or shock anyone. They want freedoms of expression and religion. They want choice.

Most here didn’t support Osama bin Laden or his cause. But when I asked in class whether Islam is compatible with globalization, they answered reluctantly because they didn’t want to be perceived as bad Muslims. This thinking prohibits people from pursuing freedom, love and peace. But peace doesn’t come from Hollywood or not practicing Islam. It comes only from Jesus.

I know this struggle for peace from personal experience. After my family was attacked on 9/11, we waved flags, posted pictures of the New York skyline and chanted U-S-A at baseball games. We wanted to “get those terrorists” and show our solidarity as Americans.

All of that changed for me in September 2003 when I met Jesus.

God replaced my “American” identity with one grounded in His Son. I no longer placed my security in my passport but in His eternal Word.

I used to constantly ask myself, “How can we possibly love the lost — the Muslim terrorists — who attacked my city?” Our answer should always be “Yes, we can” because our Jesus-centered faith demands it. Our Christian response must never resemble the world’s.

To this day I’m convinced it was the Spirit who laid Pakistan on my heart. This country and people that had never crossed my mind became an inescapable thought. So much so that when I shared this calling with my close friends I couldn’t help but weep.

I still have heartfelt emotions for Pakistan, especially as I watched the online debate following bin Laden’s death. One Facebook friend posted on his wall: “I’m a Christian and I’m happy Osama is dead.”

Juxtaposing his reaction with his faith made me wonder how much of our response is more American than it is Christian; more from our fallen nature than from God.

The early church felt the same way about Saul as we do about today’s terrorists and how I felt about those who attacked us on 9/11. But look at what Paul left behind in Jesus’ name. I believe it can happen again because God can transform even the hardest of hearts. He did mine.

God opened my heart to become friends with someone whom I previously thought was my enemy. He looks like any other Pakistani, but this man fought for his country and killed Americans as a member of a terrorist group. That is, until he found a Bible and read, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s a truly radical thought, especially for someone taught to “kill your enemies and fight back.”

My friend now disciples a group of men with similar backgrounds, all of whom he led to Christ. Recently he was beaten nearly to death for sharing the Gospel, but it hasn’t deterred him from continuing to bear witness.

I believe individuals such as my friend can change the world like Paul did. This change will come from a place we least expect and from a people we can’t imagine being anything but our enemy.
Cade Rutledge can be contacted at [email protected]. For more information on how to reach Muslim neighbors with Christ’s love, visit lovingmuslims.com for a two-week small group study and an eight-day prayer guide for use with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The website also offers sermon outlines, feature stories, videos and additional resources.

    About the Author

  • Cade Rutledge