This time tomorrow night, we should be flying to Dubai. A few days later, we should be landing in Kabul.
Given recent events, several friends have commented, and I am sure many others have wondered, about the wisdom of returning to live in such a country. The reasoning is something like that such move, if not unwise, is at least dangerous and possibly irresponsible, particularly given that we have three kids.
Well, maybe. But let me assure all the readers of this blog (and I know all four of you), that we have considered this decision. Not only us. The agency which is sending us, TEAR (www.tear.org.au) has considered also, considerably. So much so that it was not until three days ago that we got the final go ahead.
But TEAR aside, Julie and I have long discussed this move, and the possible ramifications. We have done the math years ago, and recently again. We are well aware that this time in Afghanistan could end unhappily, as could any of our previous times (and some of them did conclude with some major grief). But a bad ending is not sufficient criteria for turning aside from this journey.
‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him “Come and die” ‘. Thus said Bonhoeffer, and while he meant it in a spiritual sense – that is, the death of one’s private ego and aspirations – I think he also meant it literally. And as it turned out for Bonhoeffer, it was a literal and a spiritual command. I suppose it could turn out that way for us. We are ok with that. Shouldn’t anyone of faith be ok with that? Jesus, whom I follow, called people – anyone who listened – to abandon security and safety and the protection of their own life. Heck, we are going to die anyway, and who says my life is so tremendously significant that I ought to fiercely protect it? ‘Ahhh’, you say, ‘but you have children now. Fine to go and die for your dreams, but what about them?’ Good point. For what it is worth, the kids are very happy to be going back to Afghanistan. They are looking forward to the TVs on the plane, they tell me. And if I tell them to live lives of committed faith, but fail to do so myself, isn’t that some kind of hypocrisy?
That is not meant to sound trite, or cheap. It is simply that it is easy to turn away from atrocity and hardship: that is in fact the mantra for modern living – ‘take it easy, enjoy, relax, you deserve it.’ This is a particularly powerful message as you get older, when you are supposed to be settling down and end your youthful adventuring. ‘Let someone else go to Afghanistan’, is a message we have heard many times in the last months.
When we got married, Julie and I vowed to try to live lives of simplicity, pilgrimage and community. We have failed in lots of ways, but I think we are still mostly going the right ways. Now that we are parents, the equation has got more complicated, and it involves things like ‘responsible parenting’, but responsible family life was never meant to trump radical family life (thanks to Michael Duncan, and his excellent book, ‘Discipleship, Development and Pain’, for that notion).
I think what I am trying to say, is that if I follow Christ, then I have to be prepared to follow him anywhere. And I should be prepared to show that to my kids, my peers, my family. Afghanistan is not exempt. That doesn’t make God a tyrant and my faith onerous. I could say no, Julie could say no, and Jesus would be cool with that. But we are saying ‘yes’. As the Afghan proverb says, ‘Trust in God, but tie up your camel’. We will trust in God, and avoid men with guns.