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It has been a miserable 2 years since my return from the Peace Corps. Since coming back from Turkmenistan, I’ve clumsily groped my way through the blinding speed and blurriness of American life. Out of desperation, I’ve loaned my poor soul to a giant corporate technology company for one long year, and retreated back to the familiar halls of education, where I now try to “mold minds” as English teacher at a local high school.

During my first year back, my mind often involuntarily drifted back to nostalgic visions of my former life as a PC volunteer. Many a day were spent on long, static sitting sessions where I gazed blankly into space, my mind performing séances with my emaciated memories of Turkmenistan.

Now, even two years later, I reminisce about those days of old. Some days, usually when I’m trying to avoid doing work, I’d let my nostalgia and curiosity lead me to search for Christian mission opportunities in Turkey as a way of exploring options to return to that region of the world. I’d often comb the internet with search terms such as, “Turkey Christian mission”, or “Central Asia Christian mission blog”, and hope to find missionaries’ blogs about their experiences in Turkey that would galvanize me to heed a calling.

Most searches for these terms, however, returned with alarming articles about how 3 Christian missionaries were tortured with rope and bread knives for 3 hours then finally murdered by slitting their throats. This did not encourage my nascent desires to go on a missions trip.

My spirits deflated, I descried another curious article title that promised to be just as cheerful and optimistic as the last one: “Failed Missionary”. I clicked, and the web opened a portal to a kindred spirit in the author, Rhonda Van Sluis.

Rhonda Van Sluis was just another Christian woman with a passion for the Lord, who, so convinced by the saving grace of the Gospel, embarked on a journey to a country half a world away to save the lost. She, too, like me, had ideals to live by, and followed a religious logic that demanded urgent action.

Sluis’ story, however, went off script. When she arrived, she did not enter a terrible, backwards country full of repressive customs and barbarism as she had imagined. Instead, she found a welcoming, generous, but Muslim host family that served her meals and tea, guided her through the customs of her community, and, doted and fussed about their new tenant as if she was their own daughter. In short, they loved her. And, for Sluis, as well as other hardcore believing Christians like myself, this was a huge problem.

She originally thought that the gospel would save her host family from sin, but instead found that these “lost” people possessed the same spiritual and moral values as her own:

All of the good Christian values that I had been led to believe were the result of Jesus’ transformative power were alive and well in the lives of this typical Turkish family. They weren’t acting like they were “lost.”

The disarming love of her Muslim host family caused her to question her own certainty in her own Christian dogma, causing the rocky soil of her heart to soften and accept the seeds of doubt.

Long story short, Sluis disappointedly finds out that her zeal for the Lord and the “lost” turned out to be a quick, but fleeting spark. The article, though full of hope, read more like an unresolved Lament Psalm gone awry, where the author failed to proclaim her unfailing trust in the Lord on cue in the last verses . Instead, she proudly proclaims her own transformation from a insistent fundamentalist to an open citizen of the world:

“I believed in the power of personal example and the ability of God’s spirit to change people for the better. I never expected that the most powerful personal examples would be those lived in front of me by Muslim friends. I never could have guessed that the person who would be changed for the better would be me.” 

While reading Sluis’s article, I felt my own memories surface, my emotions resonating with Sluis’ own spiritual struggle. Like the author, I, too, had a Virgilian host mother who demonstrated love, compassion, and patience better than anyone I had ever met in the church. I couldn’t help but chuckle out loud when I read her account of how her host mother dragged her to “bes cay” (5’oclock tea) time against her own personal desire for solitude. My host mother did the EXACT same thing with me. When I tried to hide and cloister myself from the strange world like a hermit, my host mother coaxed me out of my dark hole with hot tea, stale cookies, and cheap, sugary candy.

Two years later, I still think about the ultimate fate of my host mother and the other wonderful people I’ve met during my Peace Corps service. I’d like to think that I will see their bright faces in heaven (assuming that I’ve got membership to that club too), but according to what I’m supposed to believe, well…I just don’t know. I think I will tire myself to death by running around in these circles.

In one passage in the article, Sluis recounts a time where she is having a heart-to-heart conversation with her friend Nazmiye. At one moment, her Muslim friend wryly observes that “Christians believe that all Muslims are going to hell and Muslims believe all Christians are going to hell”, upon which the author recognizes that “neither are willing to consign each other to eternal damnation”. I am still sitting there on that carpeted floor, having that same heart-to-heart conversation with the world, irresolute and hesitant to condemn the world that sits across from me, sipping tea and eating stale biscuits.

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