Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Called to be...

Well, the Shoeless Seminarian is back again. Well, back in Norway that is. And if you find yourselves asking, “just where was she this time?” don’t worry; you're not alone!

But this time my travels took me to Syria and Turkey. First, a week of vacation with a fellow Horizon International Intern in Syria, then off to Turkey for the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East (AICEME) Annual Pastor’s Conference. The entirety of the two weeks was amazing, but there will forever be one night that I remember.

It was about halfway through the Syrian portion of my adventure and my fellow intern and I had had the bright idea to rent a car in Damascus and check out some amazing sites in Eastern Syria that we otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to see. We had spent our morning at Palmyra, an ancient Byzantine/Greek/Roman city situated at an oasis along the caravan route, then headed out further into the desert to visit Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi and Rasafa before heading to our next stop in the city of Deir az-Zor. It looked to be an easy enough route in the guidebook, a nice and leisurely afternoon’s drive. Or not…

We spent more than four hours finding our way to Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi, and, although it was truly an amazing four hours, and a site well worth visiting, by the time our little rental car pulled away the day was almost over. We still weren’t sure just where we were going, but what else could we do, we were, after all, in the middle of the wilderness.

And so on we drove.

The sun sank lower. The sky turned a brilliant mix of orange and pink and purple. And then it was dark. We came to a fork in the road and tried our luck heading west. By our calculations we should have reached Rasafa long before. But there was no ancient Basilica in sight. And, for the first time, a grain of doubt crept inside of me.

Where was the site? What if we didn’t find it? Were we even going in the right direction? And, where were we going to spend the night?

Finally, we had to admit that we were just plain lost. Off to the left a dirt track split away from the road and we decided to take it, hoping to find someone who could give us directions at the other end. We pulled up to a small one-room farmhouse and the door opened, sending a pool of warm light out into the darkness. The young man of the household, Yasser, stepped out, and after he figured out where we were trying to get, he pointed out the correct direction and even drew us a map. We were about to head on our way, back out into the darkness, when Yasser said, ‘but, it’s dark out, won’t you come in for tea? You are welcome.’

That light in the darkness was too much to turn down, and it seemed only moments before we were seated on the floor with pillows propped beside us, sweet tea before us, and the grandbaby of the family on my lap. And at the end of two hours, when we were beginning to wonder if we shouldn’t be on our way, Yasser said, once more, ‘but, it’s dark out, won’t you stay until morning? You are welcome.’

We were complete strangers, and yet they opened their home to us. We were complete strangers, and yet they made us family. We were complete strangers, and yet they extended to us a welcome in the midst of the wilderness…

And in the midst of the Syrian desert, by their example, that Muslim family reminded me once more of what we are called to be in Christ: a light in the darkness and a welcome in the wilderness.

Two things that can so easily slip through the cracks when I feel worried, or stressed, or lost. And yet, two things that are interwoven into our Baptismal identity and call. Two things that I will not now so easily forget because of the generosity shown to two strangers, alone in the desert and lost in the dark.

It's finally warm enough to be a Shoeless Seminarian again!!!

ps-if you want to see pictures of the family we stayed with, or a more in-depth account of the Syria trip on the whole, check out "A Syrian Tale in Photos" below for links to albums! (Syria 3 has photos with our adopted family!)

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