Observations of Disrespect

While in Kashmir, I had the opportunity to observe many things. I mostly met women, and I focused on learning as much as I could about them. However, while I was there, I also viewed some things about the men in Kashmir. There were three simple observations that I made while there. These are not huge criticisms of their culture, but these are three simple practices that serve as insights into their culture.

The first begins with an interesting custom among the men in Kashmir. They will often hold hands with other men to show their love and admiration for one another. I saw this often, and to be honest, it gave me quite a shock. We see this in America, but it generally means something totally different. I do respect their custom, but as I observed the mostly Muslim people in the touristy places, on the streets, and in the markets, I never once saw a man holding a woman’s hand. We can make the argument that in this culture, a man would never do that to another woman unless they were married. That is certainly true. However, out of all the people I observed, why did I never see a man hold their wife’s hand? This simple observation lets us in on a brotherhood that seems to exist in Islam. The relationships between males are often held in more esteem than that between a husband and wife or any male, female relationship.

I made another observation on a visit to a friend of my host. She was a housewife with two young boys. While we sat in her room and attempted to talk, her 9 year old son ran around the same room and showed persistent disrespect to his mother and to her visitors. At one point, the mother tried to show us old family photos, and this boy ripped them out of our hands, and flung them around recklessly. He also hung the phone up on his mother when she attempted to make a phone call. Of course, there are naughty children everywhere and in every culture. I am the parent to two of them some of the time. However, this boy showed such disrespect towards his mother, that I was dismayed. It is one thing to be disrespected by a mother-in-law or even your husband, but to have no control over your own son would be heart breaking. I do not believe that every 9 year old boy in Kashmir behaves this way. In fact, I saw many that behaved otherwise, but I do believe that this problem is more rampant than we realize. At 9 years old, this behavior is already ingrained in him. What kind of man will he grow up to be?

Lastly, I had the chance to visit a friend and her mother that are so close to accepting Jesus. They have watched the Jesus Film, and they say they know Jesus. They are very open to talking about him, and as a result, we had a deep discussion. One of the things that the mother spoke of was the sinful nature of women. It is her belief that women are more sinful than men. She even stated that more women will be in hell than men. When pressed for a reason, she just said that they are. They gossip and lie, and are just more sinful. I have an idea that this is related to Eve being the first to take of the forbidden fruit, but do not miss what this conversation gives us. It shows us that ultimately, they believe that there is no hope for women. Men have decided that they are holier, and can even go into holier places in the mosques. Not only have the men practiced this, but even the women believe this about themselves.

So, how can we change the way women are viewed in the Muslim world? The misuse and abuse of women in these societies is passed on from generation to generation. This stronghold has to be ended. Our Savior did not agree with this view of women. He included them, he taught them, he healed them, he loved them, and he certainly respected them. He was present at the creation of the Earth. He formed man in his own image and created them male and female. And God blessed both of them. He saw what He created, and he knew in his heart that it was very good.

The Gift of Forgiveness

When we surround ourselves with only other Christians, it is easy to loose sight of what makes our faith unique. We begin to take for granted the simple things of our faith. While in Kashmir, I was surrounded by people who needed Christ. Their lack of what I had made it glaringly obvious to me that we have something special. When our complicated, Americanized faith is broken down to the core, what we really gained at the cross was forgiveness. Forgiveness is the rock solid foundation of our faith.  What the people of Kashmir, and others elsewhere, are missing, is forgiveness.

Forgiveness allows us many things. It gives us access. It gives us freedom. It gives us peace, and it makes room for love. When Jesus died on the cross that chosen day, He did so for all of humanity, and he covered over our sins with His blood. He not only did this for us, but for those who looked forward to Him by the law, and for those who will come after us. It wasn’t just a one day event that we look back on and remember. He died so that in Him, our sinful nature we inherited from Adam would not have power over us.

But, not everyone has chosen to accept His forgiveness. Whole societies live in darkness and in condemnation. We, as Christians, often wonder how societies such as those in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Islamic nations can treat their people, especially women, the way that they do. We are amazed when we hear about rapes, burnings, and honor killings. But, really, this is the darkness of the world. The world is Satan’s and the Bible calls him the prince of the world. He aims to keep people in strongholds, and really, what we should stand more amazed at, is the light of Christ. It is because of Him, that we are not victims of this world ourselves.

Forgiveness is a potent thing. It is a miracle of God. It is not something anyone else can do. Without forgiveness people feel guilty. Their condemnation will take them down a path of apathy and depression. They will try to make up for their sin, and when they see that it is never enough, they will throw their hands up in defeat. Likewise, without first receiving forgiveness, one can not forgive others. So, people living without forgiveness will become bitter, angry, and harbor resentment. Eventually these things turn into rage and hate. Now we can really begin to understand the revenge and honor crimes committed in these places.

What would happen in these countries if they received God’s forgiveness? I talked to many Kashmiri’s who were in need of such a gift. This release would give way to love, peace, stability, and hope. Those living in condemnation, guilt, apathy, and depression would begin living a life of joy. They would see that they have a purpose in life, and they would see how loved and cherished they really are. They would also learn to forgive others and perhaps the generational cycle of hate, anger, and revenge would end. This does sound like a grand idea, but I know that with God anything is possible.

Simple Lessons Learned

I learned a lot in Kashmir, and I am certain that I haven’t even begun to process through it all. Even if I could put everything into words, I don’t know where I would start. I am convinced that God is still, little by little, revealing kingdom principles to me. Only a few days into the trip, He began to reveal three simple things to me. I would like to share them with you, and perhaps we can make some changes in our lives together.

1.    Be more hospitable. If hospitality was a race, I am certain that Kashmiri’s would take home the gold. It was nothing for them to invite us into their home. We would go inside, sit on the floor, and the host would bring in some tea. They always brought some sort of cookie, cracker, or bread to enjoy along with it. My favorite was the coconut macaroons! We would sit across from our host and listen and chat intensively, while enjoying a cup of hot tea. This was treasured time, and I realize that as sisters in Christ, we need more times like these. I learned that by dropping whatever I am doing to listen and make tea, I am showing value to a friend and building a relationship.

2.    Don’t be so attached to the comforts of home. I am not going to lie. I missed my bathroom and my bed terribly. I can not help it. I may be spoiled, but in America, I never have to really worry about the standards of cleanliness in a hotel. The very first night I was shocked by what I had gotten myself into. I felt guilty that I felt that way, especially with my veteran world travelers telling me how nice it really was. But, every day I became more assimilated, and gradually I became aware of just how attached to material things I really am. Don’t get me wrong. I am not selling my comfortable mattress tomorrow or anything. I still enjoy those comforts that are part of our blessed everyday life. However, I will remain ready to leave them behind, if at any time God calls me somewhere else.

3.    Be intentional about building relationships. This is one that I thought I was good at. That is, until I saw the missionaries out on the field. Every relationship they make is a possibility to them. They don’t leave the house without an awareness of if God opens a door, then they need to run into it, and they not only run into it, but they run straight into the heart. They are vigilantly seeking out opportunities to form bonds with people that will hopefully lead to changed lives. I need that intentionality. I need that kind of focus when it comes to relationships. We don’t have that much time here. Let’s not waste it.

These are three simple things about my own life that God revealed to me while I was in Kashmir. I will be forever changed by this trip to Kashmir, and I hope to start with these three small things.

My Kashmir Experience

My time in Kashmir is over. What an adventure it has been. I can hardly wait to get home, but I wouldn’t change these priceless experiences for anything. From the first night and subsequent morning where I thought I would die of heartache to seeing the Himalayan mountains for the first time; from walking through the market in Kashmir to the heartwarming moments of worshipping and fellowshipping with new friends; from meeting dedicated families obeying Christ to staying up all night when sickness overtook me; all of this has been an exhilarating and enlightening experience!

It did cost me to come here. I miss my family, and they miss me. I am thankful to those who made it possible for me to come, my husband, my mom, my in-laws, my friends. So many of you prayed for us, and I am so thankful because I am certain that I wouldn’t have gained such a rich understanding without your prayers. As Omar always says, you held the ropes for me. Without you, I would not have learned so much about the Muslim culture in Kashmir and about the struggles they face. I learned so much about missions and about living life with a purpose and a passion. Without seeing these people face to face, they would’ve remained just an image in my mind, but now, instead, they are real people to me, ones that I will always remember.

When the Lord brings this trip to mind, I hope that what I remember the most are the people that I met, and the people that they represent. I never dreamed that in one week and in one place, I would come to know so many of God’s people. While in Kashmir, I met the poor and the rich; the young and the old. I met the faithful few and the masses of the lost. I met a hopeless widow, a housewife clothed in despair, I met a little girl that is already bound by a great stronghold, and I met the worldly upper-class. I met many who are on the verge of truth and need a push over the edge. I met a community of houseboat people, waiting expectantly for tourists, and boat merchants who are striving to make a living. I met Godly men attempting to be Christ-like leaders to their families in the midst of persecution. I met strong Christian workers dedicated to serving God and their children whose worldviews are being shaped by the things they are observing. I met a loving couple whose life purpose is to adopt babies no one else wanted.

I met a lot of people in Kashmir. Some were drastically different than me, yet there are some threads that run through all of humanity. God loves every one of those people, and they are all beautiful to Him. All of them were made in His image and designed for fellowship with Him. Yes, this has been a great experience for me, but more than that, I hope it was a great experience for them.

A Longing for True Fellowship

Kashmir has an upper class, and in comparison to other parts of India, they are very rich. Only Kashmiri’s are allowed to own land here, and many own large three to four story homes. Education is very important in their culture, and many women become doctors or even business owners. I met with some of these women at a book club, hosted by a well known woman doctor. Our friends in Kashmir began this book club with the hopes of sharing the Gospel with these upper class women. They are currently reading a Christian book that is about living with boundaries, something the Kashmiri women seem to struggle with.

As they shared with each other, it was clear that they had developed a trust with one another, something that can not be found easily. They share that they often encounter jealousy amongst sisters’ in laws and other relatives. They are very careful about what they say and fearful of handling something without sensitivity and making someone angry. Much gossiping and backbiting occurs within the complicated family ties. As a result many of these women feel isolated and lonely.

Such issues such as jealousy and trust are also common to American women. We are hesitant to trust others and can isolate ourselves. That is why the church has been such a safe haven for us. Here we find other fellow believers and can let go of any walls that we have built around us. Our sisters in the church share the same Spirit and we live in forgiveness, grace, and love. Although not always perfect, the bride of Christ offers a place for a woman to belong, to be encouraged, to be strengthened, and to fulfill her purpose.

The Kashmiri women need such a place. They need that shelter, a refuge, from the world. If only they could share the same Spirit, then their hearts would be open to loving each other in the way that Christ loves us. They could share trust, forgiveness, love, and kindness. Others would see their bond as different from the ancient family ties that have existed before. They would question them, and they would be able to answer, it is because Christ is within us.

The Hope of Kashmir

“They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew their ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah 61:4

02 05 09

Yesterday we walked through the marketplace. It was one of my favorite adventures on this trip. It was so alive with people selling anything and everything. This is the heart of the city, where merchants strive to make a living for their families. The Kashmiri merchant is persistent, and that persistence is what their livelihood hinges on. At this market, we found huge Kashmiri funnel cakes, tea, beans, chickens, fruit, toys, and anything else you can imagine. We drew attention quickly, as foreigners usually do. Being fair skinned and blonde doesn’t help me hide much. We stood out and quickly drew a crowd. We try to use this to our advantage and take the time to talk to some of them. One little girl drew my attention.

dsc_0609She was 9 years old and spoke great English. She asked me for a pen, so I gave her one. After talking to her for a minute, we walked on. She continued to follow me and introduced me to her brothers. We spoke of America, and she told me that her family owns a shop in the market. As we walked, I prayed that the Lord would show me just what He wanted me to share with her. I bent down and explained that the Bible says God has a good future for her, and that even before she was born, He had a plan for her life. I couldn’t help but think that she might never hear those words. We tell our children this often, but here, they believe that everything is by the mercy of Allah. Maybe he will show her favor, but maybe not. Most likely, she will continue to be schooled, but eventually, she will be married to a Kashmiri man that her parents have chosen for her. She will stay home and take care of the children, and perhaps never feel a sense of purpose to her life. I pray that she will remember what the American lady told her, and as she grows up, I pray that she will seek out those plans that I spoke of.

As we walked on we stopped and bought some sweets, met a few more people, and headed into the Hazaratbol Mosque. My friend and I sat in the grass among women who were waiting for prayer time. We began to pray for them and over Kashmir in the name of Jesus. The little girl and her brother sat down next to us while we read from the Bible and declared the Lord’s praises for Kashmir.  I spoke to her again about Jesus being the one sacrifice, the qurbaani, needed for forgiveness of sins. I told her that when she is older, she should remember me, and read the Injil, the Gospel. As we said goodbye, I gave her a Jesus Film to watch with her family.

Much depends on children like this little girl, whether in America or in Kashmir. They are the next generation, and what they are taught as children formulates their worldview in such a way that is difficult to change their minds later. Many of the women and men in Kashmir have heard the Gospel, but they cling to Mohammed out of fear. It a rock that is buried deep in their hearts that has to be chiseled away. Kashmiris are open to hearing the message, but the seeds can not take root without the Lord tilling the soil of their hearts. I hope that by sharing a little about Jesus with this little girl, I have placed a crack in that rock, a place for the Lord to put his chisel and begin to break it apart until it is completely shattered. I pray that a root will take its place, and a beautiful flowering plant will grow. Perhaps she will grow up to bring the truth of Christ to her family and friends in Kashmir, producing a crop a hundred-fold.

A Garment of Praise

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” Isaiah 61:3

29 April 2009

Today I saw true despair. My friend took me to see a woman whose son goes to the same school as hers. This woman is of the upper echelon, an ancestor of the Muslim missionary from Iraq who first brought Islam to Kashmir. She graciously accepted us into her home with joy on her face, amazed that we would take time to come and see her. At first we went into her living room to sit, but she quickly took us upstairs to show us her home. She was very proud of it, and asked us to wait for her in her bedroom while she made us tea. This transition into her room made it apparent that she was inviting us to really know her, and that she desired a more intimate fellowship. After bringing us bread and tea, she quickly revealed her hurt and pain to us. She takes care of everything in the home, and she says that her mother in law and father in law are harsh to her. She said that her husband is a worldly man, and oddly she called her husband at work and had my friend talk to him. Later we discussed that she was probably covering herself in order to prove who her visitors were at her home that day. She shared that she had no car, and that she stayed in her home all day. She felt that she was under a curse, a common fear among the women here. She explains that she goes to the shrines to seek healing and supernatural power.

The shrines are places where saints are buried and even though it is forbidden in Islam, many Kashmiri’s go to there to seek help. I visited the Maqdoom Sahib Shrine the day before, and it is true that there is supernatural power there, but it is not God’s power. The Holy Spirit is clearly not present. When I first entered the shrine, I began to pray, but it was so difficult. The chanting seemed to drown out my own thoughts. It was only until I concentrated deep within myself that I could sense God’s presence. I am not sure that I have ever been in a place where God clearly was not present. It reminded me that Christ truly does abide within us, and even though we may walk in the midst of evil, Christ never leaves us.

So, our new friend seeks help within the Qu’ran and in the shrines, and in any place that might offers answers. With tears brimming in her eyes, my friend and I prayed for this Muslim woman. We prayed in Jesus’ name that she would be released from this spirit of darkness and despair. We shared a story with her that demonstrates God’s love for women, and His power and willingness to heal them. We shared that in Christ we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and that we seek refuge in Him, and no evil spirit can touch us. We invited her to the women’s book club on Friday, an outreach to the unreached women here, and she was more than eager to go.

We put her in God’s hands now. My friend will continue to minister to her, and we will pray, but ultimately, only God can open her heart to the truth. Many Muslims have dreams and visions, and perhaps Isa  (Jesus) will appear to her and tell her that we brought her a message of truth.  Or perhaps, with time, God will open her heart, and she will accept the truth that will bring her freedom from her captivity. Either way, this is not an easy road for her. Her husband is a prominent man, and becoming a Christian can mean many things for her. Her husband can take away her children. She could be disowned and destitute, or perhaps even worse things could come of this decision. We do not know what will happen with her, but God does. We place her in his hands and ask that He give her a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, that she might become an oak of righteousness, a display of His splendor.