The following is based on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals.
The taste of blood was fresh in his mouth. His tongue probed his teeth like a dental hygienist checking for cavities.
Are all my teeth intact?
Erhmad looked around the room trying to orient himself.
Where am I?
The flickering florescent above him gave the room a cold, sterile feel. The grayish-blue was a stark contrast to the muddy-brown winter outside.
Why am I in the hospital?
Images of his taunting attackers rushed into his head. A brass knuckle to the jaw. The hate-filled gaze.
Isn’t this what they did to your Jesus?
He could hear the sound of the brass knuckles hitting his cheekbone. The volume of the impact surprised him. The sound still resonated in his skull.
Erhmad closed his eyes. Every subtle movement led to a sharp throbbing in places he didn’t know existed in his body. He stared at the flickering light trying to forget the horrific images. Each shot of pain convinced him to lay as still as possible.
Without warning, the door burst open and frighteningly familiar faces piled into the cramped hospital room. Erhmad’s eyes widened.
To his left was the policeman who destroyed his house last Thursday searching for “Jesus books”. He remembered the angry threats he made because he couldn’t find anything. Where would Erhmad be now had his friends not snuck his Bible out minutes before the police arrived? He could be dead in prison.
Why is this policeman here?
The sight on his right was even more terrifying. It was the dark-haired stocky boy who pummeled him with the brass knuckles. He didn’t recognize the other two because they were the ones holding him while the stocky one did his damage. Bruises from their death grip were still fresh.
Maybe if I close my eyes they’ll think I’m too weak to talk…
“Erhmad, this is Officer Khalid. These are the young men that allegedly harmed you. You will need to identify them now.”
Erhmad tried to nod. His neck was unable to move to signify that these were in fact the thugs who jumped him.
“Erhmad, if you do not acknowledge that you recognize them, we will let them walk.”
He knew it would hurt, but there could only be one response. Erhmad sat up. His body ached in horror with each motion. As he forced himself to his feet, it felt like a train hitting him full speed. He lifted his arm. His shoulders barely moved. One by one, he embraced his attackers. First the stocky, brass-knuckle boy. Then the two who held him down.
“You are forgiven. I do not hold this against you.”
He knew this was the only appropriate response. It was the response of Jesus through him.
Erhmad’s story was one of many we heard while in the beautiful country of Afghanistan. The country is rich with history and diversity. The cities are constantly recovering from war and terrorism. (Three suicide bombers, one improvised explosive device and several rocket launchers went off during our stay.)
The winter cold made for grey skies and muddy roadways filled with potholes that Corollas could and sometimes did fall into. In the short two weeks, I received thousands of smiles, hundreds of hugs, and dozens of cultural and history lessons. More importantly, I left with one overwhelming sense that the church is alive and well.
As thousands of churches close its doors in America, perhaps we need to go to the ends of the earth to learn from the global body of Christ.