Click on the cover image to purchase.
Table of Contents
1 Journeys Into the Unknown
2 Gracious Doubter
3 Money Talks
4 He Shall Teach Us
5 Bread of Life
7 Suffer the Children
8 New Rhythms
9 Authorities and Powers
10 Ministering Angels
11 Family Ties
12 Rough Justice
13 At Court that Day
About the Author
Roxanne walked up behind the couch where her father sat and placed her hand on his shoulder. “You still miss her, don’t you.”
Benjamin took his elbows off of his knees, lifted his gaze from the flames dancing in the wood stove and turned to look at his daughter. “I miss your mother every day, more than I can tell you.”
“I’m sorry Dad. You look so forlorn sitting there. As terrible as it’s been losing her as a daughter, it must be far worse for you. The two of you were so close.”
“Yes, it’s been rough, but though the pain is still there it’s changing. It’s transforming the memories and making them all the more precious. The grief isn’t as intense as it was. Actually, believe it or not, I wasn’t thinking about your mother. It may be time to let go of the past and move on.”
“I wish I had the same kind of close relationship you and Mom had.”
Benjamin walked over to the stove and inserted another log. Then he turned and looked his daughter in the eye. “Roxy, do you think that your mother and I just fell into our relationship? Good marriages aren’t 50/50, honey. If you want the kind of relationship we had, then you’ll have to put the same kind of work into it as we did.”
Roxanne frowned and crossed her arms, “Now you’re preaching, Daddy.”
Benjamin raised his hands palms out in surrender, “Sorry, sweetheart. It’s just that I want you and Dwain to experience the kind of love we had.”
“I know you do, but I’d rather not talk about it right now. If you weren’t thinking about Mother, then what were you pondering on?”
Benjamin gave a little sigh and settled himself on the couch again. “Take a pew, Roxy. I want to sit and I’d rather not get a crick in my neck looking up at you.”
Roxanne chose a chair opposite her father. Her lithe grace, evident in even such a simple movement tugged at Benjamin’s heart. Sometimes she moved and looked so much like her mother with her dusky skin, green eyes and blond hair that he had to do a double take.
“Okay, I’m sat,” she said. “Now give.”
A log shifted and threw off sparks. The smoky scent of burning pine flavored the air as Benjamin thought of what to say. He decided the direct approach would be best. “I got an email from an old friend of mine in Pakistan. He’s got a rather interesting problem.”
“Oh, no! Not another person trying to get into a “rich American’s” pocket!”
“No, he knows better than that. He’s not after money. On the contrary, he wants my expertise.”
“What kind of expertise?”
“He’s a preacher. He’s led some of the churches over there for the last thirty years and he’s starting to feel his age. He thinks he may not have too much longer to live and is concerned about what will happen to the churches when he’s no longer able to look after things.”
“Why not just turn his responsibilities over to someone else? Surely, in thirty years time he’s mentored plenty of people who could take his place.”
“That’s just the problem, in those thirty years he hasn’t mentored and trained people who could take his place. He’s a great guy – he’s really good at presenting the Gospel and teaching people about the Lord. People highly respect him. But I’m afraid he’s not been very effective when it comes to training leaders. He doesn’t know how.”
“And what does he want you to do about it? Send him some of your teaching notes?”
Ben shifted in his seat and ran a hand through his hair. He cleared his throat. “Well, sweetheart, he wants a little more than that. He wants me to come over for a few years and run a training program for the church.”
Roxanne stared at her father open-mouthed. “He what? Surely you can’t be serious!”
Before Benjamin could respond the front door opened. A short, compact man stood in the doorway for a second looking at the two seated by the fire before he walked in. “Hello honey. Hi Dad. Am I interrupting something? Both of you look pretty intense.”
“Dwain, please talk some sense into this man! He’s just told me that he’s been invited to go to Pakistan for several years.”
Dwain crossed over to the stove and warmed his hands for a few moments before turning and looking at his father-in-law. “What’s going on? What’s got Roxy in such a dither?”
“What’s got me in such a dither?” Roxanne yelled, “I’m telling you that Dad’s been invited to Pakistan and I’m afraid he’s going to accept. And, by the way, don’t turn your back on me and talk as if I weren’t in the room.”
“Sorry, hon,” Dwain sighed, “I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on. What’s this about you going to Pakistan, Dad?”
“Roxy, Dwain, please don’t jump to conclusions and please don’t get upset. It isn’t helping anything. Yes, my old friend Dilshad Rehmat has invited me to Pakistan to set up a training program for church leaders. It would likely take about three years. No, I haven’t accepted. But yes, it does sound attractive and I am inclined to give it some serious thought.”
“Don’t take this wrong, Dad, but why?”
Benjamin grinned up at his son-in-law. “Do you mean, ‘Why you?’ or ‘Why are you thinking of accepting?’”
In spite of the tension in the room Dwain couldn’t help grin back. “Yes to both.”
“Well, son, in answer to the first question, I’m about the only person he can turn to. He doesn’t know anybody else who could do what needs doing – someone who has practical experience in both starting churches and training leaders to carry on the work after they’re started. And, I know the language and culture. You can’t imagine what an advantage that is. As to why I’m thinking about the possibility of accepting, for quite a while now I’ve been feeling a little restless – almost like my work here is done and I should be doing something else. Up till now it’s just been a feeling – nothing concrete. Perhaps this is the thing I’ve been waiting for.”
“But Dad!” Roxanne interjected, “We need you here. I need you! I’ve already lost one parent. I can’t bear the thought of losing you, too.”
“It’s hardly the same, baby. True, if I go I’ll be on the other side of the world, but that’s not the same as being separated by the grave. We’ll still be able to communicate. And, it’ll only be for a little while.”
Dwain placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders and looked over her head at Benjamin. “Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself? After all, you have responsibilities here. You can’t just abandon your classes. And, don’t forget, you’re still mentoring me. If you really are restless and feel it’s time to move on, why don’t you just start another congregation here? There’s plenty to keep you gainfully employed right where you are.”
“Dwain, one of the most important lessons I’ve tried to teach you is that one of church leader’s responsibilities is to enable others. All church leaders should be working themselves out of a job. How can you guys ever develop your potential and get the experience you need if I insist on hanging around and refuse to let you have the opportunity to serve? At some point I’ve got to turn loose. This may be the time.
“There’s another factor, too. You graciously took me in and cared for me after Kate died. You saw me through an extremely rough time and I’m very grateful for it. But now I’m healing. I think it’s about time for me to get out of your hair and let you get on with your lives.”
Tears began to course down Roxanne’s cheeks, “But, Daddy, we don’t want you to leave. You’re no bother and we enjoy having you here.”
“Well, honey, let’s not get too worked up just yet. I suspect this thing may not go anywhere even if it does sound attractive to me. The church in Pakistan is going to have to agree to some things before I could consider taking on the job. Even if they do, I just don’t see the Pakistani government issuing the kind of visa I’d need to stay there long enough to do it. However, if the church does agree and, by some miracle, the visa does come through, I’d say that’s a pretty strong indication it’s of the Lord. If the Lord wants me to go, I’m going – no matter how much people want me to stay here.”
The building under construction was deserted as the assassin knew it would be. Work had halted so the men could attend Friday prayers at the mosque. The assassin stood in the doorway of an interior room and looked through a window opening in the outside wall to where he expected his victim to appear.
As he waited he lovingly stroked the smooth, oiled stock of his Small Magazine Lee Enfield Rifle No.1 Mk III*. It had been his great-grandfather’s gun. The old man had served in the 7th Indian Infantry Division which, at the time World War II began, was stationed at Attock on the Indus River. The rifle had served him well through the hells of the various Burma campaigns in 1943 and 1944. He developed such an affection for the weapon that shortly after his division liberated the Allied prisoners of war in Thailand, he had figured out a creative way to “lose” it and smuggle it home. After the war, when he deemed the appropriate time had come, he showed his son its secret hiding place and initiated him into the mysteries of aimed fire. His son had done the same for his own son and, in time, the grandson had passed on the tradition to the man who now held the rifle.
Across the way a door opened. A group of men emerged into the bright early morning light, their regular Friday Bible study just concluded. The assassin quickly chambered a .303 round and snapped the rear sight down to the 100 yard mark. Deadly accurate out to a quarter-mile there was no way the rifle could miss at such a trivial distance in the hands of a competent marksman. The man who held it was competent.
The assassin felt a twinge of panic as he wondered if he would recognize the man he had come to kill. He would shed no tears if someone besides his intended victim died – in his opinion they were all infidels – but to shoot the wrong man by mistake would send an entirely wrong message and would only put his victim on the alert.
Without the beard the target’s facial features looked very different than his intended killer expected. But, unless intentionally concealed, nothing could alter the birthmark on his right temple. “What a convenient aiming point,” the assassin thought.
He took careful aim, making allowance for movement and, as his father had taught him, held his breath while his finger gently caressed the trigger.
The bullet struck precisely as intended. The victim spun as he went down in a spray of blood, brains and bone. The second round the assassin had chambered clearly would not be needed.
The report of the rifle echoed back from the walls of the building from which it had been fired making it impossible to pinpoint. If someone had been looking in exactly the right place they might have seen the muzzle flash in the dim interior, but nobody was. The victim’s companions stood frozen in shock for a split-second. Then, according to their various natures either screamed or madly looked for cover. One soiled his pants. Another started to go to the victim’s aid, but one glance was enough to convince anyone that the victim was beyond all aid. Only one person had the self-possession to try to pinpoint the origin of the attack but he was confused by the angle at which the victim had fallen.
The assassin gazed at the confusion for a few seconds. When he was sure he would not betray himself by movement, he calmly picked up the case of the round he had expended and quietly left. As he exited the building he heard a siren in the distance. Someone had already called the authorities and they had responded with unusual speed. The assassin did not vary his calm pace or do anything else to call attention to himself. He had long ago figured out how to conceal the rifle in plain sight. After all, it would be unusual for someone dressed as a policeman not to have a rifle slung over his shoulder. There was nothing at the scene to implicate anyone. Only a sophisticated scan which was beyond local capabilities would reveal any powder residue. His footprints merged with those of the workmen who belonged at the construction site.
“An altogether perfect crime,” he grinned to himself as he faded into the normal pedestrian traffic. “Except it wasn’t a crime at all. It’s exactly what the faith decrees for all apostates.”
Dilshad Rehmat entered the room with some inward trepidation. Over the years he had faced these men many times and had been able to convince them to do most of what he asked. He got what he wanted because he never abused his position and was careful to ask only for what would be beneficial for the church or was necessary for the various ministries of the church. He rarely asked anything for himself. His demonstrated good sense and integrity had won him the respect and admiration of the majority of the men seated in a semi-circle before him. However, he considered the proposal he was about to bring before them one of the most important of his career and he was not at all sure that they would see the wisdom of it.
Under normal circumstances only the leaders of the congregation where Dilshad personally filled the pulpit would have been present. But this time the decision he wanted would affect not only the main congregation but all of the other fellowships they had birthed over the years. Yea or nay, it could determine the course of the church as a whole for the foreseeable future. And so, he had asked the leaders and key men of all the congregations to gather. There were about thirty of them waiting for him and wondering why they had been summoned.
Dilshad walked with a slight limp over to the men waiting for him. Lately his arthritis had been bothering him. He noticed that he was puffing a little, too. No doubt being a little overweight didn’t help but he’d always told himself that he was too busy to exercise.
Before sitting down he made the circuit of the others greeting each man by name, shaking his hand and inquiring after his family. When he finally reached his chair, he sat and called the meeting to order. “Thank you, gentlemen, for coming. I’ve asked you to come because we have something of the utmost importance to discuss. Before we do, however, I think it would be appropriate for Brother Anwar to ask the Lord’s blessing on our deliberations.”
Anwar stood and prayed what was for him an unusually short prayer. Since he didn’t have a clue what the meeting was about, he took refuge in generalities.
As the “Amens” died, Dilshad beamed a smile at him. “Thank you, Brother.” He then addressed the whole room, “The reason I have called you together is that I am getting old. I may not be able to continue for too much longer.”
There was a moment of stunned silence at this breach of social protocol. One normally did not directly refer to his own mortality. Then there was a gabble of protest. Dilshad cut it off, “Brothers, please! You know that what I am saying is true. I am 62 years old. You can see for yourselves the gray in my mustache and hair, which is getting thinner by the day. There are not too many people in our congregations who are older than I and of those who are, not many are still capable of taking an active role. Also, my health is not good and it is getting worse. In addition to arthritis, I have high blood pressure. There is a history of heart trouble in my family and I have just been diagnosed with diabetes. The diabetes may be affecting my eyesight. I’ve had to start wearing glasses. We must face the fact that I am not immortal.”
“But what will we do?” one of the men exclaimed. “Without you who will fill the pulpit? Who will teach us?”
“That, my friend,” said Dilshad with an inner chuckle because that was the response he’d been hoping for, “is what I want to talk to you about. You are dismayed at the possibility of losing your preacher and teacher. In reality we have never had enough speakers and teachers. Why else for so many years did I have to dash madly from congregation to congregation to bring the message? Why is it that only a few of our congregations have Elders, and even they mostly deal with business matters instead of pasturing God’s flock on the Word as they should? Perhaps the fault is mine. No, let me rephrase that: I am the one to blame. Over the years I have taught you many things, but the one thing I have not done is train leaders who could take my place. It is this fault which we must address.”
“I agree that we have a problem,” said one of the men. “But now that you recognize it, can’t you give us the necessary training?”
“No, I can’t. The sad truth is that I do not know how. Nor do I have the necessary materials. In the last few years I have tried several times to outline some courses but I soon realized that I do not even know where to begin.”
“Then what is to be done? Are you suggesting that we will have to send our people to seminary? Even if the seminaries would accept people from among us without requiring them to renounce our fellow-ship, where would we get the funds? The churches cannot pay. Also, we cannot leave our families and jobs behind for the years it would take.”
“You are correct that seminaries are not the answer,” Dilshad replied. “The training must be local so that all who need it may receive it.”
“Are you talking about correspondence courses, then?”
“No. Correspondence courses may be of some limited use, but they cannot provide the kind of practical advise and experience we need. I propose that instead of relying on correspondence courses or sending our people to someone on the outside for training, that we bring a teacher to us.”
Many started to speak at once. “How could we pay a teacher? Who would come? What sort of program are you talking about?”
Finally a young man raised his hand, “Father, may I speak?”
Dilshad had been both expecting and dreading this. Since it couldn’t be evaded he decided to meet it head on. “Yes, Bashir? Please tell us what is on your heart.”
“Father, you speak of the need for training. I agree with you, there is a need for training. But I already have it. I am the only one in this room who has a seminary degree. Not only do I have a degree, I am your son. If you are forced to retire why cannot I take your place. Would I not be a worthy successor?”
Dilshad sighed. Couldn’t the twerp see that his emphasis on blood ties and credentials was one of the things which made him unworthy as a successor? Not to mention the small matter of looking at the church as an occupation rather than a vocation. “Son, you are leading a congregation of about 40 people. I do not want to discourage or embarrass you but, frankly, it is not showing any signs of growth. Nor have I seen much evidence that people’s lives are being changed as a result of your ministry. Do you really think that you would do any better if you were given the responsibility of a larger congregation? Besides, what I am trying to explain to all of you is that I should not have any successor. The church does not need a replacement for me. It needs a multitude of people who can lead, speak and teach so it is not dependent on only a few. Even if I wanted to appoint a successor, if that is what the church decides it wants instead of what I propose, I do not have the authority to do so. It is these men who would make the choice. Would they choose to follow you?”
The silence in the room was answer enough. Bashir squirmed in his chair and cleared his throat. “Well, if I am unfit to take your place then perhaps I could be the teacher you are talking about. After all, I do have the seminary training you lack.”
A hiss of astonishment went around the room at Bashir’s lack of manners and implied insult. Dilshad’s sorrow was evident as he answered, “Son, I’m sorry, but you cannot teach what you, yourself, don’t have. You have some book knowledge but you lack experience. Also, before now you have never shown any interest in teaching anyone, even when they have asked you to do so. I’m afraid that your suggestion is not practical.”
Anwar broke the awkward silence which followed. “Brother Dilshad, I’m sure you would not have brought this proposal before us unless you also had a person in mind to implement it. Would you mind sharing with us who it is and how the program would work?”
Dilshad took a photograph out of a folder and passed it around. “His name is Benjamin Carpenter. A few of you already know him. For those who don’t, he visited here some years ago. I have already spoken to him and he has expressed interest in helping us.”
The men eagerly looked at the photograph. They saw a slender man of medium height – at least for an American – about 5 foot, 10 inches tall. He was fair-skinned with dark brown hair. He had a narrow face with lines around his gray-green eyes. He looked a bit care-worn, yet also gave the impression of wisdom.
“I vaguely recall the man,” someone said, “But I don’t remember him as being anything special. Why do you think he would be able to solve our problem?”
“For several reasons. In fact, you have just stated one of them: he is self-effacing. He does not seek honor for himself. His mission in life is to build up the church rather than make a name for himself. This leads to the next reason: He knows the secret of being a servant. Unlike what I have done, he enables others so they can minister rather than keep things in his own hands. He encourages others to develop their gifts, and he gives them the opportunity to use them. He trains people to serve and then steps aside so they can. Then, he mentors someone else.
“In the time I have known him he has helped start four new congregations. From what I have seen it appears to me that each of them is healthy and is growing. Each of them, in turn, has started other fellowships.
“I am confident that he can help us develop the leaders and the training program we need because that is what he has already done, multiple times, in his own country.
“And there is another reason why I think he would be ideal for us. He speaks our language. He will be able to help even those of us who cannot understand English.”
“If this man is so skilled and has such a dynamic ministry already, why is he interested in coming here?”
“That is an excellent question. I had the same thought and hesitated to even approach him. However, I suspect that Benjamin is at a turning point in his life. His wife died five years ago. For a long time grief immobilized him. Eventually he was able to overcome it and continue with his ministry. He even started a new congregation, one of the four I told you about. But the new group is able to stand on its own now. Benjamin feels that his work there is almost done. He is restless. My inquiry came just as he was beginning to think that the Lord is leading him to go elsewhere or do something else. Aside from one daughter, who is married and has a home of her own, he has no family. He is free to come.”
“Brother Dilshad, you have always taught us to shun foreign money or giving up our independence. Would asking this man to come here and help us not make us dependent upon him?”
“That is a valid concern, and one which Brother Carpenter himself shares. He told me straight out that he would not come if it would cause the churches to become dependent upon him or other foreigners. He will not inject dollars into the church, nor will he take one of our pulpits. He will not sit on any decision making body. He said that if we asked him to do any of these things he would not even consider coming. He will act only as a teacher. When he has shown us how to stand on our own feet, he will go back to his country. He even told me that he will not select the students for training. He will leave it to the churches to decide who is capable of filling a particular role. He refuses to ordain anyone or to interfere in how we chose our leaders.”
The men looked at one another in astonishment. This was quite different than what they had expected to hear. But there was still the specter of finances.
“Brother, you have still not explained how this program would work. Who will support Mr. Carpenter if he comes? Are his congre-gations in America willing to pay his salary and expenses while he is here? And, also, who will bear the expenses of the training program itself? Is he supplying the funds for it?”
Dilshad paused before replying. The answer was so far beyond the experience and expectations of those in the room that he hesitated to tell them. It was the rock upon which the whole idea might founder. On the other hand, if they could be persuaded, it could revolutionize their thinking and enable the churches to approach problems in ways they had never before thought possible. Dilshad knew the mental stretch which was necessary, for he’d had to make it himself. He still had his doubts. He knew it was necessary; he knew it was the right thing to do, yet his emotions hadn’t quite caught up with what his mind was telling him. If he still felt torn after several months of thinking and praying, he knew how hard it was going to be for the men he was springing it on.
“Brothers,” he cleared his throat, “Mr. Carpenter laid down several conditions. We are the ones who must fund the program. We are the ones who must support Mr. Carpenter when he comes.”
The men looked at each other in consternation. Then a heated voice rang out, “This is crazy! It’s hard enough to feed our own families. Does this spoiled foreigner expect us to supply him with a bungalow and servants to cater to his every wish? Are we to give him the kind of princely salary he gets in his own country? Why waste any more time talking about this? It is an absurd idea!”
Dilshad held up both hands and waited for quiet. “You are right that if that were what Mr. Carpenter had in mind it would be absurd. You are right that there would be no point in talking further. But that is not what he is proposing. If he comes, he will not live as a Sahib in a palatial bungalow. He will not have servants. Instead, he will live among us as one of us. He will not take any salary at all. He only expects that we will supply him with a room where he may sleep. He asks for nothing that we would not give to one of our own family members. He told me, however, that he would purchase whatever is necessary to furnish his living quarters. He will not burden us with unreasonable expenses.
“As for the costs of the program itself, Brother Benjamin told me that he does not expect very much expense at all. Students may have to buy a few things like their own notebooks and perhaps an occasional text-book. He feels strongly that people appreciate things more when they have an investment in them. If there are some things the students truly cannot afford, or things which are for general use, he suggests that the churches subsidize or pay for them. He wants this to be our program, not his.
“Now if you are wondering where we could possibly house this man, and where the training classes would be held, I think there is a very simple solution. The answer is right above us. As you know, on the second floor of this building there is a guest room where we have housed new converts from time to time. There is already a lavatory up there as well as a small room which would do nicely for a kitchen. The larger room directly above us would serve as a reception room for Brother Benjamin as well as a classroom.
“Brothers, it is my opinion that we can do this. I am certain that Benjamin Carpenter is the man to head the program we need. But I do not want this to be my decision. I will not force my opinion and will upon you. Before we take any action I want you to be certain in your own minds that this is God’s will for us. And if we decide to invite Brother Benjamin, there is a practical test which will assure us that it is the Lord’s leading: If Benjamin comes, he will need to stay among us for several years. He cannot do so without a long-term visa. As you know the government does not issue such visas lightly. If his visa is refused, we will know that this proposal is not God’s doing, and we will seek another solution to our problem.”
The discussion which followed ranged late into the night; sometimes it grew heated. The men took breaks for prayer. When they finally reached a decision it was not without misgivings, but everyone pledged their support. They would call Benjamin Carter to teach them how to become leaders. They would regard the visa issue as definitive. If the government declined to grant a multi-year visa, they would not appeal the decision.
Journeys Into The Unknown
“…We do not know what we ought to pray for…”
(Romans 8:26 NIV)
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
(1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV)
The walls of the small room in which Mullah Umar Obaid Khan sat were utterly bare except for a calendar bearing a picture of the Kaaba in Mecca. There was no furniture in the room except for the hand-woven carpet, on which he sat cross-legged, and a low, narrow table. He used one end of it to write on. A Quran on a reading stand occupied the other end.
Umar’s soul was as bleak as the walls surrounding him. As head of a Madrissah which trained young men to advance the cause of Islam, he should have been basking in a sense of accomplishment. Instead, rage and frustration coursed through him. Years of careful preparation had come to a dead end. Literally.
He had given one of his most promising students a particularly ticklish task. One which might have eventually enabled Umar to bring down one of the most effective enemies of Islam in all of Pakistan. His protege had performed brilliantly, infiltrating himself into the group. He had just begun the task of identifying the people of influence and the power structure within the group when his life had been snuffed out. Competently snuffed out, Umar admitted to himself. The attack bore none of the bungling, grandstanding and collateral damage which were hallmarks of outfits like the Taliban.
It was clear that the authorities had no idea who might have done it. And, it wasn’t for lack of trying. For once, they had given full cooperation in trying to solve the murder. There were precious few clues to begin with and none of them had gone anywhere. The execution was as subtle as the result was brutal. And, Umar had no doubt that it was an execution. This had been no random drive-by shooting or crude bombing intended to terrorize, but a precisely targeted attack on a specific individual. The authorities might be in the dark but Umar was almost certain he knew who the perpetrator was.
Umar carefully erased from his expression all traces of the rage he felt as Donish Ullah came into the room. “You sent for me, Mullah Umar?”
“Yes, I wished to offer you my condolences.”
“Your condolences, Sir? Your pardon, but you must be mistaken. None of my relatives has died.”
“I was not speaking of your relatives, but of Tufail Haidar. He was your friend, was he not?”
Donish’s face went blank. “Sir, he was no friend of mine.”
“Not a friend of yours? Until Tufail left the Madrissah six months ago the two of you were practically inseparable and now you say he was no friend of yours? Perhaps you define friendship differently than the rest of mankind?”
“Sir, we were friends. But when he left here he allowed himself to be seduced into error by a group of Christians. He forgot all your teaching and became apostate. I am dedicated to the glory and advancement of Islam. When someone turns his back on the glorious faith he also turns his back on me. He breaks the bonds of friendship when he breaks his ties to the community of the faithful.”
“A text-book answer I might expect from the disciple of a Mullah of a two-brick masjid instead of a student of this Madrissah. Tell me, how do you know that Tufail Haidar became apostate?”
Donish flinched at the rebuke. “Sir,” he said through clenched teeth, “The traitor confessed the prophet Isa, peace be upon Him, to be the Son of God and allowed himself to be baptized. Of course he was apostate!”
“And what,” Mullah Umar growled, “in your opinion is the proper reward for apostasy?”
“Death,” came the assured reply. “Those who turn their backs on the faith must pay the penalty. There is no other option.”
“And the fact that Tufail was your friend makes no difference? Could you not find it in your heart to show mercy and understanding to one with whom you had shared the most intimate of your hopes and dreams, your goals and aspirations?”
“No, Sir. The greater the betrayal, the less mercy is deserved or warranted.”
“I see,” said Mullah Umar. “Do you agree, then, that Tufail Haidar’s execution was justified?”
“I most certainly do, Sir”
“And what about the timing?”
“The timing, Sir? Judgment should be carried out on apostates as soon as possible so that others may take warning about the consequences of denying the faith. Tufail should have been shot while he was still in the baptistery along with the infidel who baptized him. Do you not agree, Sir? Does not the Holy Quran teach us to wage war upon the unfaithful?”
Umar grimaced, “So it does, but did you also know that Hazrat Suleiman has written that there is a time to wage war? Tell me. Up until the time Tufail left the Madrissah did he ever give any indication, did you ever have the least suspicion, that he would turn apostate?”
“No Sir, I did not.”
“Were you surprised, then, when you heard that he was consorting with Christians?”
“I was dumbfounded, Sir. I did not want to believe it.”
“You did not want to believe it?”
“Yes, Sir. My head knew it but my heart did not want to accept. It was only after I learned that he had shaved his beard and been baptized that I was forced to admit that he had joined the enemies of the faith.”
“Did you ever speak with Tufail and ask why he was consorting with Christians? Did you ever ask him why he was thinking of joining them? Did you ever try to persuade him to remain faithful?”
“I saw no point, Sir. Once a man has become an apostate in his thoughts the damage is already done. His baptism was merely the external symptom of the internal poison.”
Mullah Umar interlaced his fingers and placed his hands on the table in front of him. He looked Donish squarely in the eyes. “Donish Ullah, your name means “the wisdom of God” but you are a fool. You have allowed yourself to be taken in by appearances. You are smug in your self-righteousness and your judgments upon others, but you have not asked that most important of questions, ‘Why?’ You claim to be a friend to others, but instead of thinking well of them you jump to conclusions and assume the worst. You condemn a man before giving him the opportunity to defend himself or even explain his actions. And in your condemnation, even if it were justified – and in this case it is not – you give no thought to the timing and the larger picture.
“What would you say if I told you that your every assumption is wrong? That Tufail Haidar was not an apostate?”
“Impossible! It is an established fact that he was baptized.”
“I know. He was supposed to be. He was acting on my orders.”
The blood drained from Donish’s face. “Acting on your orders, Sir?” he choked out. “But he never hinted a thing to me about it.”
“Yes, Tufail was faithful. He would not do anything to compromise his mission, not even tell his best friend that he had been selected to infiltrate and spy on a certain Christian organization so that when the timing was right we might destroy it. However, it seems that he has paid for his discretion and faithfulness.”
“Tufail was not an apostate?”
“Tufail Haidar was not an apostate. He is a martyr. Now, Donish, it is time you started to become wise in fact and not just in name. Always remember that one of the holy ninety-nine names of God is al-Lateef, “The Subtle One”. In dealing with the enemy we also must be subtle. If you think that violence is the answer to everything, you had better go join those fools in the Taliban or the Haqqani Network whose knee-jerk reaction to every situation is to blow something up. Now go. I must give thought to repairing the damage that has been done to our plans.”
Donish barely heard the last of Mullah Umar’s words. He stumbled out of the room hardly able to see from the tears which clouded his vision. When he reached his room he collapsed on the floor with his head on the bedstead. His shoulders shook with deep wracking sobs. Over and over the anguished cry ran through his mind, “My friend was innocent!”
Two days later Donish stood listlessly before Mullah Umar again. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen. His clothes were rumpled, his hair and beard unkempt. Umar looked at him impassively. “Well, Donish, are you still as hasty to condemn as you were two days ago?”
“No, Sir.” Donish’s voice was scarcely above a whisper. “I have learned that things are not always as they seem. I deeply regret my assumptions about Tufail.”
“Good. Now we must see what we can do to retrieve the situation.”
Donish looked up. “I am willing to do anything you ask, Sir. Do you want me to carry on the task Tufail began?”
“No. That opportunity is gone. You do not have the temperament and it would raise too many questions if there was another “convert” from Islam so soon after the last one was killed. No, I have a different task for you.
“I have heard a rumor that a group of churches in Lahore is going to open a Madrissah of their own. However, this will not be something ordinary. Apparently they have asked a particularly skilled and effective allim from America to head it up and direct their training. You will go there and you will spy on this man and this Madrissah.”
“How will I do that? Do you wish me to pretend to want their teaching – assuming they would even let me in?”
“No. Again, you do not have the temperament. You would try to argue with them rather than learn. You will have no direct contact with either the allim or his students beyond the normal interactions people living in the same neighborhood have with each other. You have a knack for electronic gadgets. You will use that skill to listen to their teaching and glean any information you can about their structure and any weaknesses which we might exploit. I have arranged for you to live next door to their church building so this should not be too difficult for you. But Donish, I warn you that beyond surveillance, you must not take any action against them. All too often overt action and violence have proven counterproductive. It arouses sympathy for the sufferings of the enemy and blackens the reputation of the faith. We must work through subtlety. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir. I will not take any action against this group or their allim unless you so order. But what should I do with the information I gather?”
“You will send me a report each week. In addition, if a special situation arises which requires my immediate attention you will alert me through an email address which I will provide you. Now go make a list of the materials you think you might need. I want to see your preliminary plan in three days. You leave in one week.”
Roxanne gave her father a fierce hug. “Daddy, I’m still not convinced this is the right thing for you to do. We love you and need you here.”
“I know you do, baby. But you know how we prayed about it. The visa came through – and don’t think for a moment I don’t know that you pleaded with God that it wouldn’t. Since it did, I’m convinced God is behind this. I’ll miss you terribly, but we can still communicate. I won’t promise to write or call on a regular schedule – things over there are too chaotic for that – but you will hear from me.”
Benjamin held her tight for several seconds, then bent and gave her a kiss before turning to Dwain. “Son, I know you’re feeling a bit nervous about my leaving. However, I’m convinced it’ll be good for you and the church. I have every confidence that you will do a wonderful job leading it in my absence.”
He grasped Dwain’s hand in a strong grip and whispered in his ear, “And Dwain, take good care of her for me.”
A pained grimace flitted across Dwain’s face. “I will, Dad,” he whispered. “If she’ll let me.”
Benjamin gave both of them another hug and turned to walk through airport security. He waved after he cleared, then was lost to their sight.
Just before Donish Ullah left his room at the Madrissah for the last time, Mullah Umar dropped by. “I see you have trimmed your beard. Good! I don’t want anyone to automatically assume that you are any different than those who are Muslim only in name. Remember that we work with subtlety.
“Now there is one other thing. I want you to regard this mission not as just a task or assignment but as an opportunity. You will be spending much time observing and listening to a person who is regarded as a talented and experienced allim. He is of a different faith, but that does not mean you cannot learn from him. Observe his techniques. Listen not only to what he teaches but how he teaches. It may be very helpful to you if the day ever comes when you are called to teach others.
“Secondly, I want you to listen closely to the lessons themselves. No doubt you will be listening for heretical statements which could be used against them. However, that is the least important part of it. In your own mind you have already dismissed them as infidels. Do not make hasty assumptions which will lead you into error. There is a reason the Blessed Quran refers to the followers of the Prophet Isa, may peace be upon Him, as People of the Book. No doubt many who wear the name of Isa do so falsely just as there are many in Dar-ul-Islam who are not truly submitted to the Sublime One. Do not automatically assume that this group and their allim are among them. Even if they are among the unfaithful, it is still important that we know our enemy and what motivates them. So listen carefully. Learn what they truly believe and why they believe it.
“No doubt the allim will spend much time teaching and ex-pounding their Scriptures. When you arrive in Lahore, you are to obtain a copy of their Book, this book they call the Holy Bible, and you will read it and study it along with them.”
Donish Ullah was shocked. “Sir, why do you want me to read a corrupted book?”
Mullah Umar sighed. “How do you know that their Book is corrupted?”
“Why everyone knows that it is corrupted, Sir.”
“Everyone knows that it is corrupted,” mocked Umar. “Yet almost none of those who so confidently assert that the Book is corrupted knows even one instance where or how it is corrupted. They only repeat what they have heard from some ignorant bigot who heard it from some other unlettered fool.”
“Are you saying that it is not corrupted?” Donish stuttered.
“I am saying no such thing,” Umar barked. “What I am trying to tell you is that before you make a statement you must be prepared to back it up. Otherwise you are no different than the two-brick-masjid Mullahs whom I have had occasion to mention to you before. You must be able to say from your own knowledge where and how the Book is corrupted. Therefore, you will get a copy, you will read it and you will listen to the allim interpret it. Only then will you be competent to expose any falsehood and refute it. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Sir. It will be as you say.”
“Then go with my blessing and the blessing of Allah, my son.”
Benjamin looked over the congregation from where he sat on the platform. Some things were still as he remembered them from his visit twenty years ago. Except for a few chairs in the back of the auditorium to accommodate the elderly, everyone sat on the floor. Benjamin couldn’t help note how many more people could crowd into a given space if there were no pews or chairs to take up room.
As on his previous visit, the women and children still sat stage right, while the men sat on the left. He wondered about the quirks in human nature that produced and expressed cultural values so differently. The culture from which Benjamin came placed a high value on individuality. From almost the minute a child was born, he was taught to be independent. Yet, it was the norm for families to sit and worship together. The Pakistani culture in which Benjamin was going to live for the next few years, cherished children yet regarded them almost as aliens who must be integrated into the group and taught to conform. The culture placed a far higher value on family and relationships than American culture did, yet families could not sit together in the public assembly.
There were also differences from his previous visit. Previously, the buildings he had met in were constructed of mud brick surfaced with a mixture of mud, straw and cow dung – which contrary to all expectations gave off a fresh and pleasant scent. The flat, mud roofs had been held up by wooden joists covered by bamboo mats. This building was made of solid, fired brick masonry with steel girders supporting a concrete ceiling. Instead of being covered with reed mats, carpet covered the floor of the sanctuary. The church building now boasted electricity and a sound system. But the biggest difference Benjamin noted was the color. The congregation before him wore bright, vibrant colors. In an American setting, it would have looked gaudy, yet was totally appropriate here. Before the people’s clothing had mostly been white. Benjamin was delighted with all this evidence that the people’s standard of living had increased so dramatically since his previous visit. He hoped that his impression was accurate that their spiritual maturity had at least kept pace with the improvement in their physical wellbeing.
Dilshad Rehmat interrupted Benjamin’s train of thought by asking him to stand for his official welcome and introduction to the congregation. Benjamin had to bend down so a child could drape a necklace of rose petals over his head. A man followed with a garland of jasmine and a woman placed a ceremonial turban on his head. He appreciated the fact that the church meant to show him honor and respect, but felt rather foolish. He wished Pakistani church culture had a less flamboyant way of welcoming guests.
At last Dilshad led him to the lectern. “Brothers and sisters, I greet you in the name of Christ. I also bring you greetings from my home congregation in the United States. Though we live thousands of miles apart; though our skins are a different color; though our cultures and our language are different, we are all one because we serve the same Lord.
“Though I bring you greetings from the church in America, I do not stand before you as a representative of it. On the contrary, while I am here among you, I consider myself a part of the church here. I am one of you.
“Some of you may be apprehensive because you do not know how my being among you will affect the church. I want to emphasize that I am not here to rule, but to serve. I am not here to overturn your leadership, rather I am here to help your leadership become more effective. As Brother Dilshad has told you, the church has called me here as a teacher. However, I am not here to be your preacher or the one who speaks to you from the pulpit. Rather I am here to equip others to speak and to teach. I am not here to make you dependent upon me but to enable you to do the Lord’s work even more freely. Lord willing, I will teach people whom you designate, and they will be the ones who teach and lead your congregations.
“There is something else I need to say to you. Perhaps you will think it blunt or indelicate of me to say this but it needs to be said so there will not be any misunderstandings. No doubt there are some among you who look at me as a rich American. You hope that I will be able to help you financially. However, while I am among you I am not a rich American. On the contrary, while I am here I will live as you do. I will buy my provisions from the same stores as you and I will eat the same food as you. If I get ill, I will go to the same hospitals and see the same doctors that you do. I have no money to see me through an emergency. While I am here I will not receive any salary or income from American sources. I am just as dependent upon God to provide my needs as you are.
“Also, I have no influence with anyone in government or in the city administration or in the schools. Therefore please do not ask me to intercede on your behalf. I am more than willing to give you advice from God’s word and what small store of wisdom I may have, but I cannot solve all your problems.
“In addition, please understand that I am not here to bypass the charitable outreach of the church. Instead of coming to me, please continue to present your needs to the church just as you do now. I will put my tithes and offerings into the church treasury just as you do.
“I ask that you not treat me as a foreigner, but as one of yourselves. For, while I am among you, I will be one of you – sharing your sorrows and heartaches as well as your joys. I hope to get to know you as individuals, to visit you in your homes and to welcome you to mine. I have come, not only to teach, but to learn from you as we share with one another what the Lord has done for us.
“I want to thank you and the church here for providing me with such a nice place to make my home while I am among you. Unfortunately, it will take a few days for me to get settled and to make the necessary preparations for the classes which will begin in only two week’s time. I ask your understanding and indulgence during the next two weeks while I make those preparations. After I am settled in and the training classes have begun, I will have more time to visit and make your acquaintance.
“In the meantime, please continue to pray that God will bless my time among you. I already know that the opportunity to live among you will be a blessing to me.”
Benjamin did not know that someone besides the congregation was listening avidly to his words.
Report to Mullah Umar Obaid Khan from Donish Ullah:
In the name of al-Haadi, The Guide.
By the grace of God I have arrived and settled into my lodgings. As you indicated, my room is adjacent to the church building where the Madrissah will be held. God be praised the rooms they have given to the allim are on the second floor of the building. This should ease my task of surveillance.
The allim has arrived. So many people came to welcome him at the church that the crowd overflowed into the alleyway. Though he made his arrival speech within the building, I was able to hear it over the loudspeaker they rigged for those who could not fit inside.
His speech was not what I expected. He spoke more like a servant than a ruler. He said he intends to live as one of the local people rather than as a foreigner. He also said that he will not preach to the churches or take a leadership role. From what I have seen so far he strikes me as a lightweight who will not be able to command any respect.
I have not yet been able to acquire a copy of the Bible. I shall ask my host for help in obtaining one.
The Madrissah will open its doors in two weeks.
Reply from Mullah Umar:
You do not have enough information upon which to base any judgment values. It is well that someone else is acquiring a Bible for you. Discretion and subtlety must be your guides.