In the spring of 1963, my junior year in high school, I entered an oratorical contest held during the state Royal Ambassador congress. Surprisingly, I won first place and as a “reward” for my effort, was given an all-expenses paid, 28 hour Trailways Bus Line ride to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national contest. I entitled the speech I gave, “My Place in Today’s World.” Those of you familiar with the odyssey Denise and I have pursued since our first overseas experience in 1971 have persuasive evidence that I am still searching for that “place.” This trip has clarified part of the “what,” if not entirely the “where,” of how I perceive my place.
Within the past four days it has become clear to me that I must be called to some ministry of “conversation.” Most of you know that I am neither a great story teller, nor a scintillating conversationalist. Thus, on closer examination, maybe my gift is in the listening half of the verbal exchange.
The conversations which precipitated these thoughts were with two friends of mine. One is an American and a fundamentalist Christian; the other is a Moroccan and a fundamentalist Muslim. My private conversation with my American friend began Monday when I arrived at his home about four in the afternoon, and continued through the evening meal and well past midnight.
He has lived in Morocco for the past 34 years, part of a staff for a children’s home that has operated here since the 1950’s. (That’s a subject for a later e-mail.) He and his wife have been the educators at this home and have accounted for essentially the entire 12 year education of over 60 children, many of whom have gone on to earn university degrees in the U.S. All of the staff are paragons of commitment. The isolation of the location, and the paucity of discourse except for the few people with whom he works, caused me to realize last summer when I taught in Ifrane, how much he appreciated my taking the time to listen.
Though we share a common world view, and agree on the basic tenets of the Christian faith, several issues arose on which differences emerged. During our discussion topics such as evolution, eschatology, inerrancy, missiology and perceiving the will of God surfaced. Thus, we had little difficulty filling up seven or eight hours with talk.
On the other hand, my devout Muslim friend and I disagree on some on the most basic concepts in our faiths, since we come from vastly different traditions. He is no Taliban, but makes the important decisions about how to order his life and behavior based on his faith. He is an English professor at the university in Oujda and I have known him since he bought books from our bookstore in Fes in 1987 and 1988.
We asked each other a number of questions, he more than I, and considered such topics as corruption in government, the breakdown of the family structure, the Mid-East conflict, and believe it or not, inerrancy. Though many deny it, that’s an issue for the readers of the Koran as well. All of these ideas were generally framed with reference to the influence of religion on them, and whether or not religion has any discernible effect.
We parted after nearly three hours and he presented me a very nice gift as a souvenir of my visit to his home. In typical Moroccan fashion, he told me I would always be welcome in his home and he regarded me as a brother. That differed very little from the parting sentiment of my American friend as well.
As I reflected on what we had said and the differences in our points of view, I felt somewhat pleased that perhaps I had occupied my rightful place for a few hours. Surely there is some “place” in this world where leaders with different perspectives, and the power to affect millions of lives, can sit down and converse in a spirit of mutual friendship and tolerance.