My Libyan Christmas Wish….
**Editor’s note: Posting this a bit late, but needed to get my Libyan friends’ clearance before posting.
Ronnie Smith was called Libya’s friend. He loved the people.
And so do I.
My children actually have Libyan grandparents, you know. I have Libyan brothers and sisters and mother and pop and dear dear friends.
Not by blood or descent, but by the Mighty Hand of God bringing some of the dearest people I know, into our lives, into our family.
It all started with Adnan, the quiet solemn man struggling to learn English so he could go on to earn his Chemistry Masters at a university in Florida. We needed a sublet for our home, he needed an English speaking family.
I was nervous. quite nervous. But as that quiet man entered into our home and family, he and eventually his people would win my heart. I watched him delight in our children and have the patience of a saint as they delighted in him. He shared his food, and his time, and his thoughts with us. We shared our knowledge of navigating health insurance, car insurance, visa applications with him. He walked through the death of his father, and the shocking grief of it all, plus an engagement, and the struggles to survive in the English world. We shared a messy chaotic home, as fatigued and sick Mamma struggled through pregnancy with #5, then we shared the joy of bringing a new babe home from the hospital, we shared our home with his other international friends. And it bound us all together.
Then it was time for Adnan to go back to Libya to marry his bride, Amna, and from afar we shared in the joy of them preparing to have their own little one.
Meanwhile, we began praying that God would bring us the right “next” housemate for us. Nadar, came to visit our home to see if it was suitable to rent. It was an act of God that blinded his eye to what he was really getting in to. (IVERSON CHAOS!-I’m pretty sure that a naked 3 year old Katy-Grace streaked the top of the stairs while he was there because he stopped by right during a boisterous bath time.) After he left I told Danny, “There is no way he’s going to want to live here.” But yet the very next day, we got a text message.
“I would like to take the room. I will be ready to move in in August”
I had no idea how those words would change our lives and change our hearts forever.
Nader, who was excellent at English moved in, and got right to work. Work on the house and work on our hearts. We hadn’t quite gotten his room ready and Danny was in the middle of installing a new air conditioning unit. Nader, the engineer helped him.
What proceeded in the following months was a sweet and beautiful friendship as we shared meals, shared our nightly family devotions with him, shared differing beliefs about God and salvation, politics, home and family life, and culture. We shared laughs and struggles and late night discussion. We shared cars and rides and friends. We discussed Libyan ways and American ways and Islam and Christianity. We gained a window into a whole country and culture we had never travelled to. Our children had gained an older brother. Danny and I, a dear friend.
And then we got to know his bright and spunky sister, Maryam, studying in the States. And then his brother, Geith who came to visit for New Years, and then Geith’s fiancé Maymuna. And eventually his precious and caring new wife. And then when his graduation and wedding were approaching his entire family would be coming to the States to celebrate. And could they stay with us? . And God worked out the timing perfectly for our friend from Korea would be moving out just in time for them to move in. And we gradually became outnumbered by Libyans in that Iverson household.
And it was a family reunion, and it was as if we were reunited with a family we never realized we had.
His father, sweet and gentle Offman, would cry, “Malachi! Malako! Malaka!” throughout the house and would scoop him up and hug him tight, Malachi gained a grandpa.
And his mother, passionate, fun-loving and hard working Wafa, and I would work away in the kitchen, somehow unbound by the language barrier, but bound by similar mothers’ hearts.
And his sister painted nails and made drawings and was a big sister to my girls. And his brothers played and wrestled with my boys.
And they reminded me so much of my own family growing up and I realized that we were two similar families. One in free America, one in oppressed Libya and walking through the joys and trials of family life. And we were two devoutly “religious” families, one worshipping Christ Jesus in a culture of Christians (at least in my sheltered little life, not in America as a whole), and one worshipping Allah in a culture of Muslims, both striving to grow in commitment and devotion.
And then the weddings and the graduation occurred and they absolutely owned us as family throughout the whole ordeal. And my girls delighted in Nader’s brother’s (Geith) wedding in Orlando, and the chance to see a beautiful bride and the fun of dancing to Arab music and dining upon couscous and curry and all kinds of fun new foods. And we camped out at the UCF graduation and cheered Nader with pride over his accomplishments, like he was our own brother.
And then Danny and I travelled to Dallas to take part of a joyous wedding celebration so different from American style, but so incredibly fun. I’ve never had more fun dancing, than I did with my new found family.
[No pictures shown out of respect for bride and female’s privacy]
I remember, being dropped off by them, Nader’s new sister in law, Maymuna, fully clothed in hijab (head scarf) and conservative outfit got out of the car to walk me to the hotel entrance.
“Bye! Thanks so much for the ride. I had so much fun dancing with you all tonight!” I call as I wave them goodbye.
A man and woman puffed at cigarettes on the bench nearby and heard our goodbye partings…”Wait a second” he said, “you danced with them?”
“Yes! We had so much fun together!”
and I skipped inside, leaving him to puzzle over the fact that the conservative looking Muslims women he sees with headresses, just dropped me off from a dance party.
(in Libyan weddings, the men and women have separated celebrations so all the women unveil themselves and have a BLAST on the dance floor…I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun at a wedding)
Anyways, these people and their ways, they won my heart.
So when I read of Ronnie Smith being called a “lover of the Libyan people”,
I knew exactly why.
And I knew why he had been willing to move to a dangerous place to invest in the youth of a people who have actually been strengthed through their years of oppression. They may not be unified quite yet, but they have been formed into people of vigor and strength and a people who delight in the little joys of life, for at times, that is all they had. Libya, although war-torn, is a place of incredible possibility, untapped beauty. Ronnie showed up in the midst of the mess because of HOPE. Hope for a brighter future for those Libyan youth, and hope in the One Who is the Light of World.
And now, as we reel from the death of this Christian brother, I think of all the people my friends knew that also died from corrupt regimes, and unleashed manipulation by violence in that country. People whisked away from the land of the living by evil, not so much evil-in-the-form-of-a-cruel-dictator, but evil, open rebellion of God, within the human heart, manifested in violence and cruel slaughter.
And how do we fight back? With more guns, and more attacks and trying to gain control by who can generate the most fear by their random acts of brutality.
This is not what the Man, or more-than-man, who changed the course of history did. He fought evil with good. He fought corruption with love. He fought the people who desired to take his life, with a willing sacrifice….of Himself
For He knew that He was bigger than all the evil schemes of sinful man. He was bigger, but he became lesser. He was Almighty, but he was humbled. He deserved to judge, but He became the judged one.
It is knowing, and worshipping and being filled by this type of Spirit, that we combat the evil of this world. This was Ronnie’s battle plan.
And this is what Ronnie’s widowed wife has chosen to do. Although, she doesn’t actually have much of a choice, because when we’ve given ourselves to not just a man, or a cause, or an idea, but given ourselves to a God who comes and fills His people, we can’t help but act out with His Spirit,
and thats same love, and mercy and “battle strategy of peace” that propelled the God-man, Jesus, or Isa, will fill our hearts too.
For God did not just create us. He did not just give us laws to follow. He did not just set up standards that we must attain in order to enter his paradise. He entered in to our inability to keep those standards and laws. He came down as a human. As a Babe, which we celebrate this Christmas day. He came to do the impossible, the inconceivablee. He came to keep the law, that we fall hopelessly short to keep, that He might fully please the One Almighty God. He came to obey the Father, and obediently go to receive the Judgement Day’s verdict – that we fall short, and don’t (and can’t) pray enough, give enough, memorize enough, do enough. The verdict that was declared by his gruesome death penalty on a cross. Isa, or Yesu, has endured what every human being who should have loved, obeyed, followed Gold perfectly should receive. Judgement. That the real murderers, theives, selfish, and proud might go free.
But when we go free, we don’t continue to freely do evil.
There is something so humbling by seeing Perfection Himself outpour a love and grace you do not deserve. A humbling, and Truth that makes us free.
We are free, free to love God back for the incredible love He has poured out.
We are free, free to love people with a love we cannot generate on our own.
Free to move to a dangerous place, to love a youth, and pour your heart out teaching Chemistry, because Love Himself propels you.
Free to forgive and desire forgiveness for the men who pulled up in a Black SUV to your jogging husband, only to gun him down, splattering your baby’s father’s blood on the streets of a place you didn’t really have to be, in the first place
That is a freedom and a forgiveness that is unnatural.
For it is Supernatural.
And a proof that there is One God, who has sent Isa, whose very name means “Annointed One” or “Messiah”. This Isa, was also called Prince of Peace in the books of Prophecy following the Torah, and confirmed in the Injeel. He came to BE Peace, and to bring peace, so that “Salaam-Alaikum” can be true in the lives of Muslims worldwide.
It is the Story of Ronnie Smith, and his forgiving widow.
It is the story of Christmas.
And my prayer, this Christmas, is that it would be yours as well.