by Shirley W. Madany
"If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." John 8:36
During the month of June 1994, many of us were transported back in time to those memorable days surrounding D-Day. This spring it will be fifty years since Victory Day. One last opportunity to bring the historic events of World War II to the attention of the present young generation. Most of us involved in that war are now in the senior citizen bracket. I find it challenging to reminisce about those days and attempt to tie together threads of thought, with a focus on the Middle East. My own keen interest in that part of the world began long before I set sail for Syria as a missionary bride in 1953.
I have been thumbing through four precious books and would like to set the time clock back to 1941/42. The first is THE GLORY OF THE CROSS by Samuel M. Zwemer. Inscribed at the front of this book is the date 5-6-41. "To the ..... a reminder of happy fellowship in Christ." Harry, was an Australian being trained at one of the British Commonwealth Air Training bases near my home town of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada. He was the first born-again Christian I had met. He took services for the local preachers and spent many hours in our home. When he said good-by to the Salvation Army captain in town, I remember him saying: "If we don't meet again we'll meet in glory afterwards." Harry was killed in November of that year, 1941, en route to the Middle Eastern front. He crossed the ocean in the same convoy as my own brother Roland who also did not live very long. Not many survived those early days of the war. Assigned to a squadron in November he was shot down by January of 1942. His entire reconnaissance squadron was lost in a few months' time. Early that year I began working at the No. 7 Air Observer School south of town. By 1944 most of the boys we'd had in our home had been killed. It has made me jealous of the freedom which was bought at such a price.
Later on, it intrigued me, to think that Harry's gift was this devotional Zwemer book. Zwemer was Bassam's "patron saint." We eagerly accepted all of Cornelia Dalenberg's Zwemer collection. Cornelia was our neighbor and had spent her entire life as a missionary in Arabia. Samuel Zwemer is revered as one of the great missionaries to Muslims. His solid writings are still relevant. It seemed remarkable that we should be settled in South Holland, not far from a church which Zwemer's father had pastored. Why did Harry choose that book and how did it happen to be in a Canadian book-store?
Another book, EASTERN APPROACHES, by Fitzroy Maclean, is a one which I find difficult to lay down, no matter how frequently I have read it. I have always taken vicarious delight in stories of adventure and exploration. Certainly Fitzroy Maclean's remarkable career prior to and during World War II would be hard to surpass. A youthful Briton starting out in the diplomatic corps of his country, he requested a posting from Paris to Moscow, in 1937, simply because he had this hankering to visit the cities of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara in Central Asia. Everyone told him that he would regret his decision. He would never make it. "The whole of Turkestan had long been a forbidden zone." Foreigners were simply not allowed to roam about in that part of the U.S.S.R. Nevertheless soon after he arrived in Moscow in September of 1937, he set out for Central Asia and achieved a record number of travel miles in the far-flung outposts of the Soviet Union before the outbreak of World War II.
It is his visit to Bukhara which haunts me. Maclean had to walk the last miles into that city and arrived after nightfall. He was well aware of restrictions, both Muslim and Soviet. In fact he was shadowed by a member of the NKVD (the fore-runner of the dreaded KGB) all the long dusty way. He further annoyed his "shadow" by deciding to spends the nights under some shrubs in the garden of a mosque. He had good reason for this odd behavior. He knew that if he tried to get a bed in one of the chai-khanas (tea houses) he would have to produce documents and that would lead to his ouster from the area. Fitzroy Maclean was a student of this Muslim part of the Soviet Union and hardly needed a guide as he roamed about its ancient streets. All these adventures were preparing him for unique service behind the lines, in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
Though I have traveled in twenty-three countries, still Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara remain accessible to me only through the eyes of such writers. Using an Almanac as my resource, I have gleaned the following information about these remote Muslim extensions of the former Soviet Union. Since 1991 six major republics, with a Muslim population of 55 million, have surfaced: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Tajikstan. They straddle the top of the world, situated north of the mighty Himalayan mountains. With the break up of the Soviet Union these forbidden zones have revealed themselves to have remained firmly Muslim. As Maclean observed in 1938, half way through the Communist era, "the process of Sovietization was neither rapid nor easy." In fact, the solution adopted was to leave these principle bastions of Islam to decay with the passage of time. And the August 1994 issue of National Geographic tells a sad story of the devastation of the entire area through the pollution of its rivers and land. So much for socialism!
To wrap up the adventures of Fitzroy Maclean. As soon as possible he enlisted in the army and by the last month of 1941 he was on special detail in Benghazi, Libya, deeply involved in the fight against the troops of Field Marshall Rommel. When a liaison officer was needed in the mountainous Jugoslavia to assist the Partisans who were resisting the Germans, it was Maclean and a select band of Britishers who were chosen to quickly learn their language and then be parachuted into the country.
Meanwhile a well known war correspondent, Richard Dimbleby was reporting the advance of the Germans eastward. From Syria, Lebanon and Turkey he covered the action of the Free French troops under De Gaulle. I found his book THE FRONTIERS ARE GREEN in a second-hand book store in England. It described lucidly the historical events which my husband had lived through, as he like myself became involved in the war, with the arrival of the Australian troops into Lebanon and Syria back in 1941/42.
Fasten your seat-belts, for one more flight around the world, based on a book which looked at world events in 194l from a slightly different angle, and which had the theme of "freedom" running through all its pages. It is JOURNEY AMONG WARRIORS by Eve Curie, another correspondent and the daughter of the famous Madame Curie. She was privileged to be an unofficial passenger on one of the first lend-lease flights which left La Guardia Field, New York for the west coast of Africa, via Brazil. It was to investigate the viability of bringing in supplies to the North African campaign and further. She wrote: "I wanted to see at work the coalition of free men that was slowly being formed to fight the great War of Independence of the World."
Eventually she made it to Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran, Moscow, and across India and China. Hers was an epic trip. Those were the days before America entered the war and her book was like a powerful plea to America to come to the aid of the free world. She was speaking as a refugee who had been pushed out of France with the Nazi invasion. She had met soldiers of all nationalities in Libya, Russia, Burma and China and she was agonizing over the tremendous struggle which was bringing so many people together for one common purpose--to establish freedom once again in the entire world.
Victory came in 1945. It was a great, great victory but those of us who were involved personally realize that freedom is always in danger and needs to be guarded fearlessly. We see the legendary Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara still caught in the non-free atmosphere of Islam.
Even though the city of Kashgar is in Sinkiang, China, its population is predominantly Turkic and hence Muslim and Communist. The map shows that it is a neighbor to Tashkent. Perhaps the sharing of a letter from Kashgar will bring these far-away places nearer. We have reason to believe that we have had many listeners to the Arabic broadcast of the Gospel, in these remote but densely populated Muslim areas of Central Asia. Many would-be Christians.
"I am writing to you on behalf of many other listeners who tune in to your broadcasts. We have discovered your transmission recently. From the very bottom of our hearts we thank you as we have benefitted greatly from your expositions of the Holy Bible. It is just too bad that we do not have in our possession any Christian books, not even one copy. Had we even one copy it would have facilitated our spreading of the faith of the Savior among our people.
"Please send us the following books: Freedom in Christ, The Teachings of the Holy Bible and a copy of the New Testament. We would like to spread the faith here and especially among Muslims. It is very important that what you send us be in Arabic as we do not know any other language. Please also, do send us a letter. We are waiting to hear from you and we pray that God will bless you."
Though we have a record of many books and letters sent in the weeks following the receipt of that letter, there was no answer. We fear for the person who wrote. Such is the lack of freedom wherever Islam is in control.
As we think back on the sacrifice of our friends and brothers in World War II, we pray that what is left of the free world will remain strong. We often quote from the writings of Lamin Sanneh, the West African convert from Islam to Christianity who is now a professor of missions at Yale Divinity School. He too is anxious about our gullibility in the West and the risk we run of losing the freedom which we now enjoy. A reviewer of one of his articles said: "Westerners tend to make concessions because they do not know how to respond to Muslim demands; our tradition of tolerance and of privatizing religion, not to mention the loss of moral values, keeps us from dealing in any effective way with such demands." A thought-provoking charge.
Saneh himself said: "It would be wrong for Westerners to think that they can preserve religious toleration by conceding the extreme Muslim case for territoriality, because a house constructed on that foundation would have no room in it for the very pluralistic principle that has made the West hospitable to Muslims and others in the first place. The fact that these....have grown and thrived in the West at a time when religious minorities established in Islamic societies have continued to suffer civil disabilities shows how uneven are the two traditions." (The title of the article was: Can a House Divided Stand? Reflections on Christian-Muslim Encounter in the West.)
True freedom is a fruit of Christianity.
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