In recent weeks I’ve been trawling through the book section of charity shops and picking out novels by authors with a “non-western” background. I find it helpful to read things that give an “insider’s” perspective of other cultures. It helps to shake up (and shake down) the complacent assumptions that can be drawn when we remain closeted with the comfortable and familiar. I’ve come to understand that reluctance to challenge our cultural assumptions merely entrenches the sense of our own “rightness” no matter how unreasonable or wrong that “rightness” may actually be.
One of my trawling sessions brought me to Noriko Dethlefs’ (non-fiction)book In His Strength, subtitled “Letters from Afghanistan 2005-2009”. It was the subtitle that caught my attention because I had been reading books about Afghanistan and its people, and had a few more on my “to be read” shelf. This one is a short book that I knew wouldn’t take long to get through.
By concentrating on the subtitle more than the actual title, I initially overlooked the title’s strong suggestion that the book had a Christian connection. I didn’t realise the significance of the title until I looked closer after I got home and I found the author and her husband has been in Afghanistan working with CBM (formerly Christian Blind Mission).
Apart from the Christian and Afghanistan connections that make the book significant to my interests, I found the author and her husband not only came from my former home city of Wollongong, she had lectured at my University and they belonged to a church that I had visited on one or two occasions.
Noriko Dethlefs’ account of her life in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2009 not only gives an insight into different cultural attitudes and religious beliefs, the daily dangers faced by both locals and foreigners and the lack of comforts that we in the “west” take for granted, the book shows that despite those differences, there is a shared, vulnerable humanity, of people in need of relationship with God. That’s something too often forgotten or purposely avoided for political expediency.
A few excerpts:
“Her story [about the death of her older brother in a bomb attack] brought tears to my eyes and a smile to hers. She explained that her pain was lessened because my heart was ‘soft enough to weep freely’. Tears no longer come easily to those who have been enduring pain for years and years. There have been other occasions when women have thanked me for ‘shedding the tears they no longer have’ as they retold their stories of pain.”
“If only the common greeting ‘Salam (alekum)’, meaning ‘peace (be upon you’), could become a reality for these people, who repeatedly use this greeting all day every day, and yet know so little of what it means.”
It puzzles people that we talk of a ‘loving’ God, as none of the ninety-nine names for God that are used in Afghanistan even hints at ‘love’. Here, the concept of God is more like that of a Master who gives commands for us to obey, or that of a Creator who has given rules to the ‘Created’ to follow. The audacity of us likeminded people* referring to God as ‘our Father’ or ‘our God’, and claiming to have a personal relationship with him, is beyond their comprehension.
* throughout the book the author uses the term “likeminded people” as a euphemism to describe her Christian community within Afghanistan, “for security purposes”.
A more detailed description of the book can be found here: