Shrieks filled the air, followed by the occasional whimper and whine, as kids bounded unaware of each other around the Frankfurt park covered by a panoply of fully-leaved trees. Scrapped knees and bruised egos caused many kids to scamper back to their parents who were underneath the white tents outside the ice-cream shop. They would come up to their mom or their dad, complaining about this boy or that girl and how he or she pushed them down, all the while failing to mention how they inadvertently lowered their shoulder squarely into the chin of the so-called perpetrator moments before they were shoved.
Or, the boys or girls, in pure exhilaration and a sort of joyful exhaustion, boasted of their conquests and adventures on the playgrounds which were no longer a series of wooden planks or swings, but medieval battlefields and 25th century planetary colonies. The parents, on the other hand, took small bites of their mango or Nutella gelato, reached toward the side table and grabbed the cup of their son or daughter’s melting Oreo ice-cream, and cooled off their beloved’s wounded hearts and rambunctious spirits before setting them loose back into the scene of the crime or the alternative reality.
I sat with Geti on the far edge of chaos, just outside the farthest reaching tent which was closest to the shop. A friend of mine called me over and said I must hear her story.
At this point, with just a handful of days left on my trip, I was feeling tired. Some of this derived from the emotional state I was in from swimming in the deep end of upheaval and death for three weeks. On the other hand, I was starting to realize I approached many of my new, refugee friends as merely a story and not a human being. While I hoped to capture a glimpse of their humanity to pass along to friends and family, I fell into the same trap many of my evangelical friends fall into when they proselytize. The person is merely a tool to perpetuate my agenda – one I undoubtedly believe in – but when a person is merely contained within my own categories to serve some personal purpose or crusade, in the moment, when my eyes meet theirs, when our knees almost touch from where we sit across the table, when I ask questions that flush horrid memories back to the forefront of their consciousness, I find myself saying, “Wow, this will be a great story for my blog.” My breath forces, “Praise God for your safety” while my heart is filled with a story-teller’s delight.
Yet, here I am writing Geti’s story. I pray the passage from Philippians 1 where Paul thanks God for those who preach the Gospel out of selfish means because God still uses us despite ourselves. He is bigger than our motives and more powerful than our narcissisism. May Geti’s story “spur us on to love and good deeds” in Christ even in my failure to love her over a cup of strawberry ice cream and the fullness of the life surrounding us.
At the age of 14 in Afghanistan, I was arranged to marry a 17 year old young man who was a family friend. Our first years of marriage were filled with joy. We had two daughters together, and he treated me with respect and love. At the age of 19, though, he left for Pakistan to study. What he was studying was always vague to me. I wasn’t really sure what he was doing there. For nine years, I never heard from him.
While those nine years were challenging, it wasn’t all bad. I studied graphic design and found work, so I could support my girls. We were close to my family, and they helped take care of us. Considering the situation, we had a good life.
Then, my husband came back home.
He was a completely different man. He made me quit my job; he withdrew our girls from school; I was forced to stay at home and had no freedom to be who I was while he was away; I was forced to wear a hijab and cover my arms and legs. I went from experiencing autonomous living to being enslaved by the desires of my husband. What had happened?
Soon after this switch, I came to find out the truth. His schooling in Pakistan was not done at a university or college. It was not an apprenticeship underneath a craftsmen of some sort.
No, he had studied under the Taliban and was now a member of the terrorist group.
For two years I lived underneath his oppression. I lived in a constant state of fear. I knew the stories of the Taliban well. If I was to cross him, my life and the life of my daughters would be at stake.
I couldn’t live with this fear anymore. Two years was enough. With the help of my brother, my girls and I were smuggled into Iran. My brother had four young kids, so he decided to stay behind. When my husband realized we were gone, he beat my brother nearly to death for aiding in our escape. It was awful.
Over the next three months, we traveled by foot and sea to Germany. Slowly, we walked from Iran to Iraq to Turkey where we hopped on a smugglers boat in Istanbul that would take us to the island of Lesvos in Greece. They promised us they would have a boat driver for us, but as soon as we shoved off land, the captain jumped out of the boat and left us spinning until a fellow refugee decided to take the rudder and steer us west. Our boat was narrow and not very deep. We spent most of the journey shoveling water out of the boat, so we wouldn’t sink and die in the chilly Mediterranean.
By the grace of God, we arrived safely in Greece. The borders were open at this time, so we were able to leave within 3 days and begin the long walk to Germany with my girls.
We have been in Frankfurt, now, for 10 months. Three months after arriving, I met your friends at our refugee center. They were visiting my neighbor, and my neighbor came and fetched me to translate for her and your friends. This happened multiple times, and during these meetings, I was translating stories of how Jesus healed the multitudes, cast out demons, and raised from the dead. As I listened to the words I spoke, I realized I wanted the life Jesus offered to those he encountered. I wanted to be free from the burdens of my life and rest in the peace of Jesus.
Since I met Jesus, I have hope once again – hope for my life and hope for my daughters. I plan on studying German soon, so I can take a test and be placed in school. There are too many graphic designers here, so I hope to go to culinary school. I want to be a chef. I love to bake the most. Maybe if you come back to Germany, I will have my own restaurant, and you can visit.
I sure hope so, Geti. I sure hope so.