My lower back ached. Hauling my seven-month pregnant body out the door for my daily walk was becoming more of a chore each afternoon. My belly had outgrown my purple djellebba (Moroccan cover up) so I wore a hand-me-down green pinstriped jumper. I was conspicuous as a foreigner, but it couldn’t be helped. Three miles to downtown. I could take the bus back. I walked, determined to loosen the muscles "down there" in order to have a natural birth. My landlady, the nurse, regularly pinched the medicines from her hospital to sell on the black market in our neighborhood, leaving the hosptial without treatments for admitted patients. She also knitted a sweater a day in winter. Nursing care in hospitals didn't offer a comforting vision of attentive, efficient post-op convalescence to say the least. So, I walked.
I merged with the main thoroughfare that ran from Fes to Meknes. I practiced my breathing and got my pace going, arms swinging, belly bulging. Not five minutes into my routine, I heard cat-calls from behind me.
“Hey pretty American. Where you going?”
"Oo, oo oo. Lady..."
No surprise here. Such harrassment was par for the course. But now I had a secret weapon to humiliate ogling men. From behind, my 24-year-old body didn’t reveal my big tummy. I swung side-ways to surprise my two don-juans; they gaped and then burst into laughter. They slapped each other on the arms and strode right by me pulling faces and making a few funny remarks that I didn’t quite catch. They looked back to double check that they had seen me correctly. And laughed again.
I burst into tears. I wasn't angry with them. I wept for them.
Not because they had tried to “come on” to me.
Not because they were rude.
Not because they were two in a long string of Moroccan men who saw right through my clothes to my underwear.
I cried because they were bound for hell and I had no way to save them.
I tried to fix my gaze straight ahead. I sang praise songs to distract me from the familiar tidal wave of anxiety that was mounting inside. Who was I kidding? Everywhere I looked, Moroccans were on their way to hell.
The taxis passing me were full of hell-bound Moroccans. The women with babies strapped to their backs, hands waving in the air, were heading for hell. The street vendors—going to hell. Everywhere I looked, Moroccans had no idea that they were oblivious to the most important fact they’d never know—that without Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, they would spend eternity in torture. Torture—the kind that we don't even allow our government to inflict on terrorists. Hot flames, eternal solitary confinement, pain, horror unspeakable. I believed it all. I believed it more than most of the Christians I knew.
My tears knew no limit. I sobbed for the entire three miles. I had no way to stem the tide of hell-bound Moroccans, no matter how well I learned Arabic, no matter how many friends I made, no matter how much couscous I ate. Everywhere I looked, happy, bored, hardworking, lazy Moroccans were doing time on earth until they would be justifiably judged as rebels against God and sentenced to an eternity of constant, unrelenting, eternity-sized torment. I couldn't bear the image.
My imagination tried to rescue me. Maybe God would save Moroccans without my witness in some mysterious way. Maybe there would be many who would be given dreams of Jesus. Maybe God was about to pour out his spirit in an unprecedented move that would sweep the nation into the loving arms of the Almighty Christian God and I'd be there to watch and celebrate! I breathed in the moment’s reprieve while I prayed fervently for that to happen, for God to be a better missionary than me, for him to care more than I did… until another suffocating vision occurred to me.
How would I be able to tell these new Christians (assuming God would rescue these in the highways and bi-ways before me) that their grandparents and ancestors had been born too early to hear the good news? Their loved ones were already being tortured in hell. They had been born in the wrong place, at the wrong time. (Missionaries had only been in Morocco about a hundred years at that point. Perhaps a total of about a hundred conversions had resulted.)
More tears. We were a million dollars short and centuries too late. Millenia, in fact.
Morocco isn’t like America in almost any way. But it is especially not like a Christian country. Five times a day, a muzzein calls Muslims to prayer. Christmas is a work day. Ramadan (the month of fasting) is the high point of the year. Religion and daily life fuse at every turn from how they greet each other “Peace be with you” to how they curse “God give your mother a fever!” The core of who they are is Muslim, even if they are backsliders and hypocrites.
I'd always read that to be true, but living in the midst of it is something else. There's no relief from the inescapable evidence that Christianity in that world was not Good News, but Bad News. To convert meant that everything that gave Moroccan lives meaning, ritual, celebration, and relational cohesion would be thrown out the window in favor of an unknown quantity. In America, conversion meant joining a community of people who had potlucks and family nights, weekly meetings with music and a place to belong and serve. In Morocco, conversion meant job loss, alienation from one's family (and possible death), being on the government's "list" with fear of impending imprisonment, losing place in the mosque (the community center) and having to be friends with foreigners who speak accented Arabic, primarily (the worst punishment of all, as far as I could tell). What American would do half so much for a religious faith?
There was no simple answer to the unsaved millions, indeed billions, through history who hadn't heard the message about Christ. I reasoned that if we simply trusted to God’s mysterious ways to save those who haven’t heard, then we would be avoiding facing squarely the essential mission of the church as proclaimed to us repeatedly by pastors, forefathers in the faith and Jesus himself: Matt 28. It would have been much easier for me to live in the States near my mother while pregnant than in a foreign country preaching a message in bad Arabic that no one really wanted to hear! If I had believed that God would save them without my help, then I wouldn’t have gone to begin with.
The entire missionary enterprise would have been pointless.
It’s easy to feel good about a few Jesus dreams that God scatters through the Middle East when they are reported in American midwestern churches during missions’ conferences. But even dozens of dreams won’t compensate for millions upon millions who spiritually sleep through their days and nights without any revelation or insight into what Christians consider the core of reality, the truest message ever, the only message that saves a soul.
And it's not enough to say that faithful people will find God and be saved through Jesus without knowing it, as Lewis wants us to accept in his Narnia Chronicles. The numbers don't add up. Most people aren't "faithful" (Christian and otherwise) and doesn't that move us away from "saved by grace" and put us right back into "saved by works"? What constitutes a "faithful life" if we take away faith in Jesus Christ? How many people in the US, for instance, begin life by distrusting their spiritual heritage hoping that God will find them even though they don't know what they are looking for? It's so ludicrous that it can only work as an argument for those who don't want to feel responsible for the lostness of fellow human beings living in far away places and other times.
No. There was a real problem with the theology I'd believed and tried to practice. And I couldn’t face how deeply tortured this version of God’s love was until another ten years went by.