During my stint as communication director for a large evangelical mission organization, I spent a good bit of time developing a theology of communication and its integral role in mission. What I began calling at the time “kingdom journalism” consisted of telling stories that described the mighty deeds of God. What was God up to in the world? Who were telling those stories?
There’s actually a long rich history of missional storytelling that includes classics such as Chasing the Dragon, Bruchko, and Peace Child. Add to that esteemed list Making Friends Among the Taliban: A Peacemaker’s Journey in Afghanistan by Jonathan P. Larson.
In seven jaunting chapters, Larson tells the tale of Dan Terry, a childhood friend and long-term peacemaker and aid worker in Afghanistan. Terry, who worked for years with International Assistance Mission (IAM) and later Future Generations, was killed with nine other aid workers in a remote valley north of Kabul in August 2010. The tragedy thrust Terry and his colleagues into the international spotlight, but Larson reveals the life of selfless service with the Afghan people that Terry should best be remembered for. I have to confess, I have not been this inspired in a long time.
In story after story, Larson re-constructs a life well-lived in the name of Jesus and for the cause of peace in the land of Afghanistan. This is not a “white savior” glorification tale. This is the story of a man who adopted a nation as his heart home, and, who through years of service, was ultimately praised by his adopted Afghan brothers and sisters as one of their own, who even called him “Dantri.”
As we learn by reading, Terry was once kidnapped at gun point, spent time in an Afghan prison, and many other formative experiences that brought him deeply in touch with the suffering and everyday existence of the Afghan people around him.
Larson beautifully interweaves nuggets of wisdom from Terry, such as, “You never know when a side road might come in handy” and “Find a worthy concept and ram it down your own throat” and “In the end, we’re all knotted into the same carpet.”
I firmly believe the future will require greater interfaith dialogue and understanding, and the example of Dan Terry is deeply inspiring and challenging to me. Most of us will never experience the cross-cultural challenges of immersing ourselves in a “foreign” land, as Terry did, but this story has much to teach us here in the West, especially as we consider living missionally in a North American context. Terry’s philosophy of mission seemed to be summarized with this, “How do we mediate, mentor, [and become] leaven and salt? Not to win hearts and minds of others to better control them. Rather to effectively squander our own hearts enfranchising and investing in them.”
One other phrase that seems to sum up Terry’s life and ministry is this: “the deep work of friendship.” Terry exemplified this, and he is still teaching us how to “squander our own hearts” to “enfranchise” others.
Have you read Making Friends Among the Taliban? What did you think? What was your favorite story? Write your own review and submit it to this month’s Patheos Book Club!