The Words of the Piepenburg Family
Sana'a, 1983. With pupils from the Sana a police.
"What are you doing here'?" -- This question is commonly asked among people of the still small foreign community in Yemen upon meeting each other in one of the few supermarkets or in any of the embassy compounds. And as it turns out, most of the foreign residents in Sana'a, the capital of North Yemen, are either diplomats representing their nation or aid workers with one of the numerous development agencies. An answer like mine, introducing myself as a representative of the Unification movement, is an unusual one.
The Unification movement is not easily associated with a particular nation or well-known organization, and thus I have to explain more. As soon as I mention Unification Church and the founder, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, people understand. Almost every Westerner knows at least something about Father and the church. However, I am not happy with their quick conclusion, calling me a religious missionary.
There is nothing wrong with the title "missionary" itself. After all, each foreigner, knowingly or unknowingly, represents his own cultural background and values to his friends and acquaintances. An embassy is nothing else but a "mission" of its home country. The ambassador, it follows, is the chief missionary of his own country and indeed his entire civilization. What I don't like is the association with overzealous Christian missionaries (who never had any great success in Muslim Yemen), who followed their deep conviction that only a radical change of beliefs and lifestyle could save their hosts from certain doom in the nether pits of hell. Questions like "How many converts could you make?" or "Don't you think it is difficult to convert Muslims into Christians?" fall exactly into this line. Nothing could be further from my true intention and purpose for staying in a country like Yemen.
The beauty of the Unification movement is that it embraces people of all religious and racial backgrounds, emphasizing their God-given value as members of the same human family. The acceptance of my neighbor as an equal brother, no matter how different he may live and how backward he may seem to me, is only possible through the love of God manifested in the True Parents. We, representatives of the Unification movement all over the world, are flag bearers of this parental love, with a deep and genuine appreciation for all people and their different beliefs. Usually my answer to those quickly asked questions as mentioned above is: "If I were only here to gain Christian converts. I surely would have left Yemen a long time ago and in utter frustration."
Then why am I still here in this country, after staying almost continuously for ten years, when the diplomat and aid worker will only stay for two years or three at most?
You must like it here," they suggest. This time I can readily agree: loving the people and country has always been the underlying theme of my years spent in Yemen. Love had sent me here in the first place and love has kept me alive. It is not just a feeling of liking the country because of its stimulating and ex- citing nature. A different kind of love stems from God's commandment to love each other as brothers and sisters of the one Heavenly Parent. When I examine my own love for the people and the country, I suddenly understand God's love for Yemen. It is a love that has never changed since the earliest times of the country's settlement: but a love that always was prevented from manifesting and substantiating itself. This is the fundamental dilemma that exists between God and my country.
My first few years in Yemen, while I was living together with the American and Japanese brothers, were dedicated to discovering the true nature and identity of our assignment. It was so vastly different from anything we were used to. I remember walking in the streets of Sana'a during the first few days after my arrival, not knowing if I were awake or dreaming! The men wearing skirts, turbans, and huge daggers; the women completely shrouded in black; the multicolored window arches of the stone and clay houses; the strange noises and smells that came from every corner -- it all made me feel as if I were living in a dreamland -- a fairy land from the tales of A Thousand and One Nights.
Dressed in my European clothes with my pale white face, I felt that I came from a different planet, or at least from a different age in history. Then, after getting over my initial bewilderment, I began to develop an intense interest in the people --in what they think and talk about, their concerns, their joys and worries, and what they think about us, the Westerners and Christians.
In order to understand and communicate with the people we had to learn their language. This was the first task the three of us embarked upon with great zeal and enthusiasm. During the first six months that we could stay together and study (later we each had to leave because of visa problems). We were visited by Yemeni friends each day in the afternoon. They were all young men, almost boys, whom we had briefly met in the streets and who just were interested in those strange foreigners.
Only very few could speak a limited, broken English, bringing to our awareness the fact that Yemen was never touched by Western culture, much less by Western colonialism. Indeed the country opened its gates to the rest of the world only five years ago, at the end of a long and bloody civil war that overthrew the all-powerful Imam and replaced the monarchy with a modern republic. When we carefully tried to find out the religious beliefs of our guests, we realized there was little common ground upon which to explain the Principle as we understood it. Yemen has no Christian foundation, and in order to pass on Father's teaching, we had to thoroughly familiarize ourselves with its history, traditions, and religion.
With my pupils, just before they left for Germany. Sana'a, 1982.
I have never regretted having studied deeply the history, religion, and tradition of my mission country. By understanding and appreciating its cultural heritage, I could understand and appreciate my own. Yemen's history is much older than that of the West -- even of Europe, the so-called "Old World." While South Arabian kingdoms experienced a highly advanced civilization during the first millennium B.C., the contemporary "Europeans" wandered as primitive tribes through the forests.
The religion of Islam has many impressive aspects, if studied carefully in light of the Principle. Its deep faith in God and consequent submission to divine law and order ("Muslim" means one who surrendered unto God) leave little room for atheistic or materialistic worldviews. Islamic education does not struggle over the question of whether to teach creationism or Darwin's evolution theory. There simply isn't any doubt that anything other than God's purposeful power of creation could be the prime force of all existing beings. What impresses me most as a member of Western society, however, are the strong human bonds that forge the Yemeni family into a powerful fortress and a stronghold of society.
Ever since I first taught Yemeni students to prepare them for years of study in Germany, I have silently observed their behavior and lifestyle in family relationships. One pupil, Abdulqawi, taught me how eight brothers can live together in just one large room and keep a relaxed atmosphere of friendship and mutual support. I remember being stunned by the natural order that existed among the brothers; how the younger respected and followed the elder, and the elder in return took care and felt responsible for the younger. At lunchtime it was always up to the oldest brother, acting in the position of their absent father, to distribute the little meat they had. He would purposely give himself less than everybody else to quell any feeling of jealousy or greed.
Another pupil taught me how to respect one's parents. Hamood, when he received his first vacation after two years in Germany, cut his holiday exactly in half and spent the first half with his father, working in Saudi Arabia. Only then did he go back home to his own wife and children. When I asked him why he decided to do this, he answered, "I am first of all the son of my father. He loves me like no one else and I can make him very happy by spending some of my free time with him."
There is a certain beauty in this attitude that we miss in our technically advanced Western world. In a Semitic society such as that of Yemen, homes for the aged, where they are separated from their grown children, are simply unthinkable. The parents always hold a position of honor and respect at home, no matter how big the new families of their sons and daughters have become.
Yemen is a divided country, much like Korea or Germany. South Yemen, with its free port of Aden, was originally the more advanced part of the country. The British authorities, showing little interest in the hinterland, developed Aden into a busy port comparable to Hong Kong and Singapore. Aden always had a cosmopolitan flair, with people of all races and beliefs living peacefully side by side. There were ancient mosques, churches, places for Hindu worship, and even synagogues for the Jewish minority in earlier times.
I was talking once with an Australian member of the Red Sea Mission (a fundamentalist Christian mission that has since been kicked out of Yemen), who recalled with much enthusiasm the days under British rule when they could freely work in Aden. They were free to invite anybody to their seminars and gatherings and occasionally would pass out literature and even Bibles on the streets of Aden.
Famous schools attracted thousands of bright young people from the northern mountains. Many of the current leading figures in North and South Yemen's political and social life received their first education in British schools. Aden was the educational, cultural, and economical center of Yemen. Unfortunately, prompted by a series of mistakes by the British authorities, a small group of communist-trained revolutionaries led an uprising and declared a People's Republic in 1967 -- a tragic event in Yemen's history.
South Yemen was lost and God's providence had to shift from south to north. From then on, Sana'a began to grow by leaps and bounds, expanding to more than five times its original size and hosting an increasing number of international organizations and foreign diplomatic missions. God has surely been working hard in these few decades.
The challenge in our work in Yemen has been the same throughout the years: How can this country be connected to God's providence for the 20th century? Or in other words, how can the blessing and benefit of True Parents' foundation reach down to a faraway and tiny place like Yemen? It is a challenge that is not met easily. Direct evangelism, as we are used to doing in our home countries, is impossible. Any political or religious campaigning is a violation of the laws. Only after establishing close ties of personal friendship can one talk about the Principle confidentially. Slide presentations about the great Blessing in Korea or the 120-day training I attended recently, including close-up pictures of Father, provide precious opportunities to explain more about our movement.
However, the best and most successful links between the Unification movement and Yemen so far were established on a cultural, not religious, level. When the first Yemeni professor attended the Eighth International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences in 1979, I was thrilled by the idea that he would meet with Father and even shake hands with him. Others would follow after him and even attend the Introductory Seminars on the Unification Movement. (ISUM for the Middle East, however, does need some adaptation to the Muslim view of the universe.)
We have hope for the important role the Professors World Peace Academy can play in the Middle East, including Yemen. Cultural events and seminars on a Middle Eastern regional level, rather than on a national level, seem to be more feasible and practical. The World Media Conference provides another precious opportunity to connect Yemenis with Father's global task of unifying the world. The field of communications is just being discovered and developed by Yemeni students, most of whom studied the subject in American universities.
Religious outreach is much more difficult, and we haven't yet found the proper approach. Ironically, communist countries like the Soviet Union have better religious contacts in the Middle East than we have. Once a year or so the entire Muslim leadership of Yemen is invited by the "Soviet Islamic High Council" on a well-prepared and carefully guided tour through the southern "Islamic" provinces of Russia. Government-sponsored delegations of Soviet Muslims frequently visit Yemen and are received by such dignitaries as the Grand Mufti of the Republic, the Minister of Awqaf, and even the President himself. There are two major obstacles to inviting those powerful religious leaders to one of the conferences sponsored by the International Religious Foundation (IRF). Since they speak only Arabic, the entire conference should be aided by well-trained interpreters; or, even better, be conducted in their language entirely. Second, the conference should be formally organized by an Islamic organization in an Islamic environment to make them feel comfortable and relaxed.
On a personal level, I can see great progress being made through having my own family. In the eyes of the Arabs it is very unusual for any young man to stay alone for so many years, away from his parent's home and without a family of his own. Such a person is regarded as "cut from the tree" -- the tree being his family and friends. According to the traditional viewpoint, a man is only a full man after he is married and has his own children.
The family, as a way to demonstrate a different lifestyle and a higher standard, is much more powerful than just an individual living alone in a society where the family is still the focal point of life itself. The Yemenis observe very carefully the foreigners in their country. They develop a keen sensitivity to the character of a foreigner and his relationship with his wife and children.
There is hope for God's providence in Yemen and the entire Arab world. It may be slower than in other parts of the world, and it may demand additional effort. The gates to heaven have already been opened by the sacrifice of True Parents. How to make each and every person aware of it and show them the way to enter is up to us. One thing is sure: God doesn't want to miss even a single person in His holy city of love.