The Words of the Kiely Family

Reflections on My Mission in a Muslim Land

Michael Kiely
February 1981

At one point, the police gave us notice to leave the country. We went to friends for help to stay in the country. Perhaps they could intervene on our behalf. They were sorry, they said, but they could not. It was not their department; they didn't know anyone with enough authority to help us.

On the recommendation of the American consul, I sent for my wife Maria to come. As a couple, we would have more chance than I would have alone to get permission to stay. A family is somehow more established and less dangerous, we felt. At that time we did not know that the authorities had already been informed of our membership in the Unification Church. We imagined that they either suspected us of international intrigue since they had no doubt spotted three nationalities living under one roof, or of sexual promiscuity (looking back, I can see now that we still had much to learn about the lack of morals in the government itself).

With encouragement from David Kim and our itinerary worker, Mr. Song, Maria flew to join me. Ours was a strange and joyous reunion. This was my wife of one and a half years whom I didn't know yet. Our initial "adventures" included the realization that we had to not only save our country but also unite America and Czechoslovakia.

Although the American consulate did manage to delay our departure, it was not able to help us much. We made a "Jericho" condition of walking around the capital seven times in silence. We prayed hard. But one day two policemen knocked on our door. Two gruff and simple men on orders, they had come to take us to the airport. We invited them in, plied them with cookies and song and after about an hour, had warmed the cockles of their hearts. One showed us with pride the ring from his favorite wife. We were thorough friends in an hour. Risking their jobs for insubordination, they asked their superiors for and were able to get a 24-hour stay of our departure order.

That afternoon we pulled our last desperate stops. No, the consulate could not help us any more. No, our merchant friend could do nothing. No, our landlord judge had nothing to do with that department. We believed and kept believing -- especially with Maria's encouragement -- that Heavenly Father would keep us here. Maria, fresh from New York, encouraged us in difficult moments, and somehow we always kept faith.

With the afternoon before us and all avenues seemingly closed, we received the inspiration to go to the top, to the Minister of the Interior. Fortunately, he was our neighbor. We bought flowers and walked to his home. Normally the guard should not have let us pass, and normally the Minister should not have been at home at three in the afternoon. Normally, he should not have received us even if he had been home. Here VIP's are quite inaccessible; he was one of the top men in the nation.

Exchanging greetings in first-year Arabic with the guards, we walked right past them up to the gate and rang the bell. One of the guards approached us, surely with the intention of impeding us, we imagined. But instead, he spoke in Arabic to the man who came out of the house. We think he said, "These are neighbors." We wrote him a note on our visiting card and gave it to him. He disappeared a moment into the house, then reappeared. "Yes, the Minister will see you," he said and ushered us in.

The Minister and his bodyguards rose to greet us, then he invited us to sit down. We expressed our love for his country and told our story. "I will arrange for you to stay," he said. After much thanks and appropriate pleasantries, we took our leave. He was a providential man, we thought; he saved our mission.

Then next day at the end of the 24-hour stay, we reported to the police station, no bags packed. We learned later that a phone call had come to Hanna while we were out. The caller had asked for our passport numbers, but Hanna had not been able to understand.

While we waited at the station, Maria plied each policeman with silver dollars and smiles. They loved it. Several hours passed. The policemen were held after hours to their chagrin and probably because of us. So we comforted them with songs -- surely a first for them. Again they loved it. For months after our visit when we met them on the bus, they would greet us and ask, "Did you really meet with the Minister?"

Phones rang and discussions were held behind closed doors. Apparently the Minister's message had not sifted down the ranks. The commissar finally came out of his office with a set face. Two men then invited us to get in their car and, lying to us about our destination, whisked us off to the airport.

At the airport they ushered us into the border police chief. They spoke together with him at length in Arabic, but their intentions were clear. I finally said to the chief, "The Minister, your superior, has given us permission to stay. If you send us away, you will be bucking his decision."

"Do you have money?" he asked.

"No," I lied. I was wearing a money belt with credit cards and several hundred dollars U.S. "I left it at home."

The two men then drove us back to the police station. They wanted to keep Maria there while I went home to pack and get money, but I protested vigorously that I hadn't an inkling what to pack, especially of my wife's affairs. Annoyed, they drove us both home.

Our task was not to pack, but to contact the Minister, now in Bonn, West Germany, by phone and to stall for time. The two men seemed to sense this and were initially exasperated. They would not be seated. They encouraged us impatiently to hurry.

We arranged to break the zipper on our suitcase. So sorry! While Maria and Hanna tinkered with the zipper and plied our reluctant guests with more cookies and song, I worked with an infinitely slow operator to get through to Bonn. It was an hour-long project. The Minister wasn't there but I left a message with the first secretary to have the Minister get word to the border police at the airport to free us before we were airborne. The Minister received our message too late.

Our fidgeting friends under the ministrations of Maria and Hanna were soon sitting down, not quite wanting to admit that they were enjoying themselves. When I emerged from calling, their mirth fled from their faces and they again importuned us to hurry. The zipper was quickly fixed, and we threw a few belongings together for a semblance of packing. We felt sure of staying. We knew that God works His miracles in the last moment and had not forgotten us.

We sped to the airport where our erstwhile houseguests obliged us to buy one-way tickets to Paris, then herded us through a sea of uniforms into a windowless room to wait for the airplane. We could not go out to call, nor even to listen to the announcements. At flight time, an armed guard escorted us to the plane and waited outside till the last door had closed.

Inside the plane was hot, silent and full of flies. We prayed for engine trouble, for a crash, for a last minute call from Germany, or for any hell other than to have to leave our mission land. Jonah's ride in the belly of the whale would have been a welcome alternative.

There was no engine trouble, no crash and no phone call. The plane took off normally, to our near disbelief. What had gone wrong? We were leaving our mission; there were no spiritual children; Hanna was alone. It was a bitter cup; our neighbors hardly understood our tears.

In Paris we were warmly welcomed by our Unification Church family, and we told our story. Still, we believed that Heavenly Father had not forgotten our mission. The next day, as we were telephoning Bonn, a call came through from the Ministry: "Welcome to our country." The Minister had received and responded to our word. We rejoiced, and the French family with us. Our little country had not been forgotten.

We boarded the next plane home. The border police, who had treated us like criminals a few days previously, greeted us with broad smiles. "Did you enjoy your vacation in Paris?" they asked. We could have kissed the earth.

This was but one of a series of episodes in our quest to remain in our country. Initially, studying Arabic was a reason to stay in the country. Now it is clear that it is essential to being effective in our mission. It is the key to the doors of Islam, Arabic culture, customs and way of thinking, and some of the better prepared people speak only Arabic. We must learn Arabic for their sake.

The people are proud of their tongue. It is the language of the Koran. It is somehow God's special language to them. Mr. Sudo, while speaking of his initial hard experiences as an IOWC commander said, "English is Satan!" My sentiments exactly about Arabic. It is completely foreign to English. Rare is the word or structure that is common to both languages. I have had two and a half years of it and am just now beginning to con- verse simply. I must encounter a word maybe 15 different times before remembering it.

We ate out as little as possible, but at home just ate bread, butter, cheese, and jam until we were able to set up a kitchen. In addition during the first month or so we fasted three days in rotation (three days fast, six days eating, then repeat).

We did not refuse invitations to dinner, but we ate knowing full well that the next four or five days we would be prisoner of the nearest john. Often friends would invite us to eat from their plate, this being a sign of true friendship (rather like the blood sharing or peace pipe ceremonies of the American Indians). We accepted with a smile, but visions of the most gruesome microbes I had studied in high school biology danced in my head. That the food tastes better and the camaraderie enhanced by eating by hand (a high art slowly mastered) only turned our stomachs more in the beginning. Early in the game we decided to risk stomach bugs for the sake of growing friendships.

"Enchallah" used to mean "If it is God's will" to confirm an appointment. Today, in the more civilized parts it has come to mean "maybe"; "maybe" means "no": "yes" means "maybe"; and "surely" means "yes." There are "English" appointments that are supposed to be kept, and "Arabic" appointments which are come late for or never. For a time, poorly kept appointments made a fiasco of our teaching. They became an important negative factor. Gradually we learned to joke about appointment times and to make it clear that appointments were an all or nothing and serious affair. Either let's be sure or forget it. I would write it down in my calendar in front of my contact. In this way we were able to assure much better kept appointments and reduced the effect to which missed appointments interfered in our teaching.

Communication here is sometimes a challenge because the same words may have different meanings. "Friendship" is a case in point. In the West the term evokes feelings of warmth, camaraderie, loyalty, fraternal love. In the Arabic world there is a beautiful classic tradition of the loyalty of friends, even to death. In actual practice, however, friendship is utilitarian: "I have a friend in the Ministry of Agriculture who can get me a job." One is often loyal if it is useful to be so. We soon learned to take quick offers of friendship with a smile and a grain of salt.

Wherever we have travelled we have asked people, "What is the purpose of your life?" Although Islam permeates all aspects of their lives (eating, sleeping, daily schedule, nearly all expressions and proverbs, birth and marriage, and so on), still a large majority did not express religious or moral or even humanitarian goals. Rather, their chief concerns were: to have stable work, to own a home, and to marry and have children. Next to these in importance were other material possessions such as a car. To live for God or for mankind or even for the nation were almost never expressed as life-goals. Such limited purposes made teaching their owners Principle a challenge.

People are eager to speak with foreigners, especially Americans as inhabitants of the world's technological paradise, but to discuss religion is anathema; many clam up or change the topic. Others who do listen tolerantly, even for a long time, do so with a kind of paternal indulgence, self-assured that Islam is the superior religion, but humoring us with their attention.

Furthermore, there is tremendous social pressure against someone who may wish to change his religion. As one potential member who had studied a long time with us said once quite seriously, "My father would cut my throat if he knew that I were joining a religion other than Islam." He meant it literally.

Because Islam proscribes consideration of any truth other than Islam, people do not come to Principle easily through the truth. We have to win them by heart and by personality. We must become attractive as individuals and as a family and because of our deep love. So, we sing, speak about their interests, and let them play with and even care for In-may and Yung Kwang, our children. Gradually, we have given our guests truth by the baby spoonful and with much love. To be attractive for them, Principle must become a personally useful truth that they can apply right away in their lives.

"The fall of man is all around you," we tell them. "You have barely to look past your nose. The Koran says not to look at a woman a second time, but what do we see around us? Who can control himself today? Satan has convinced us that sex is a need. Yet the Koran demands severe whipping and even stoning to death for adultery. One is not allowed to pray the five daily prayers and, at the same time, satisfy one's lust. Then why do most young people give up prayer until after marriage? 'A body has its needs,' they say. Can you begin to see how the fall was twisted love?"

With such examples they can begin to understand the nature of the fall and the other truths of Divine Principle. We are careful to teach all of the fundamentals of Principle, but adapted to a spiritual milieu quite different from our own.

On the average, we have been teaching two people a day. We tried once to increase the number of contacts per day. The results were unfortunate. People came expecting to stay for at least two, maybe three or four hours. We asked them politely to excuse us after one and a half or two hours. However considerate we were, they were miffed and never returned. We had transgressed an ancient tradition of hospitality here. One doesn't hurry (except at the wheel of a car). We can create a holocaust of vertical urgency if we like (and we do!), but horizontally, restoration here is, as Mr. Song said, like the plodding of a cow.

The way of the Principle is hazardous and arduous. The Moslem's spiritual foundation is weaker, his perspective different and more limited, and social barriers formidable. We must hold a child's hands through all the trials in his pilgrimage into this, for him, strange new world of restoration. He is timid and afraid or sometimes aggressive. His old, comfortable tradition lures him continually to return home, especially in weak moments. When his fallen nature rebels against change, the flesh-pots of nostalgia drive him to the door; or when he hears his mama calling, we must be there, a warm hand and a kind voice in the darkness of his confusion. If we are not there at the moment of his need, then he is gone. In his home there is no telephone we can call. Our letters go unanswered. The cucumbers are delicious, and Satan is smiling.

We feel we have come to know, if only in some small way, Heavenly Father's lonely, desertic heart in this land. And we can see -- although it is all too slow -- that the sleeping original nature of this land is beginning to stir. There are results coming gradually. We are beginning to be a family here with joyous gatherings. We shed more tears these days. I think we have become a bit more a center of comfort for Heavenly Father in spite of all our failings. In a way, we have become like an old gnarled tree deeply rooted in parched soil. Leaving is like dying.

We know and are convinced that the only true home is in Heavenly Father's heart, no matter where we are on the face of the globe. We are eternally grateful to have been chosen for this path. We are delighted to be in the thick of the fight and hope to stay there. We are attached to nothing but Heavenly Father's heart. Everything else can come and go, our attachments made and broken, things received and given away or lost.

Of the myriad blessings we have received, the most nebulous and challenging among them is to have been given the clay of a nation and to have been told, "Follow me." As He is doing with the world, so are we to do with a nation. We could feel the weakness in our arms and the largeness of the task before us, we who were always little, back road potters. But one May five years ago we wedged up our allotted mass of clay, centered it on a turning wheel, and with our eye on the Master Potter, plunged our fists into the spinning, wet mass. We could feel His might in our thin arms and His artistry in our hands, and from the chaos of a mound of clay a large new shape began to rise between our fingers, fingers that had only thrown little pots till then. We are deeply grateful for the great, emerging urn and the art that is shaping it. We know that when the urn is completed, He will have made master potters of us, too. 

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