Weeks “2” and “3” of ESL Camp classes allowed me to get to know my campers better and to help them open up to discussing some meaningful questions of life: Where did we all come from? What is the purpose of life? What or Who is the highest authority in moral and ethical matters? etc. One of the days, I had two almost identical conversations of the matter of faith in God with, first, a school staff member and, later, with an architect/designer of an Islamic Center.
The staff member patiently waited for my American team to finish their lunch and leave and immediately switched into Russian by asking me: “What does your Christian God (she is a devout Muslim) tell you about marrying a person of a different religion? Is He rather strict about it?” Telling her about the merciful God wanting everybody, no matter of their religious or ethnic background, to be saved through faith in Him led to her further inquiries and my very careful answers – in view of our conversation possibly being listened to and recorded. I surely hope for an opportunity for a follow-up conversation and a chance to further develop her interest in knowing the merciful God of Christians.
Only an hour later, as I was wandering among many beautifully designed and decorated buildings of the Center of Islamic Studies, I was approached by a young man who kindly offered me a tour of the premises, simply to practice his English. He proudly showed me his designs of the almost finished walls of the most significant building on the construction site but could not read/translate in/from Arabic the decorative panels of its front for me. Our conversation then naturally (!) turned to matters of meaning and reason in religious faith. Which, in turn, prompted me to share about my faith in God Who is not simply just but is also merciful. My guide gladly shared with me his faith story and we had a chance to compare some of our faith stories and experiences. The Lord truly blessed me with two precious encounters on that hot day in Tashkent!
On both weekends our team traveled outside the city – to Samarkand, former capital of this area, and to Amirsoy, a skiing and mountaineering resort, along with visiting the artificial lake of Charvak. I only hope I will have another chance to spend a day or two in both places with more time for actually sightseeing/skiing (and less for shopping and eating).
In terms of my service here, the most productive events are almost always happening in the last week. My presentation to the Archdiocese clergy this afternoon led to my being invited to teach at their Seminary in the fall, as well as to expand our service to the neighboring Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. I am truly looking forward to it.