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Education Field Story Middle East

The Common Thread Between Bartimaeus and Wasim

As he sat back down, Wasim looked at me with a big smile and said, “I was scared, but Jesus was with me.”

     So, whose fault is all of this? Allahuakbar, whose god is this? ISIL whose state is that? Not that Levant chose borders for herself in the first place. But, here’s the question that matters now:  why doesn’t this kid have a house? Is it his fault? Wasim* is eleven and Haleb was his home.
     I wonder how long he sat there – is it Tim’s son? Some people think his dad must have some horrible secret. All I know is that it was really embarrasing when the teacher called him forward. Everyone was pushing him back and red with frustration; we don’t want the teacher to associate Jericho with this beggared blight. I don’t know if it was Bartimaeus or his parents, but we’re sure someone must’ve messed up. What was embarassing wasn’t that he was blind, it was his unrefined ranting at our guest!
     Wasim’s eleven-year old suave smile made me so angry. He’s got the kind of smile that makes you want to laugh even if you’re a teacher and you can tell he’s up to mischief. That’s what makes you so mad when you see Wasim. It’s that you laugh and love him immediately and before you know it you’re realizing that this kid’s home is now rubble. He won’t be able to get citizenship or a job, though he’ll be working full hot days within a year, and his weekly bath will be forgotten shortly after he puts on the same clothes he always wears. Whose fault is this?
     I couldn’t believe the teacher called him forward, but what was more incredible was how he jumped up – you’d have thought he could see. He threw his cloak and shot into the air so fast I thought maybe some kid slid a live coal onto his sandal. Was it because of what he called him? “Son of David!” he kept shouting – which seemed a bit presumptuous. Then suddenly he’s face to face with Jesus and has the audacity to say, “Lord, let me see.” I couldn’t imagine how the holy Nazarite would answer that! Would he hear blasphemy, cunning, faith, opportunism, what?
     “What are these Americans teaching, have you heard any good stories?” I asked a dozen sweaty boys. It was nearing noon and the only sliver of a shadow left on the concrete lot, where we had aligned the weightier of the rocks as goalposts, provided about 11 square feet of reprieve from the blistering June sun of this Levantine valley. The next thing I knew, a little boy was asking me to tell a story about Jesus and for what must have been 20 minutes I got to animate a couple chapters from Mark’s gospel about Jesus’ adventures to newly homeless Muslim boys who almost grew up in a tragedy.
     So now blind Bartimaeus sees everything, but what haunts me isn’t the power of that miracle – it’s the conclusion. People say his pupils say that the reason Bartimaeus never saw anything before was for God’s glory in healing him, but how’s that? So, Bartimaeus missed out on a couple decades of sight so God would be glorified in him now seeing? Don’t misunderstand, the miracle was weighty and I’m glad Bartimaeus has this new faith but what about all those years he missed? It doesn’t seem right that God waited so long to get him seeing. He can’t read the Torah yet and he’s a grown man. He doesn’t even have a trade; all he’s ever done is beg. Sure, he’s happy and some kind of holy now, but how does that help our town?
     The thing about Wasim was, why did he have to be born in Syria? Why did he have to see so many people die before he was a teenager? He’s already drafting portraits with a pencil and paper better than most adults ever will, but that art will likely stall when he goes to work this year in someone’s factory or field for off-the-books day-wages and family honor. Then something happened. One by one, these sweaty boys and cute girls started going up to the microphone and saying something peculiar. I caught a few strands here and there before I realized that they were reciting the Ten Commandments. These kids who grew up in war-torn Muslim homes were reciting the Ten Commandments! Then other verses. I looked over at Wasim and he smiled. I asked, “Do you know any verses?” “Yes, but I’m too shy,” he told me. I tried to encourage him that the heart mattered more than the recitation and then leaned back in awe to watch this phenomenon unfold.
     “We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day,” he told them, “night is coming when no one can work.” It wasn’t just magic mud, people tried that later, there was something about Jesus. I can tell when I look at Bartimaeus even now and wonder, is it day or night for me? I’ve been seeing since I was born, but here’s Bartimaeus seeing stuff I don’t. He’s happy and some kind of holy. I’ll never forget when that man came through our town. They killed him though later and some say he’s living, so I don’t know about that. What I know is that Bartimaeus is seeing and he’s happy. He doesn’t even know how to read the Torah well or those songs of David, but I swear he must be happier than dancing David!
     Then, right there in the crowd of kids, with the hot sweat turned cold from the fans and the tile floor of that makeshift classroom, Wasim ran up and took the microphone. With the determination of an eleven-year old Messi, he spoke the sweetest song. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..” Wasim recited all of Psalm 23 – and meant it. With more reasons to want than I can count, Wasim’s joy gave me hope. As he sat back down, Wasim looked at me with a big smile and said, “I was scared, but Jesus was with me.” As he sat back down,  I realized then that Jesus was more to blame for what I saw that hot summer than ISIL or Mark Sykes. Jesus is delivering His beloved even from the beseiged city. Save with your right hand, answer me! He will exult, indeed.

*pseudonym used 

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