Jonathan paused as if gathering his thoughts. He leaned forward, picked up the empty sugar packet from his saucer, and began to twist it round and round, his agitation plain in the unconscious action.
“As I said, my mother was becoming possessive. We fought about all sorts of stuff. I was angry. She wouldn’t let me go out with my friends and they began to tease me about being ‘Mummy’s boy’. I hated that. The more my classmates teased me the angrier I got. As my anger increased, the arguments grew fiercer and my mother’s grip tightened. I was afraid I’d never get away.
“Just before the Class started I had put my foot down saying no to her about something or other. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember the fight which followed. She was so angry I thought she was going to have a heart attack. I was scared, but defiant at the same time. I still have moments of guilt about it.”
The sugar packet broke in his hands and, as if the small event brought him back to the present moment, he visibly relaxed, put the mangled pieces of paper back on his saucer, and grinned, embarrassed about this demonstration of his emotion.
“The situation had not improved when I went to the Old Testament Class that week. My mother and I had been ignoring one another at home. I knew things would never be the same. I felt mean. I could see what I was doing to her, but I didn’t care.
“Abram’s story resonated with me on two counts. The first was the fact that he had the courage to respond to the call – not just going to another place in his home country, but to an unknown destination; the second was the gentle way in which he behaved towards his mother.
“I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to be the one to apologise. She always expected me to make the apology. I had decided, this time, I wouldn’t say I was sorry, because I wasn’t. But on the way home from the class, an idea came to me.
“What would happen if I put aside my anger and treated my mother more gently? Could I be firm, but still kind to her? Could I handle the matter like a man? The idea was new to me. I realised I’d been behaving like a spoilt child. The longer I acted that way, the longer she was likely to treat me like a child. But if I handled the situation in a more mature manner, then maybe she would see I was growing up and begin to accept the fact that I was no longer a child, but a young man.
“I thought it was worth a try.
“As far as Abram’s call was concerned, I knew I wanted to explore unknown areas of the world. I wasn’t sure at that time how I would do that. I had been very aware my mother might resist with all her might. But things were not the same as they were in Abram’s day. He said goodbye to his mother and they both knew they would never see each other again. But wherever I went in the world today, I’d be able to contact my mother from time to time and return home for visits.
“Just this weekend, I’ve come home on six weeks’ furlough and arranged the trip so I could be here. Six weeks is a long time to be at home, but we get on well now and my mother enjoys having me here. Of course, Roli, my wife, and my little girls, Sasha and Dani, are with me. My mom always enjoys being with her grandchildren. The girls adore her and she spoils them. But we don’t mind. It’s a grandmother’s privilege to spoil her grandchildren! We reinforce the discipline when we go home again.”
There was a murmur of laughter and a few muttered comments around the room.
“Where are you based at the moment, Jonathan?”
There was a shocked hiss of breath as Jonathan replied.
“We have been in Kabul. At least the family are based there, in the US compound. But I’ve been travelling with the army. I take soil samples and look for places where we can move in to set up mining exploration sites when peace comes to the area.”
“Isn’t it terribly dangerous?” Mary’s voice trembled as she asked the question.
“Yes, there is danger. In fact, one of the reasons I am home now is to arrange for a new posting. The girls are growing up and need to attend school, so they’ll not always be with Roli. We’ve become more uncomfortable with the idea of staying in the area. There are other parts of the world where I can do my work which are not nearly as dangerous.
“But all the way through, Roli and I have known the presence of God, and his peace. We have felt, up to now, we have been where he wants us to be. I’m no preacher. I don’t even enjoy speaking in public. And I can’t speak the local dialects. But I have learned that when I live according to the Gospel, when I treat my wife with respect and love my daughters and others as Jesus loves us, people take notice.
“I have had many discussions, with the help of interpreters or sign language, talking with local leaders about building modern schools with running water. I’m working with my employers, to see how we can implement some of my ideas. The leaders are keen. I hope these schools will be available to many children. That’s my dream.
“God has been instrumental in opening doors as well as keeping us safe through many dangerous situations. I know I am working for him. I know I’ve answered his call on my life and I’m making a difference.”
Jonathan paused, indicating he had finished his story.
“Simon, it must be coffee time?”
People began to move to fetch coffee from the dining room, and Jonathan strolled across the room to sit on a small stool next to Dean, his long legs tucked up beneath him.
“Well, Jonathan, it’s good to know there is some hope in the war-torn country and plans are being made for better days. Do you really think they’ll come?” Dean said, a bit stunned by the story he had just heard.
“I pray they will. Afghanistan is an amazing country with lots of potential. If the people give up hope then there will only be despair. But I believe God is working in subtle ways, which will bring about change.
“I’m longing for a cup of coffee. Will you join me?” Jonathan smiled, his eyes kind as if he sensed disquiet in the older man. But Dean muttered some excuse so Jonathan left him and went into the dining room as Dean made his way back to his room.