Rob paused and smiled.
“I could relate to Jacob. I believed I knew what it was like to be rejected. I went home that night and climbed into the attic to see if I could find my grandmother’s old Bible which I had seen up there when I was looking for something else. I blew the dust off it and took it to my room, where I read the story of Jacob again. I felt for Jacob. Life wasn’t fair.
“The more I read the story, the more intrigued I was by the way God would not let Jacob go. I felt a tug in my own heart when I thought about it. But I ignored the feeling. It weakened as the years past, but it never quite left me.
“Nothing much changed. I still resented the way my parents had rejected me and all the attention they paid to June, to my cost. I thought they loved her more than me. I still loved her too. But as I grew older I continued to rebel. I don’t think my parents could understand what had gone wrong. I didn’t understand it myself. It is only now, looking back that I can see the reason for my unhappiness. I didn’t connect Jacob’s story with my own. After all, it was my parents who were the problem, not my little sister.
“It was only when I went to university that I realised what was going on. A girl I rather fancied told me I had anger issues. I brushed her off, but couldn’t forget her words. With her encouragement, I enrolled in an anger management programme. I was fascinated by the way the counsellor dealt with the different problems people shared. He didn’t tell us what to do – he just asked us questions which made us think for ourselves. As I wrestled with my own anger, I remembered the story Dean had told us about Jacob.”
He nodded across at Dean, who was staring at him as if transfixed. Dean was shocked by what he had heard. He had just spent time thinking about his own anger and here was Rob telling them how angry he himself had been. Well, Rob didn’t look angry now. What had happened to help him? Dean wondered if the same solution was available to him.
“I felt I was getting my anger under control, but I was restless and unhappy. I talked to my counsellor about it and shared Dean’s story with him. He asked me a question which made me think. Could it be, he said, that the restless feeling I was experiencing, was God? Was it possible God had caught my attention on that day and, in the intervening years, had never let me go?
“That night I didn’t go to bed. I sat in my room with a pen, a notebook and a Bible. I worked, seeking an answer to the questions which roared through my mind. As the sun rose, I was on my knees, asking Jesus to come into my life. That prayer changed everything.
“The restlessness disappeared. The lucrative career I had dreamt about was no longer important. I had a complete change of direction and have been working for the UN as a mediator since I graduated. I have travelled the world. I rely heavily on God to guide me and give me the courage to go into dangerous places. I too was in Kabul.” His face was suddenly drawn, his eyes full of pain as he turned to look at Jonathan, “but I had the misfortune to be kidnapped and held for forty days.”
A murmur of shock rippled around the room. Rob cleared his throat as if giving himself a moment to free himself of the memories and continued.
“It was kept quiet by the powers that be in the hope my ‘value’ as a bargaining chip would not be increased by a media storm. It’s a time I prefer not to speak about, but God never left me. In the end, no ransom was paid for me. I was released, although to this day I don’t know why.
“I am grateful to God and to you, Dean. For your story gave my life purpose and resulted in my role as a peace-maker. My dream is to work with Palestinians and Israelis. I dream of sitting around a table with them and encouraging them to find a successful way to live in peace together. It’s a big ask I know, and others have tried before. But it’s a dream I believe God has given me. I will keep dreaming it and striving to fulfil it until God tells me to stop. I know God is using me. I have seen some amazing results of my work in many parts of the world – many of which I cannot share with you. The work I do is important to me – and to the goal of world peace. I love every moment of it.”
There was a spontaneous wave of applause as Rob ended his story. He gave a mock bow. Jonathan went across and spoke to him.
“Thanks, Rob, for sharing that. I am even more determined now that my family and I leave Kabul. I will make arrangements this week for Roli and the girls to stay in England. I may need to return there, but I’ll try to avoid that too.”
“I’d advise you to do that, Jonathan. You and I can chat later if you like. If your employers are not keen to let you make a move, I know a few people who may be able to help you.”
The two men agreed to talk later and Simon stood up.
“Phew, that was quite a story, Rob. I had no idea you’d been held hostage. I suspect you don’t talk about it much?”
“No, I don’t, Simon. It’s a painful part of my life, but I knew, all the way through, that God was there.”
“How about having a break now?” Mike suggested. “Then we can go on to the next story. I think I could do with a beer after all that.”
“Yes, let’s break for a moment.” Simon checked his watch. “The bar is probably open now folks. You can order drinks, tea, coffee, or whatever you want.”
The general buzz of conversation rose as people got up to stretch their legs.
Dean sat frozen in his chair. There was such a lot to think about. He needed to talk to Rob sometime.
“Dean? Are you alright? You were staring at me so intently I thought you might not be feeling well.” Rob put his hand on his teacher’s shoulder.
“What? No, I’m fine.” Dean tried to shrug off Rob’s attention. He needed to process what he had just heard before he talked to him about it, but the man did not move. Dean made a decision.
“Actually, Rob, I’m not fine. Can we chat together, later today or tomorrow, perhaps?”
“Yes, of course. I have agreed to catch up with Sally at lunchtime. How about having supper together?”
“Yes, that’s fine, thanks.”
The two men continued to talk. Dean kept it light on purpose. He was not yet ready to share everything with Rob. After a few minutes, the others had come back into the room and Rory raised his voice so everyone could hear.
“I’m next up, everyone. Please let’s settle down now so we can get this this story over with.”
Someone called out an encouraging comment. Dean was not sure who it was. He was still distracted by the disturbing thoughts running through his mind. But it was obvious Rory was well-liked and respected, so Dean made a conscious effort to relax and give the man the attention he requested.
Dean twisted a little and settled himself again into the wide, comfortable armchair he had been sitting in. He looked at Rory with interest. The man had been entertaining at breakfast, but Dean sensed all was not well with him. There seemed to be a deep sadness in him which he tried to hide. Dean’s years of teaching and facing his students had made him sensitive to hidden troubles. What story had affected him?
Rory took his time. Dean could see his throat working as he struggled to control some hidden emotion. He felt sorry for the man. He looked so young and vulnerable. What had happened in his life to make this so hard for him?
“I’m going to go straight into the story if that’s okay?”
Rory swallowed hard and, without waiting for any response from those gathered in the room, started speaking, his voice catching on the first words, but gaining confidence as he continued.