It wasn't long before her uncle and the rest of the family were clobbering me with Bible verses. I'd never opened a Bible before, much less owned one. I had to borrow one from an relative who retrieved it from his attic. We argued long into the night over the merits of my Catholicism and their Pentecostalism. Although I didn't know much about religion, I knew a lot about how to argue. (Recall dear reader that I am the oldest of TEN children from an alcoholic home!) I wish I could say that I was searching for truth. I wasn't. I was searching for a way to please my girlfriend and maybe even get her to peel off those Bobby Brooks.
When I had to leave for Pakistan, I thought it was the end of the world. A silver bracelet that said "All My Love - Betty" was my only joy... that, and the hope that she would be still there waiting for me 15 months later. I hoped she would remember that when she wrote me letters, that my name was Joe, not John.
Pakistan turned out to be even worse than I had heard. The Air Force base outside Peshawar was one square mile of America and although I ventured off-base occasionally to pick up trinkets to send Betty, there were far more enjoyable places on-base to spend my free time. Like the Airmen's club, where 25 cent drinks and 10 cent beers were the order of the day. And the night. Oh, by the way, during this time period I also discovered what the Islamic world denies, that prostitution exists there. If this sounds contradictory to my love interest back home, it is! My whole life was one huge contradiction.
I never took a college course in statistics, but what would be the chances of meeting someone from your home town on the other side of the world? Even more astounding was the fact that the guy I met at the Airmen's Club drinking one night went to school with and knew my girlfriend! When I wrote her about this, I recall that it alarmed her. If you think this was a strange curious, it gets better.
I spent my spare time the first year in Pakistan basically doing two things: writing letters to my girlfriend (whose letters were becoming fewer and fewer) and...guess what?...getting drunk. One early Sunday morning I woke up in the backyard of an on-base NCO residence. I was lying in the remnants of a charcoal pit. I was covered with burns and white ashes and still quite drunk but sober enough to know that if I was spotted in this condition by the MPís, I could be up a certain creek. So I secreted myself to my barracks, cleaned up and tried to remember in vain anything of the night before.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I spent the weeks following pondering life's absurdities and my own wretched condition. Meanwhile back in the states, my mom finally got divorced and my sister was attacked and nearly killed by a stalker. I suppose all these events taken together could psychologically explain the subsequent pivotal and transformational event of my life. You can choose to believe that. I donít.
In one cathartic and desperate cry to God I fell on my knees and prayed that, if He existed, to come and rescue me. Nothing happened. But a series of events I thought were coincidences at the time soon began to occur that have changed the course of my life.
The first was the arrival of a new room-mate. Although he had arrived in Peshawar after me, he began spending a lot of his time off-base. To this day I donít know how he found the man I am about to tell you of, and I donít know exactly how he learned of my spiritual need. Itís not like me to chat openly about such personal things. Heck, for all I know, I may have blubbered it to him while intoxicated. But he said he wanted me to meet someone in Peshawar. A missionary.
A what? The only missionaries I knew about were St. Francis, St. Paul, and a few Polish saints, so perhaps out of curiosity that this was God answering my earlier plea, I agreed to visit this man and his family.
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