Tea with Hezbollah
- Thursday, February 18, 2010
Sweating bullets at thirty thousand feet and headed into the lion's den better known as Beirut, I was feeling the bathroom might be a good idea. But I had nowhere to run. I was committed.
No longer interested in stewing in my own fears, I turned to Carl. Thankfully, the seats in business class are large, because Carl—a good Nebraska boy with blue eyes and a smile that won't quit—stands six foot two and is built like the grizzly bears he befriends.
"So you really think this is a good idea, huh?"
"Teddy, Teddy, you worry too much." His standard answer. I don't find it remotely comforting and I don't even try to smile.
"Seriously, Carl." There's that word again. "I got a bad feeling about this."
"Samir wouldn't have agreed if it wasn't safe," he said.
I looked over at the wealthy Lebanese businessman who made his home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He grins and winks. Honestly, this is a man who could make the most hostile enemy lower his gun and settle down for a cup of tea. Being with him coaxes a perpetual smile from all in his presence. I'd just spent two days smiling.
But that was before this flight.
I politely forced a smile and remembered that Samir went to extraordinary lengths to get his family out of Beirut just days ago. I'd lain awake each night since then with visions roiling inside my head of gunmen bursting into my hotel room.
We'd already been to Egypt and met with perhaps the most powerful ideologue in the Muslim world. We'd spent three days in Saudi Arabia meeting with those who shaped Saudi thought, and we'd sat down with Osama bin Laden's brothers.
I'd heard countless nerve-wracking accounts that testified to the frailty of human life in this part of the world: the time when the CIA had kicked Carl and his family out of Lebanon for their own safety; the time when he was kidnapped at gunpoint in Iraq and very nearly assassinated; the time when Bonnie, one of his coworkers from the United States, was shot in the face and killed, south of Beirut. And this was just Carl—everyone we met had a dozen similar cautionary tales of death or near death.
This was only the beginning of our trip. Ahead lay the gravest dangers, the West's greatest perceived enemies, the making and unmaking of war: Beirut, Baalbek, southern Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank.
I've had my encounters with danger, naturally. I was born in the jungles of Indonesia, where my parents spent their lives as missionaries among headhunters. The father of one of my best friends was killed and consumed by the cannibals in the valley next to ours. He was one of two missionaries who were eaten by the locals when I was a child. I saw war and destruction, and I've had more than my share of close encounters with death.
But that was my life before I turned twenty. Since I've been living as an adult in America, the danger I've faced has been of my own making—the dark antagonists who populate my novels.
Now I was facing real danger again, and it made my blood run cold. Honestly, I was having difficulty remembering exactly why we were subjecting ourselves to this madness.
"Carl, remind me again exactly what we hope to accomplish with all of this," I said, turning back to my friend of fifteen years.
"Well . . ." For the hundredth time we rehearsed our ambitions.
It all started nearly two years earlier when Carl Medearis, the man with a thousand stories and ten thousand friends, had lunch with one of those friends, Ted Dekker, the man who has befriended his computer keyboard. It was a pleasant day in July and we sat in an outdoor patio at a Hard Rock Cafe on the Sixteenth Street Mall, downtown Denver. Our wives, Chris and Lee Ann, were deep in a discussion about traveling abroad; Carl and I had each other's ear.
"Tell me, Ted," said my good friend, "what is one thing Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus have in common?"
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