Spiritual Practice


Tom Arthur

Right now, visiting Syria is probably not a good idea. Syria is a country torn in two by civil war. We’ve heard these travel alerts before. At one time, Syria was considered part of an “axis of evil” and Americans were told not to visit. Yet, somehow that message didn’t get across to the organizers of the Middle East Travel Seminar (METS), a group that takes future pastors to visit Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. I joined METS one summer for three weeks of travel and learning. My family was concerned about our visiting an obviously dangerous place, filled with enemies.

Tom Arthur-sign-METS 07 Day 6 (10) copyOne night, when we were in Damascus, the capital of Syria, I got lost looking for an Internet cafe. I went into a store and asked if anyone spoke English. One person did and gave me directions by writing the address on a sheet of paper. I walked down the street and became lost again. A police officer was standing on the corner with a machine gun over his shoulder. I showed him the piece of paper, and he motioned for me to follow him. I followed him to the corner; and with a big smile, he pointed the way. I walked on and soon became lost again. I went into a restaurant and showed the host the piece of paper. He got a bus boy, who motioned for me to follow him. As he led me down a narrow, dark alley, I began to wonder if this American was about to be taken by the enemy. Then we turned a corner; and at the end of the dark alley was a bright neon sign that said, in English, “Internet Cafe.” The bus boy gave me a big smile and turned to go back to his job.

I had a similar adventure while we were in Jordan. The only other person on the street that night was a guard, who looked no older than sixteen and carried a machine gun over his shoulder. He didn’t speak English; but when I showed him the logo of the hotel on my room key, he smiled and pointed down the street. I walked a hundred yards and came to a fork in the road. I looked back, and he was watching me. He motioned for me to go right, and I easily found my way back to the hotel.

Tom Arthur FTR -METS 07 Day 5 (64)In each instance, people who couldn’t speak my language and who were supposedly my enemies helped to guide me. If my “enemies” treated me this way, I couldn’t wait to meet my friends!

For years, I had prayed each morning a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer: “Lord, keep this nation under your care, and guide us in the way of justice and truth.” While I was in the Middle East, my morning prayer took on new meaning. I had always thought of “this nation” as my nation, the United States of America; but when I was in the Middle East, “this nation” meant whatever nation I was in. Even though my government considered the nation an enemy, I found many individuals who would guide me in the way of justice and truth. Thank you, God, for “enemies” like them.



Look up Jesus’ teaching on enemies in Matthew 5:43–48. Then pray this prayer for each of your enemies or for the people you don’t like or with whom you don’t get along: “Lord, keep [insert name of your enemy] under your care, and guide us all in the way of justice and truth.”

Tom Arthur —When he’s not traveling around the world befriending machine gun toting teenagers, Tom is the pastor of Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, Michigan, where he lives with his wife and two boys.

—from devozine (November/December 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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