Someone’s Boston is Someone Else’s Baghdad

I have walked Baghdad’s streets: the vendors, the families, the lives churning.

I have walked Boston’s streets: the vendors, the families, the lives churning.

There are a lot of similarities between these two cities.



Seeing the upheaval over the bombings in Boston has deeply grieved my heart. I hate war – in all its forms. And the attacks in Boston are a form of war. War isn’t just about nations striving against nations; it’s about unrest, it’s about fury, it’s about a climate (whether individual or corporate) that spews hatred via violence and death on other people.

Baghdad is one of my very favorite cities in all the world. Having spent seventeen years praying for that city, it is very important to my heart. Moreover, I have spent weeks in Baghdad. I know its curves, its smiles, its dreams. I love Baghdad.

I also lived thirty minutes north of Boston for four years. While there, I asserted my spiritual responsibility to pray into that region’s destiny. I roamed the streets of Boston for countless hours. I know quite well the segments of streets where the bombs went off. Ouch. Those images are awful.

In seeing those images I immediately thought of my beloved Baghdad. Someone’s Boston is someone else’s Baghdad – their hometown, their neighborhood, their family’s dwelling place. Both cities matter.

I hope that the bombings in Boston bring more understanding to Americans of what many people living in cities like Baghdad experience DAILY. Imagine worrying about going to the grocery store, school, or a friend’s house because of the potential to be blown up on the way.  It’s a rough way to live.

Of course, I wish the incidents in Boston never happened. I wish the incidents in Baghdad never happened. I wish there was no war anywhere. Since that isn’t the case yet, I do want to use this moment of similarity to bring to the forefront the universal pain of war.

Perhaps this week’s experience will help Americans think more holistically before they support war in other nations. Perhaps it will open up the reality of how evil war and death are. Perhaps it will draw out the courage within all of us to search out solutions which prevent war.

I pray so.

In the meantime, as you ponder these elements, here are some articles for your contemplative fuel.

Reminder of violence elsewhere

Baghdad Bombings Monday

(With the above article, I’d like to note that I know exactly where “a parking area used by vehicles making their way to Baghdad’s heavily-guarded airport” is. I got out of one heavily armored vehicle and into another at that very parking area (all while surrounded by a security detail of eight armed men) when I was leaving the Baghdad airport in 2011.)

Christians praying for Baghdad and Boston

Lastly, I ‘d like to ask ,”Who will go to Boston, Baghdad, and other places experiencing war?”

These places need hope. They need people to be their advocates. We can change cities and nations from war zones to peace zones.

As Jesus said, “Go into all the world.” (Mark 16:15)

Ask the Holy Spirit right now, what your part is to play in this peace-making.

Let’s go!

(P.S. I love you. I love your city. May both flourish today.)

“Cybill Shepherd and God Tag-Teaming”: An Excerpt from My Book

I’ve spent a big chunk of today editing my book. It’s at 271 pages and the publisher needs it to be 256. Moreover, I’m not even done WRITING the book so, this is a tremendous editing effort. Anyhow, the bit about my mom hearing from God through Cybill Shepherd’s TV show is one of my favorite parts. ENJOY. 


My mom was coming around too, unbeknownst to me. My sister informed me that my mom picked up a copy of a magazine that spotlighted Boston and she remarked again-and-again how much the city reminded her of me. I laughed – my mom never mentioned this to me, of course, but it was obvious God was leading her heart to be able to bless my move as well.

Father’s Day weekend in June of 2002 was our big step forward. My dad and my sisters were in Mexico on a missions trip so I trekked up to Fresno, a four hour drive, to spend a few days with my mom. It was the last time I would be with her before my departure in August. My mom made a point of emphasizing that. One afternoon we were seated on the balcony drinking tea and she mournfully said, “Well, I guess this is the last time we will be drinking tea on the balcony.” Later while having dinner, she paused, “Well, I guess this is the last time we will be having dinner together.” “Mom, I will be back to visit. We’ll do these things again, just not as often,” I quipped. Regardless, with nearly every activity we did, my mom would tack on the observation, “I guess this is the last time we will be _____________ together.”

At the visit’s end I stood at the white door to my parents’ house, my sandals on the pale green rug, moving toward the door as they had thousands of times before, and my mom hugged me and said, “Well, I guess this is the last time I will be saying goodbye to you.” I smiled. “I’ll call you when I get back home, Mom.” I plopped in my car and in exasperation said, “God, you have got to talk to my mom about this!”

My car sailed out of Fresno, darting past vineyards, orchards, outlet malls, travel centers, big rigs, out through the central valley, over the grapevine into the Los Angeles basin and all the way into my sunny parking place in Orange County. Topography talks. It’s one of the many reasons I love driving. The changes in trees, hills, fields, and even the drop sheet of the mainly blue sky over the scaffolding of earth’s atmosphere, told me parables. I could see transition. I could see hope. I could feel my beloved 1992 Toyota Celica put on his game face to conquer the steep inclines before him. I could see how, in a mere four hours, nearly everything could change.

I called my mom.

“The strangest thing happened after you left,” she said immediately. “What? What happened?” I asked. “Well, I guess I was feeling lonely and I went and sat down in front of the TV.” “What?” I thought, “My mom almost never sits down and watches TV, particularly on her own. That’s strange already!” She went on, “Well, you know that show with Cybill Shepherd? You know, it’s pretty much her show?” “Yeaaaaaah” I said, remembering how very much my mom adored that particular actress. “So, I saw that show and I started to watch it and it was so strange.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “The show, I mean, the storyline of the show: Cybill Shepherd’s character’s daughter and her lived in Southern California, but her daughter was engaged to a man from Boston. So, her daughter wanted to move to Boston, but Cybil really didn’t want her to… then they all had a discussion about it over dinner. They talked about the pros and cons of Boston versus Southern California. By the end of dinner, Cybill Shepherd’s character realized that Boston was the best place for her daughter and she decided to support her move – even though she would be sad she was far away, she knew it was where she was supposed to be.”

My mom’s voice drifted back into her brain, “Isn’t that odd? I mean, because it’s like you and your situation; and you are moving from Southern California to the Boston area.” Dumbfounded, I said, “Yeah, that’s really amazing, Mom.” Coming back out of her brain she added, “It’s like with me, I mean, I think I see now why you need to move to Massachusetts. And you’ll be far away, and that will be sad for me, but I think it is what you are supposed to do and maybe I need to see it more from your perspective and be more supportive of your decision to move.” I was absolutely beside myself in awe. HOW DID GOD DO THAT? How did He put that together so that one of my mom’s favorite actresses was on a show with that plotline? How did He arrange for the timing so that my mom would go through exactly the emotional journey she needed to, at just the right time? HOW DID GOD DO THAT?

I knew one thing, He loved me more than I could ever fathom. And boy was I glad.



I planned to stay a week longer than my team and go to Bulgaria by train. A couple on the team asked to join me and so we went to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The train took around ten hours. And it was adventurous, quirky, and indisputably lovely. While on the train I talked to God about wanting to know more Middle Easterners, especially ones I could remain connected with back in the states. I pondered my backpacking trip throughout Europe after college and how I had not kept in touch with anyone I’d met in the hostels. I began to think it would be splendid to meet a new friend in the hostel in Plovdiv. As is usually the case, Jesus and I were on parallel trains of thought.

After our middle of the night screeching visa stop – in which we had to exit the train and get in line outside a metal fence surrounding a military barracks (I had never felt more like a Soviet living behind the Iron Curtain (large furry hat to keep the heat in, please?)) – we arrived in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria with a population of about 400,000. And we headed to the hostel we reserved online. Upon entering the hostel we were taken on a tour of the place. The young woman directing us led us into the communal restroom: toilets in stalls, showers in stalls, and a plastic curtain separating the toilet area from the showers and sinks. We stood in the entrance area and she ripped back the curtain – a man with merely a hostel-issued white towel wrapped around his waist spun toward us, razor in hand and shaving cream on half of his face, like an unfinished cake. His eyes locked with mine. I gasped. He was nominally embarrassed, and primarily very surprised. And he was dark-skinned, like Middle Eastern dark-skinned. I felt like I prayed him into existence! I asked God for a Middle Eastern friend at this hostel, and there he was! He had not spoken yet either so, I didn’t know where in the Middle East he was from.

Later my friends went to find an ATM and I went back to our room. There was that man seated on what must have been his bed! (It was a co-ed room with about 7 bunk beds.) He looked up at me silently. I assumed he didn’t speak English so I just said, “Hi” and smiled back. He gathered his things and left. The next morning I awoke before the others and so did my non-friend friend. I smiled. He smiled back. I got my Bible from underneath my bed and began to drink it.

It wasn’t until my friends got up and went out to shower and have breakfast that he spoke, “What is that book underneath your bed?” It was perfect English with a very American accent! I laughed internally. (Could it be that not only was this guy Middle-Eastern, but American? It was precisely what I asked God for!) I explained it was my Bible and explained a bit about different versions. Then I handed him my Bible so he could look at it for himself. And then he asked where I was from. I explained that I was from California, but living near Boston. “Me too!” he exclaimed, “I’m from near San Francisco, but right now I am in graduate school in Cambridge!” “What?!” I said, “I am in seminary thirty minutes north of Boston!” He laughed, “I go to Harvard’s JFK School of Government!” We laughed, stunned. He mentioned his family was Iranian-American and he went on to explain how he just finished some kind of internship in Serbia. He spent so many months overseas he was really thinking about what it would be like to live overseas long-term. I chuckled, “Yeah, I’m going through that very same process. I just spent seven weeks in Turkey and I expect to spend years of my life living overseas.” We talked for a little while, never exchanging names and ended with, “Well, I’ll see you some time later today or tomorrow.” Oddly, we didn’t – see each other, that is. I left Bulgaria the following day perplexed that I did not know his name. Then I realized it was a perfect opportunity for God to amaze me by causing me to run into him somewhere in America.

When I returned to America I began to pray almost every time I entered Boston: “God, cause me to run into that guy somewhere. I bless Him with encounters right now – that he would know you.” That fall I took a class at Harvard Divinity School, subsequently I was in Boston/Cambridge weekly. And since it was a 45 minute journey each way, I would find a coffee shop after class and get some schoolwork done. One ordinary afternoon after class I headed over to one of my favorite cafes: 1369 Coffeehouse in Inman Square. There I was, fully student-ized: my Hebrew textbook and workbook wide-open, my sharpened pencil hard-at-work, creating the architecture of Hebrew words, characters nailed up like support beams, verb conjugations spackled in place. I looked up at one point and noticed a starkly familiar man diagonal from me. I couldn’t place him. “Holy Spirit, where do I know this guy from?” I thought. I dropped the Hebrew hammer on my foot: Bulgaria. I got up and put myself in the empty seat at his table. I spoke one word, “Bulgaria.” He stared at me. Then the hammer hit him. “Oh my gosh!!!! Yeah! How are you?!” Soon our sentences rushed on top of each other like water over river rocks. Connor. Dawn. Our names finally came up and with that our cel phone numbers. We talked for a couple hours, but he was borrowing a book from the library with a three hour limit so, he had to get back to return it, but, “We should hang out sometime.” So, we did. He joined some friends and I for a night out in Cambridge weeks later and one day while I was in Boston I swung by a Starbucks where he was studying. The last time I saw him he was planning to move back to California and the next time I texted him, it was no longer his number. He must have moved and changed it. And that was that. Hopefully, we’ll again run into each other somewhere in the world sometime. I love divine appointments.

This is no sacrifice, here’s my life

Some days I am immensely thankful for the power of a heavenly perspective. When things are not as one prefers, when the cost is high, when isolation is tangible, and when the gap between now and then feels full of LONG seconds.

Today I heard the following song by Jason Upton and I was brought back to a moment in 2005 when I was at a One Thing Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Jason was leading worship. I was suddenly overcome with love and compassion for the Middle East.  I laid on the floor face down and sobbed, praying for the Middle East to know Jesus; and praying for my path into the Middle East to be clear and easy, strategic and powerful. Then Lou Engle walked on stage and said something like, “I feel like we are supposed to be praying for the Middle East, for Muslims to meet Jesus, and for terrorists to encounter God.” The patch of wet carpet beneath my eyes grew.

Now I am in Baghdad, Iraq making new decisions about surrender, faith, and love. As always, I’m holding onto promises and I’m holding on to The Promiser. I am thankful I have learned not only to trust God, but to delight in Him.

Moreover, I know through and through that He is worth it all.

If I had two fists full of marbles, I’d give them all to Him.

If I had a closet full of dollars, I’d give them all to Him.

If I had a mountain made of ideas, I’d give them all to Him.

If I had a life full of life, I’d give it all to Him.

And so I will. With consummate love and outrageous hope, I will continue to give Him my life.

It is wonderful to be able to give Jesus my life! haha! What sheer delight! What thrill! What joy!

It’s all for His glory. HIS GLORY!!!!!! GLORY!!!!!

I love His GLORY!

On top of all that, here is one of my favorite songs about my favorite person: God.

And Steffany Frizzell’s thoughts on worship