Thursday, March 28, 2013

Seeking Shelter

The other day, I walked home from the train station.

I know...that doesn't sound very interesting. But let me add that this is a train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I've just figured out how to navigate around this major city via public transportation, all by myself. I feel highly accomplished and incredibly independent.

Anyway. As I exited the station in my neighborhood after a long day's adventures, I was swept along in a stream of commuters, past busy food stalls and out onto a street full of taxis, motorbikes, and cars. Enjoying my place in all this hustle bustle, I casually looked up. And then I noticed that the dark clouds of late afternoon were gathering overhead. Uh oh.

Sure enough, as I stepped out from the covered walkway, a few gentle raindrops assured me that a storm was quite possibly in the making. As I crossed over to the first and longest block of my four-block journey, I heard the distant rumble of thunder.

Well, no worries. Growing up in thunderstorm country, I learned that it's a simple matter to count the number of seconds between the lightning and accompanying thunder; as long as you can get to more than five, you're safe. Once the count gets to five, it's time to start taking the storm seriously, and at three, you need to be indoors.

My storm was registering at about a seven, so I wasn't alarmed. The rain was refreshing after the long hot day, so I tucked my phone into a plastic bag with some postcards I'd bought, and happily strolled on.

Within maybe ten steps, my mood changed. In a matter of seconds, my count had dropped to five. I moved my walking speed into overdrive, and began to wonder if I could make the ten-minute walk home before the storm unleaded its fury.

By the end of that long first block, I had my answer: no way. My count had dropped to three, the sidewalks were ominously empty, and I began to look desperately for shelter.

A bolt of lightning split the sky overhead as I realized my only option: one short block away was the neighborhood mosque. I crossed the deserted street at a full sprint, and headed into the mosque parking lot, my mind spinning with confusing thoughts.

Because here's the thing. Islam is a religion of kindness and peace, and my Muslim friends love and accept me just as much as I do them. But the simple truth is that mosques don't always take kindly to uninvited non-Muslim guests. And as a rain-drenched mat salleh in shorts and a tank top, I didn't want to push my luck. But I needed protection and somehow, this mosque was going to give it to me.

The solution to my problem revealed itself immediately. The roof line of the building was wide, and the pavement underneath was dry. My eyes found a niche where two walls met at a right angle, and I ran to this little protected space as my storm count fell to zero.

I huddled there for a heart-pounding half hour, as the tropical thunderstorm raged without mercy, directly overhead. At first, I was pretty darn scared, and I'm not ashamed to say that I prayed pitifully for protection.

But as I pressed myself against those yellow cinder block walls, feeling their strength behind me, I realized that God had already answered my prayer. The One True God, father of Muslims and Christians alike, had offered the mighty fortress of his Islamic place of worship to a soggy Christian seeking shelter from a storm.

And that comforting thought made me feel very safe indeed.

* * * * *

To find all the stories of my amazing adventures in southeast Asia, go here:

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