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Interview with Kate McCord

Imagine for a moment your life without the influence and spiritual gifts of others around you. According to speaker, writer and spiritual mentor Kate McCord, this kind of separation cultivates anger and suffering.

On today’s broadcast, Kate shares her experience as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan. Learn more about her observations on the ways God works through cultural dissonance.

About Kate

Soon after 9/11, Kate McCord left the corporate world and followed God to Afghanistan-sometimes into the reach of death. Alive but not unscathed, she has suffered the loss of many things: comfort, safety, even dear friends and fellow sojourners.

But Kate realizes that those who go are not the only ones who suffer. Those who love those who go also suffer.

She is a storyteller, writer, spiritual director, speaker & workshop facilitator. She worked for most of 9 years in Afghanistan, living in country for five years as a Christian humanitarian aid worker.

After writing In the Land of Blue Burqas, a non-fiction book about sharing faith in Afghanistan, she wrote Farewell Four Waters, a novel about losing her Afghan home and finding Christ in the loss.

She just finished a new non-fiction book called Why God Calls us to Dangerous Places.

Click to read Transcript

EASLEY: We welcome you to the broadcast. This is Michael Easley inContext and it is a thrill to have Kate McCord on the line with us.

Kate, thanks for joining us.

McCORD: Thanks Michael. It’s a pleasure to be here.

E: Give us a little bit of a snapshot of what you’re doing right now.

M: I do a little bit of speaking around the country, I write for a blog, and I mentor and provide spiritual direction for primarily other workers who are either headed for the field, or coming back off the field, or people just trying to serve God here in the states.

E: Now you were in Afghanistan for five years?

M: Well, I lived there for five years before I wrote the book.

E: So during your years in that country, you worked as a humanitarian aid worker with a lot of other projects and out of that you wrote In the Land of the Blue Burqas that Moody published in 2011.

M: Right. I worked as an aid worker in Afghanistan and delivered projects that benefited normal Afghans, the people of Afghanistan. In the process of living there, doing the work, and living in community, I got to know the Afghans. Afghans have a tremendous respect for God and a desire to understand who God is, and what He wants from their lives. They make faith probably the most important conversation point. We spent a lot of time talking about faith, their faith and my faith and In the Land of Blue Burqas came out of those conversations.

E: You write, “It is the most dangerous place for a woman to be born.”

M: That’s what the U.N. said. I think Nigeria is giving them a run for their money right now. But it’s really a very hard place for women.

E: Do you think Americans, Westerners have any concept of how hard it is to be a woman in some of these cultures?

M: I hope not. No, I don’t think so. It’s hard from day one. It’s hard from birth onward and no, I don’t think we can really conceive of it until we’re out there looking at it, living it, being aware of it.

E: Did it discourage you at times?

M: At times, it made me very angry. It’s a struggle whenever you’re living in a place or dealing with injustices whether it’s over there or here; I know that anger can get into the pit of your stomach. It’s a place I think where God deals with us and God says, “Hey, I don’t want you to face the world in that kind of anger.” So for me there were so many times in Afghanistan, I said,“Okay, I hate all Afghan men day.” Then some Afghan man would do something amazingly kind for  me, and I would hang my head and say, “Okay, Father, I’m so sorry. You’re right they’re humans too. I forgive them and I repent please.”

E: Where do you think, and of course this is a rabbit trail we could never come back from, but where do you think the anger and hatred come from? Specifically, for the Muslim male in particular.

M: I would say that Muslim men in general are angry with or hate Muslim women. I think that they don’t understand Muslim women. It’s a segregated society from the time they’re children. The normal interactions are what we consider normal interactions all the way through elementary school, junior high, high school, and college. In a highly segregated environment they don’t have those. I think that leads to an inability to understand one another and then they have these cultural rules that are based on dominance, and power, and shame and honor. It’s very difficult. I like to say that not only do Afghan women suffer from the segregation and the oppression, but Afghan men do as well because they lose in their lives the voices of women and the skills, and gifts and talents of women. I don’t think that’s something that we can readily understand. One of the analogies I like to use, especially with Western men is to say, “Just imagine for a moment your life, and go back through your life and now erase every woman who’s ever had a voice in  your life to whom you either weren’t married or weren’t blood related to. Just take them all out, co-workers, classmates, the wives of friends. Take them all out of your life and now what do you have left for your life? How poor is your life without the voices of all those women?” I think that’s what a lot of men in segregated societies, gender segregated societies are dealing with. They just don’t have the richness of half the population fully in their lives.

E: That’s a great picture. Let’s step aside and back a little bit. How did you come to know Christ, Kate?

M: It’s a journey. I think it’s a journey for all people. I laugh now and I say well I wasn’t a cradle anything; I was a cradle heathen if anything. I wasn’t raised in the church and of course being in America I was exposed to faith and people of faith, but it wasn’t my own until I was a young adult. I wasn’t looking for God. I didn’t think I had a need for God, but I just happen to attend a Christmas Eve service with my grandparents. I heard the gospel and that was really the beginning of the journey. I like to tell people that story and then remind them that when they get annoyed on Christmas and Easter because of all the visitors. (Laughter.)

E: Tushee.

M: That set me on a course of reading the Bible. I read the Old Testament all the way through to Hosea. I met a God of mercy. Everyone says that God in the Old Testament is vengeful, but I saw a forgiving God, a merciful God. Then I started reading the New Testament and met Jesus. I eventually realized He was worth absolutely everything and gave Him my life.

E: Interesting. How old were you?

M: I was twenty five.

E: Had you been to a developing country before Afghanistan?

M: I had been in South America and Mexico. It was nothing like Afghanistan. I don’t think there’s anything that can prepare a person for Afghanistan. It’s a very unique environment.

E: A lot of women in the church where I serve have read your book and are just a buzz about In the Land of the Blue Burqas and they gave me some questions to ask you.

M: Wonderful! I want to hear their questions.

E: One is sort of a hot topic in some circles. They wanted to know about the call and there is debate about God calling us to certain things. This person who has been a missionary abroad wanted to know how did the Lord call you? Or how did you end up going to Afghanistan?

M: That’s a great question. When I talk to other people who have done this, whether they’ve gone someplace extreme or done something extreme, there has to be a firm sense that this is what God is calling them to. I don’t think anyone should show up in Afghanistan without a sense of call or even in some of the edgy work that people do here in the United States. For me personally, I just happened to pick up a book that was about Afghanistan. I read it and through and it wasn’t about women at all. It wasn’t about Afghan women, but through the reading I was captivated by this country. I began praying for this country, reading everything I could find and over the course of about a year, discerning that this is something that God is calling me into. At first, I just thought I was going to pray for the country and over time I realized that God was calling me to something deeper. I have to also say that before I ever picked up that book, I was going through a season of, what I call a “season of consecration.” I was going through all the pieces of my life and recommitting my life to God. I don’t want to imply that I wasn’t walking with Christ up to that point; I definitely was. But I went through a season of taking the bits and pieces of my life, my career, my house, my car and laying them down before the Lord and saying, “Whatever. Whatever You want to do with these things, I want it.” I think that is really what opened my heart to even consider something as extreme as going with Christ to Afghanistan.

E: When a young woman hears your story and they say I feel like God’s calling me to x, what do you tell them?

M: Oh, I tell them to keep praying, to talk to their mentors. If they don’t have mentors to get mentors, spiritual mentors. I tell them to push on the doors, to talk to organizations they’re involved in, whatever x is, whether it’s here or overseas, talk to other people who are involved, keep reading things, getting stories, understanding what’s there, counting the cost, and that overtime God will confirm that call or guide the individual in another direction.

E: In working with young adults in Middle Tennessee, I find they are extremely big on courage. They are very passionate about big needs, but sometimes they don’t have candidacy, some of the comments send moorings of what these choices involve.

M: And in some ways, thank God. I’ve worked with some adults in Afghanistan who’ve come over, and if they knew what they were facing they probably would have run screaming from the idea, but God’s grace carries people forward. Still, I think it’s critical for young adults, not just young adults, to have mentors in their lives, to have people who are a little further down the road them then, or a little better grounded, who know them, love them unconditionally, have no agenda for their lives, and will walk with them through whatever it is God’s calling them to.

E: In your book, you talk about how you communicated with the Afghan’s through parables; parables you use are beautiful and effective. Is this a skill you’ve had, or did you develop it during your time there?

M: I was a storyteller before I went, but more for fun or as part of a group. But when I went to Afghanistan, I found out that the Afghans themselves have a parable or a phrase for absolutely everything. They have a proverb for everything and they communicate through these proverbs, and parables and stories. When I realized that I thought Oh, this is great. I have a book of proverbs, parables, and stories. I think I’ll figure out how to tell them. That set me on the course of telling stories and the more I told stories, the more I realized how powerful stories are, not only there but also here. But there Afghanistan is an oral society, I think very much like young adults in our society in America, where their primary way of understanding something is through a whole story. For young adults it’s more through a movie. But Afghans will take a story and they won’t dissect it; they won’t inductively interpret it, but they’ll apply the story whole. It’s amazing to watch them do it. It’s like, “Wow, I can’t believe they did that. Look at that. They got so much out of that little story.” So it became a joy and rich for me.

E: What are some ideas on how to develop relationships with Muslim women here in the U.S.? Are there things we should know that might be perceived as offensive or off putting?

M: I love that question because we are surrounded by Muslims here in the United States now. I think the first thing, the most important thing, is just to say “Hello.” That can be a frightening thing. Once you get passed “Hello” offer some kind of hospitality. If nothing other than “Hi,” you could say, “ I see that you’re a Muslim and I don’t know anything about Islam and I don’t know anything about you, but I’d like you to know that you’re welcome here. If you have a few minutes, I’d love to go to Starbucks with you and buy you a cup of coffee.”

E: We make it too hard, don’t we?

M: I think so and as Americans we have a habit of wanting to know all the answers before we walk into the conversation. The problem with that is there’s so much diversity in the Muslim community that we can never walk into a relationship with a particular Muslim and assume that we know who they are or what they believe in, or what is important to them. It’s far better to allow them to reveal themselves to us and to become into the relationship with the honesty that I don’t know you and I really don’t know very much about you. Please don’t’ be offended by my questions, but could you help me understand who you are? And that is so honoring to another person and then you have wonderful opportunities for conversation.

E: Now unpack what you mean by “so much diversity” in Islam?

M: Muslims come from all over the world. We often think that Muslims are primarily Arabs, or Middle Easterners. The largest Muslim population in the world, country in the world, is in Indonesia. They’re very different from Middle Eastern Arabs. There are African Muslims, Central Asian Muslims, and of course there is the nation of Islam American Muslims. So they’re coming from all different cultural backgrounds, and they’re carrying those cultural backgrounds plus there’s diversity within the groups of Islam, the Sunni and the Shia. Even within sub groups just as we have denominations and Protestantism, there are subgroups within Shia Islam, within Sunni Islam. So there’s diversity there. Then of course there’s individual diversity, just like if you walk into a large church in your community and interview everyone in the pews you’ll find a tremendous diversity in terms of commitment to Christ, in terms of what that commitment means, whether people are democrats or republicans;just all kinds of diversity. So when we walk into relationships with Muslims, we need to walk in as a learner and not as a teacher, and to come into it and say, “I want to learn from you.” As we’re doing that the doors will open for us to share what’s important to us.

E: I’m with Kate McCord today on the broadcast. Kate has written In the Land of the Blue Burqas published by Moody Publishers and Farewell Four Waters, the novel soon to be released.

Kate, when you were talking to women abroad in Afghanistan,did you find many who had an interest in Jesus? Maybe they were hiding that? Maybe they had a faith already?

M: I found women who had an experience with Christ followers at other times in their lives and sometimes shared that experience tentatively or shyly. The vast majority of the women and men that I talk to in Afghanistan have a foundational respect for Jesus. They view Him as a Prophet, as a very great Prophet, and as the Son of the Virgin Mary, born by the power of God. That’s about as far as they’ll go. So when I would enter a conversation about Jesus, I would usually just start with here’s a story that the honorable Jesus, Messiah told and allow them to get to know Jesus through the teachings of the Gospel. In that way, they were getting to know Jesus kind of the same way the disciples got to know Jesus. So I didn’t start with theology. The first thing you need to know is Jesus is God. I started with, “Let me introduce you to Jesus,”  and then overtime they were able to understand more fully who Jesus is.

E: We’ve heard from friends of ours who are in different areas of the world working with Muslims that a lot of them have dreams.

M: Oh, absolutely!

E: Jesus coming to them in the dream. Did you see this?

M: Wonderful! Wonderful! There was one lady who had told me that she had a dream of a man in white and He sat by her head and stroked her hair as she slept and told her it was going to be okay. Then a couple months later she told me that He was still coming to her and now He was asking her to go with Him and what should she do. Really amazing! I think the reason that it’s happening is that in Islam there’s such a power distance between God and people. The great thing from their perspective of Prophet Mohammed is that the angel came and revealed something to the Prophet and then the Prophet went to heaven itself. So for them to have an experience of God coming to them and speaking to them personally, speaking to an individual personally, that becomes the revelation of God for their hearts, and the revelation that God sees them uniquely as individuals and loves them as individuals.

E: It kind of blows your theological categories, doesn’t it? (Laughter).

M: How do you mean?

E: Well, there’s just this consistency of this dream. And I’ve heard this again from some of my nearly deistic friends, if you will. These many Muslims have a dream of Christ coming to them and there’s almost a fear of sharing that story. My thought is the stones will cry out. If we don’t have a way to share Christ with some different groups, the stones might cry out. In this case it comes in the form of a dream which blows my category.

M: We’ve heard amazing stories where some leading individuals, or even there’s a community that I’ve heard about that said they were having dreams. Their knowledge didn’t come through their dreams, but their faith came through their dreams, and then they started praying that someone would come and bring them the knowledge and a couple of guys did.

E: That’s crazy to me. Wow!

M: Yeah!

E: I love this phrase that you are a “follower of the “Honorable Jesus.” That’s some good word chiseling there. Is that something you worked your way into? Did you feel safe using that language?

M: Afghans use titles for everything, for everyone. Everyone has a title. Jesus’s title is the Honorable and Jesus Messiah. His name is Jesus Messiah so He’s often referred to as the Honorable Jesus Messiah. I would also refer to Him as Healer Jesus Messiah or Teacher, often He’s called Teacher Jesus Messiah, Master Jesus Messiah, Saviour Jesus Messiah. In regular conversation, I would just refer to Him as Honorable Jesus Messiah. To just call Him Jesus, it’s a bit disrespectful.

E: Interesting. Did you enter into that with any trepidation originally?

M: Talking about Jesus?

E: Yes.

M: Oh, terrified. I had no idea. I had no idea that I could talk so openly about Jesus.

E: So did you get training in this, or did you learn by doing, or (unfinished thought) ?

M: I learned by doing. I got there and of course the more experienced workers said, “You really need to be careful.” I said, “Okay, I’ll be careful.” So I tested the water and I started by just telling stories about Jesus and praying. I would pray for meals and I would tell people I’m a follower of the Honorable Jesus Messiah. I learned how to say that very quickly. I realized that people accepted that. They said, “Oh, okay. Well, tell me about that.” I had no idea that Afghans in general would be so open to conversations about faith until I got there.

E: What did Kate learn about herself in these years?

M: Oh, so many things.

E: Maybe a key lesson from year one, two, three, four, five.

M: Key lessons: Christ is present in suffering. I think it’s one of the biggest things that I learned in Afghanistan; that He’s present in the places of our loss, not necessarily because something good is going to come out of it, or because He’s working a plan that makes the suffering or the loss worthwhile, but simply because He’s with us. I think I would put that very high on my list of things I learned.

I learned that I’m absolutely precious to the God of the universe, absolutely precious. When you sit in these homes and look at women whose lives are so limited and realize that the great God of the universe loves them, loves them, loves them, you also have to realize that, wow, the great God of the universe loves me that way to. I think that was one of the things that I brought home. There’s so many things that I brought home with me.

E: Christ is present in suffering. I am absolutely precious to the great God of the universe who loves others and me. What else?

M: The stories! The simplicity of the stories! In learning the stories for Afghans I realized I was learning them for myself.

E: Sure.

M: I spent two and a half years on meditating, on studying the Kingdom teachings of Jesus. And what a privilege to be able to do that and to draw a simple line from this man and this woman in the garden in fellowship with God, everything wonderful is lost to God, and then coming back and saying, “I love you. I love you. I love you. I’m bringing you home.” This is what home looks like. The rewriting of who we are by Jesus drove my understanding of my life in Christ so much deeper, into my soul, and then out from my hands.

E: We have been talking to Kate McCord, author of In the Land of the Blue Burqas, published by Moody Publishers. You can find out more about Kate at storytellerkm. Storytellerkm.com or you can come to the inContext website and we will lead you there.

Kate, we look at the landscape of Western Christians, Christians abroad, and one of the challenges I see is how do we live out our faith in the context where God has called us? Or the context God has placed us? You’ve got some thoughts on this, I’m sure.

M: I do. I love that question. When I talk to people in the States so many say, “Oh, but you were in Afghanistan and that’s big and exciting.” Yet, God calls each one of us into relationships with other people and I didn’t go to all of Afghanistan anyway. I went and talked to very particular people, just as people here are involved with very particular people. The people that are in our lives, many of them will only see Christ as they see Christ in us. I think the most important thing is that we are cultivating our own personal relationships with Christ. We are in the Scriptures; we’re interacting with God through prayer, that we’re seeking to walk in an integrity; a wholeness, a faithfulness to who God has created us to be and then that we open our hands to the world around us. We need to open our mouths to the world around us and we need to trust that God will bring His grace through us to the people that He brings us in contact with.

E: Well said. Blessings to you. Thanks again for your time.

M: Thank you Michael.

E: Okay, blessings. By.

Thank you for joining us today. This is Michael Easley inContext.

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