Many years ago, 1994 to be exact, I went on a mission trip representing the Boston University School of Theology as about twenty of us traveled to Athens, drove through Greece, stayed at the monasteries of Meteora, visited the church of St. Paul in Thessaloniki, and met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Christian world in Istanbul. We then traveled to Switzerland to stay at the Orthodox Ecumenical Center in Geneva. It was a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. Sleeping in a monastery perched atop a three-hundred foot high rock in Greece, having lunch with His All Holiness, Bartholomew II, and hiking up to the Acropolis in Athens. It was a trip that I will never forget. It was memorable for many, many reasons, but perhaps the most striking thing of the whole trip took place in just a few moments while riding a bus from Greece to Istanbul in Turkey. It was at the Turkish border where this little thing happened that has stayed in my heart ever since.
In June of 1994, crossing the Greek border into Turkey by bus, I saw a man pull a small, folded piece of paper out of his pocket and when no one was looking, he stuffed it into the tire tread of the bus before we all went in to customs and immigration to get our visas stamped. When we came back, he pulled it back out of the tire and quickly snuck it back into his shirt pocket. Once the bus was rolling again, I moved to sit beside him and asked him about it. He said Turkey was about 99 percent Muslim, and it wasn’t really smart to be very obvious about being Christian. “So what’s with the piece of paper,” I asked again, impatiently.
“It’s for my wife,” he said quietly. “She cannot read English, but she loves Jesus, and she asked me to bring her back a Bible in Arabic. I was afraid to risk it in my small village so I asked a holy man in Greece to write down the best thing the Bible says for her in Arabic, and this is it. Want to hear it?” he asked. “Yes,” I said—much louder than I should have. So he read it to me. “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
That was a pretty important little piece of paper. It did indeed sum up all of what was best that the Bible says. I knew that the piece of paper he was taking to his wife was one of the most important of all his possessions, and I knew his wife would treasure it as well. It was just a piece of paper but it contained, in a language I couldn’t read, a truth in which I had absolute faith. Precious cargo indeed. Such a small thing but such a huge message of hope, faith, comfort, and peace. Maybe we should all read it every morning before we begin our day. I think I’m going to. You?