An ancient Christian symbol becomes the emblem of a new movement, a movement of people convinced that even in the midst of deteriorating relations between Muslims and the Western world, it is still possible to "give peace a chance". But can this interfaith fellowship persevere against entrenched hate? Join Evan Jordan and friends in this peace action-thriller!
The Fellowship of the Fish
In Searching for Eden Evan Jordan trekked through Iran and Iraq on a spiritual quest brought on by the death of his14-year old daughter. On this quest he found other wounded souls from different faiths and different cultures, a fellowship they began to call “the Fellowship of the Fish.” In this sequel this fellowship now fights for a vision of an Eden-like world, where terrorism of all kinds can be left behind and people can reach beyond their cultural and religious barriers. They have much opposition. An Iraqi terrorist cell steals nuclear material, and plots to deliver a suitcase bomb to a US city. Iranian and Israeli leaders threaten war, while political forces in the US choose bravado and incendiary rhetoric over calls for peaceful solutions. All the while behind the scenes Evan, Jessica and Carmen work with their international fellowship to eliminate nuclear weaponry before it eliminates us. They will deal with political riots in Iraq, hostile mobs in Washington DC, the violence of a right-wing group at an Israeli archaeology site and a nuclear bomb no one can find. Can their faith see them through?
ONE THING BEHNAM HEDAYATT COULD NOT seem to drive from his brain, whether working on a dig, talking with a friend in the marketplace, or driving in the streets of Tehran; one reality that was lodged in his consciousness like the most stubborn of splinters, digging into his spirit every moment of his life, was that he was dead.
Well, not actually dead.
It had been just two years to the day since BehnAm’s friend Farid had saved him from death by faking his execution. BehnAm remembered the time.
He had been sentenced to death for an act which his country considered to be treason. Okay, well, most countries would have considered it to be treason. He had taken pictures in a top secret area, an area deemed essential to national defense, and he had sent those pictures to a foreign government. What country wouldn’t consider that treason?
BehnAm hadn’t wanted to do it, at least not at first. He wanted to believe the leaders of Iran were being truthful when they told the world they were only enriching uranium to develop nuclear power for peaceful uses; for helping their country to develop without exhausting their oil reserves, without contributing further to the greenhouse gases which threatened the well-being of the planet. Those were important goals.
His friend Jessica Santiago had planted the doubt in his mind, the doubt which eventually called him to question whether those goals represented the true motivation of the leaders of his country. That doubt had been planted as a seed, which when full grown had led him to the nuclear facility at Darkhovin; and there he had found the “smoking gun,” a nuclear bomb being built.
What else could he have done?
The evidence he had provided sparked new efforts to eliminate nuclear weaponry worldwide, but his action also nearly got him killed. Farid and his friends had posed as witnesses against him, and as a result were given the task of executing him by firing squad. They had been such good actors, they had even fooled Afsaneh and their American friends. Everyone had believed he had been executed with real bullets, rather than shot at with blanks. Afsaneh, even now sometimes would remember it all – and hit him really hard.
So now he was supposed to be dead. When those doing archaeological research searched his records in relationship to possible employment, they found him listed as dead. When he sought to vote, he couldn’t. Even in Iran they don’t grant that privilege to dead people. Being dead was starting to be a considerable inconvenience.
BehnAm felt two soft arms curl around him from behind, and a small head rest on his back. He turned from the window and enveloped his wife in his arms.
“What is it that is in your heart my husband?” asked Afsaneh.
BehnAm cupped his wife’s face in his hands and looked into her eyes, taking just a moment to enjoy their clearness and the rich mahogany of their hue. “Nothing, my love. It’s nothing for you to worry about.”
BehnAm stroked the softness of Afsaneh’s long jet-black hair, as he continued to gaze into her eyes. In the privacy of their home she wore western clothing, blue jeans and a soft white sweater, and she left her beautiful hair and face uncovered. BehnAm still could not believe her beauty, and his own good fortune in being the one she had chosen. For such a long time she had followed the traditions of their faith and culture, and had hidden so much of her incredible allure behind the chador, but BehnAm had always known it was there. He could see it in her eyes. He had first seen it more fully in their mountain Eden, the timeless paradise nestled in a hidden valley by Mount Sahand, near the crystal clear river called Adji Chay. There he had surrendered his defenses as a battle-hardened Iranian male, and she had dropped her chador. Two weeks later he had married her underneath the sofreh on that very spot. Now he could enjoy the fullness of her beauty each and every day.
BehnAm noticed that Afsaneh’s eyes were starting to tear over. “Tears in such gorgeous eyes? What has caused this outrage!”
“They are because you have lied to me, my husband.”
BehnAm furrowed his brow. “No, no, my dear! I would never--”
“But it is so, my husband,” Afsaneh whispered, trembling. “You lied to me when you said that nothing was troubling your heart. I know that to be untrue. I can see it in your eyes, in the way you move with so little energy, and the way you look out the window, staring at nothing.”
BehnAm sighed and pulled her close. “I should have known better than to try to hide the truth from you, even though it was to avoid burdening you with my troubles.”
“We are married. Your troubles are my troubles.”
BehnAm nodded, released his embrace of his wife, and turned to look out the window once again. “I feel like I am no longer free in my own land.”
“I too have this feeling, BehnAm,” Afsaneh said. “I can no longer go to my home city of Tabriz because of what I did. That’s why we live here on Tehran, remember? But even here I shiver when a police officer is near.”
Even as his wife spoke these words, BehnAm shivered also. The time when he had rescued her from the jail in Tabriz remained fresh in his memory. She had been taken there for killing a police officer who had tried to rape her. If BehnAm had acted even one day later, she might not be alive today, and he knew that for the rest of her life Afsaneh would have to be wary of Iranian police.
“Perhaps we should have listened to our American friends.”
“And escaped to a country that is strange to us and not our own?” Afsaneh said. “I know that is not your way, my husband. Of course, I would go with you anywhere, but you are not one to run. You said we should stay here, rather than escaping to America, so we could – how did you say it at the time? – so we could ‘clean up our own house.’”
BehnAm nodded. “Yes, yes, I said that. But sometimes it no longer feels like my house. It feels like I have come to a house of my childhood and found it occupied by strangers.”
“You know they are not all strangers,” said Afsaneh as she picked up a sponge and started cleaning a spot of something she had spied on the countertop. BehnAm gently pulled the sponge from his wife’s hand. “Stop that. Must you always be cleaning?” He wrapped his arms around her again. “Besides, it interferes with me thanking you for being such a comfort to your old, neurotic husband.”
His kissed her gently on the lips and smiled.
Just then something small rushed past them and attempted to jump up on the counter. BehnAm turned and saw Amina struggling to reach a container where Afsaneh kept some pastries.
“Amina, no!” Afsaneh said in Arabic. “I do not want you to ruin your dinner.”
The little Iraqi girl whimpered, stomped her foot, bent her brows, and came forth with the best pout she had learned in six years of intensely studying adults. BehnAm saw an idea give new spark to her eyes, and she began undulating her arms and hands in the air, while wiggling her hips in an Arabic dance. As she danced, she smiled at her Iranian father.
“Not bad for no music,” said BehnAm, again in Arabic. “Not good enough to get pastries, but still, not bad.”
Amina stopped and the pout returned to her face. “I am not having a good day!” she declared.
Afsaneh laughed. “I’m afraid we are not responsible for whether you are having a good day or not! But if you play in your room until dinner is ready, perhaps your day will get better.”
Amina did as she was told.
“You know that every day she is with us will make it harder to take her back,” BehnAm said, returning the conversation to Farsi.
Afsaneh nodded, still gazing as she did in the direction of the little girl’s room. “It already gives me pain when I just have to be away from her for a moment.” As she turned away to tend a pot of fesenjan she was preparing for supper, BehnAm saw a tear trickling down her cheek. “Of all of us, she is the one who does not fit in here the most. The other children tease her for being Iraqi, and they tease her all the more when she tries to speak Farsi.”
Afsaneh seemed to be getting more and more distracted as she struggled with what she wanted to say next. She stirred the fesenjan, an Iranian stew, more than BehnAm knew was necessary. She turned suddenly and faced her husband.
“I need to tell you that I have found and contacted some of her relatives in Iraq, an uncle and an aunt.”
BehnAm felt a sudden tightening in his stomach. “Are they Shiite or Sunni?”
“Does it matter? They’re her family.”
“You know I don’t trust Sunnis!”
“Yes, but if we are to be working to make Iran better, and to bring more peace to the world, as you told Evan and Jessica we would be doing,” Afsaneh said, raising the volume of her voice to a level BehnAm seldom heard, “shouldn’t we both be trying to trust Sunnis a little more?”
Afsaneh threw her arms up in the air in frustration, and then returned her attention to the preparation of their dinner. But she was not done with the conversation. “Besides, as I said before, they’re her family; and as YOU said before, every day she is with us will make it harder to take her back! Did you not just say that?”
BehnAm returned his attention to looking out the window. A conversation which had started to make him feel a little better began to drag him down to even lower depths. “What I should have said is, it is already too late. When I heard Carmen had picked her from the battle zones of Iraq, I thought it a bad idea. But then I made the mistake of letting her into my heart. Now I think of her as my daughter! I cannot think of her as anything else.”
Afsaneh looked over at her husband and her eyes softened again. “I too have let myself think of her as our daughter,” she said. “But I was wrong. These people in Iraq are her family. Of course, we need not take her back to them right this moment, but you know it’s the right thing to do.”
BehnAm shut his eyes tightly as he leaned against the window. “We said we would take her back when the war in Iraq ended. It has not, you know that!” He opened his eyes again as he thought of another argument, and pointing his finger at his wife, he sought to drive it home: “And those Iraqis, they hate our American friends – Evan, Jessica, Carmen. They would teach Amina to hate them, and that would not be fair, especially to Carmen, when she rescued Amina from the terrors of war.”
Afsaneh just stood there by the stove, looking at her husband. Her look said to him you know this isn’t going to work!
BehnAm still wasn’t ready to give up. “And besides, how would we get her into Iraq, and get back to this country? I am supposed to be dead, and you are wanted for murder! So, there, we are back where we started.”
The tears returned to Afsaneh’s eyes. She spoke softly. “Amir’s contacts will help us, as they did before. The Fellowship of the Fish, remember?”
BehnAm remembered. He had not been present when his friends had first spoken of this fellowship, but he had been told of it on the way to the place they called Eden. It was based mostly on an old Christian symbol, a fish used to reassure persecuted Christians in the years after Jesus’ death on a cross. When Christians were a persecuted minority, the fish reminded them they were not alone – there were others out there, equally wounded, but equally dedicated to bringing about God’s kingdom. Of course, this was about Christians, while he and Afsaneh were Muslim, but it didn’t matter. The Fellowship of the Fish was not a religion, but a fellowship of those willing to step beyond religion to find community. BehnAm and his friends were defining this fellowship, and they had decided that those in the Fellowship of the Fish were persons who knew what it was to be treated as an enemy because of their faith, treated as an enemy sometimes even in their own country, and among their own people. And it was a fellowship of those fighting to bring back Eden, a place where those who were thought to be enemies didn’t have to be, where life was good, where God brought people together instead of dividing them, and all of life was at peace with the life around it. This fellowship included Christians like Amir and his friends in Iraq, Jews like Doctor Carl Goldman, and Muslims like Farid, Ahmad Sahimi, and himself.
BehnAm reached for a tissue and began softly dabbing the tears still trailing down his wife’s face. “Well, it would be good to see Amir again. But if we get into Iraq and find these people, and I don’t like them—“
Afsaneh wrapped her arms around her husband, and finished his sentence, “—then Allah will show us both what the right thing is.”
BehnAm frowned and headed toward their room. “And now I am not having a very good day.”