Albanian imam: "We would die for America!"
I was riding around today in the front seat of an Albanian friend's Yugo when he stopped outside village mosque to get out and greet his uncle, the imam. The imam wanted a ride into town, so he folded his tall frame into the back seat of the Yugo. He was older than me and at least as tall as me, so of course I offered to get in the back, but I knew full well that their code of hospitality would never allow such a thing.
The imam was carrying a two liter Coke bottle full of fresh milk, which he had obtained for his family's iftar (the evening meal to break the daily fast during Ramadan). "My nephew tells me your American," he said. "I'm going to give you this milk. Make sure to boil it well. We Albanians love America. We would die for America!"
I laughed and said, "I'shallah (God willing) it never comes to that!"
We had a good time on our ride into town. He hardly let me get a word in edgewise, but I enjoyed listening to him as he told me stories of suffering for his faith during the Communist years and his five years of study in Saudi Arabia. Of course I had to endure a bit of a lecture about the superiority of Islam, but that was ok too. He mentioned that the Koran endorses the Inxhil (Gospel), Tevrati (Pentateuch), and Zeburi (Psalms), so I asked him if he had ever read the Gospel, and he admitted that he hadn't. I pulled a New Testament out of my book bag, and he graciously accepted the gift.
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about his words, "We would die for America." He probably didn't mean to be taken literally, but I do believe that behind the boast was a deep and sincere gratitude for the help American has given to the Albanian people for the last hundred years or so. As an American citizen I can't help but be touched by the love and respect that most Albanians feel toward my country.* On the other hand, I'm aware that my home country like every human institution is fallen and therefore deeply flawed.
What about me? Would I die for America? Of course nobody knows what he would do in the moment of decision, but believe that I would be honored to die for the Gospel. I'm pretty sure that I would be willing to die for a member of my family. I hope that if it came down to it I would even be prepared to give my life for a stranger -- American, Albanian, Serb, Iraqi or whatever. But there's no way that I would willingly give my life for any nation-state.
*This is true of the vast majority, but not of everyone. I heard an Albanian radio station here claiming that it was the Jews who brought down the Twin Towers.