February 1, 2011

Afghanistan hits home

The following article was written by Marvin Modder, the husband of newly enrolled P & J member, Mary Modder from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Her husband, Marvin Modder, is a retired teacher and the son of Christian Missionaries, who went to school in India. He recently went back for his class reunion, where they paid tribute to one of his classmates killed in Afghanistan last summer. It gives a different but badly needed slant to this horrible we are waging in that distant land.

Tom Wolfe
P&J Midwest Director

I’ll never forget her quiet words: “Pray for the people of Afghanistan. Pray for the people who killed my husband.”

Speaking was Seija, Finnish wife of our classmate Daniel Terry, one of the ten aid workers slain by the Taliban last summer in Afghanistan. Though none of Dan’s three daughters was in attendance, Seija had made the trip from her home in Afghanistan to India and Woodstock School for his memorial service.
Of the 36 graduating members of the Woodstock class of ‘65, 16 of us had gathered at Parker Hall to honor Dan. There were tears for his loss but also a determination to keep his memory alive with an on-going scholarship and a “Dantri” lecture series dedicated to world peace.

Unable to pronounce the full name of the man who had befriended them for over 30 years, the Afghans knew him as Dantri. Now Dan Terry was gone, another victim of another senseless war in a country that has known nothing but war for decades.

Later, Seija showed us a shaky police video of the killing field taken with a cell phone. Behind the bodies sprawled across the valley floor could be seen the Land Rovers, bright red medical insignia clearly painted on their white panels. Nothing had been looted.

Two days later, however, our tears turned to joy. Complete with a Punjabi drum fanfare, it was another Parker Hall ceremony, this one for the entire student body and featuring the Distinguished Alumnus Award, which went to classmate Dr. J. Gabriel Campbell, Director General of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

At the faculty tea by the flagpole afterwards, our old Hindi teacher Mrs. Kapadia remembered how talkative Gabriel had been as a child, so much so that she took to taping his mouth shut in class; and now here he was, accomplished anthropologist and guest of honor.

At dinner that night I met the Director of Development, Abhrajit Bhattacharjee, himself a Woodstock grad. Over a delicious dinner of chicken curry, he shared with me how he originally came from a high caste Brahman family, was attracted by the gospel while a student at Woodstock, and the turmoil caused by his conversion.

“I slapped both my father and my mother, told them I repudiated everything they stood for, and said that I had found a new life in Christ,” smiled Abhra.

My mind couldn’t but help make the contrast—in Muslim Afghanistan, ten aid workers, including Daniel Terry, had been shot for “being U.S. spies and proselytizing Christianity,” the Taliban said; in Hindu India, Abhra had become a Christian and not only lived to tell about it but was prospering in his new life.
The next day we toured the campus. Much had changed. Though still a boarding school, Woodstock features a student body that is now primarily Asian instead of Anglo—seems fitting since the school is in Asia, after all. The long cold dormitories and iron bunk beds of yore had been replaced with comfy beds and comfy rooms with Internet hook-up and TVs.

Maybe too comfy. “We have a hard time getting them to go outside,” complained the Ridgewood supervisor, gesturing at the rugged mountains we hiked as kids. As we walked the old paths, our minds recalled the broken limbs, the winning shots, the games and study halls, the servants and matrons, the paddlings and Going Down Day.

All too soon it was time to say namaste to Mrs. Kapadia, Abhra, and all the rest of the wonderful Woodstock staff. Some of us jetted home to our various countries of origin; the luckier ones accompanied Gabriel to Kathmandu for another week of wonders. I mean how often do you get to ride on the back of an elephant and see rhinos and tigers and bears, oh my?

Using my rusty Hindi, one morning at breakfast at the Hotel Manaslu, where we stayed in crowded Kathmandu, I got to chatting with one of the waiters, said I had once been a waiter myself, and did he like it here? He grimaced, “Not so much. No opportunity, no escape.”

At beautiful Chitwan National Park, where we rode the elephants, around a campfire the last night, the locals told me that the jungle lodge, along with six others like it, might be shut down soon by powerful business interests hungry for the money.

You’re so right, Dantri. The problems endemic to the human race are not going to be solved with weapons of war. Shantih.

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