Kissing Our Flag: A Symbol of Freedom and Hope
Pastor Andrew Brunson kissed the American flag when it was presented to him in Germany. I understand his emotions very well. In 1976, I went to Teheran, Iran to teach history in private school while the Shah Reza Pahlavi was still in power. It was a police state then even though it is a worse police state now. After I arrived, my passport was confiscated. In addition, there was runaway inflation and I had to begin borrowing thousands of dollars from the school in order to meet my basic expenses.
My salary was $850 a month, and my rent was $800. Obviously, I could not live on $50 a month. I was hired to teach and invited to live there under false pretenses. No one had told me that my salary would not be sufficient to meet expenses or that my freedom of travel would be curtailed. There was no internet for me to investigate the economy before I signed my contract. In order to travel during vacation breaks, we had to apply to have our passport returned by the authorities. Colleagues who intended to go to Afghanistan during Christmas break were denied their passports. I had applied to visit Israel. Amazingly (since Iran and Israel were not on very good terms even then), I was granted my passport and secured a visa to travel there.
Meanwhile, like many Westerners living there, I began contracting health problems. I had amoebic dysentery and lost 60 pounds my first ten weeks. I developed boils on my scalp. All food had to be disinfected in bleach before eating, and then the bleach had to be washed off with bottled water to prevent reinfection of the food by the bacteria in the tap water. During traffic jams, cars drove on the sidewalks. Sometimes it took buses three hours to go one mile. No lines were respected in public places. The post offices were a free-for-all with 10-15 arms extended towards the clerk simultaneously with money to buy stamps. One had to ride in taxis with three to four strangers. Almost no women were on the streets even in the more Westernized part of the city where I lived. Snack bars had on display bowls of yogurt and side dishes of cows' brains, a favorite snack for Iranians. I thought I had gone through the looking glass into a morbid zone.
The largest supermarket in the area had a greeter in a tuxedo welcoming wealthy Iranians and non-Iranians to the store. Only problem was this: 90+% of all the shelves were empty. The “department store” on the floors above the supermarket had various products on display. But when I took a product to the cashier to purchase it, the cashier nodded politely and indicated that there was no money in the register. The school where I taught, though the leading private school in the city, had no textbooks. The campus, at the foot of the Elburz Mountains, would regularly be afflicted with dust storms such that you couldn't see five feet in front of you.
I wasn't a Christian, so vodka was often my solace. After one party, I went outside to hail a taxi, and instead found myself face to face with a pack of 7-10 huge wild dogs with yellow eyes roaming the streets looking for prey. I backed up to the courtyard I had just exited, and was able to close the fence to protect myself. Every day as the hardships multiplied I found myself slipping further into debt and bondage. So, when the time came to vacation in Israel, I resolved never to return. Having in hand my passport with visa stamped, I boarded the one daily El Al flight from Teheran to Tel Aviv after five months of bondage and living hell. When I landed in Tel Aviv, I literally bowed down to the ground of the airport and kissed Eretz Yisrael.
I felt I was once again free. I had not been in an actual prison like Pastor Brunson, and unlike Brunson and his wife, who professed an abiding love for the Turkish people, I would not be able to say that I loved the Iranian people. I was not yet a Christian and did not know about Christ's love that is transcendent, eternal, and deep. Without the grace of being able to thank Almighty God who truly was the author of my joy and freedom, I returned from Israel to the USA with almost uncontained joy, and especially with a newfound gratitude for my country which, as a counterculture enthusiast, I had disparaged so much before I left. I returned on a new path of gratitude and hope which I had not previously known. God had used my terrible experience to put me on a path of conservative gratitude, but also on a path where, 12 years later, I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Yes, although I had not served time in prison, I think I have a firsthand sense of how Pastor Brunson felt when he kissed that flag.