Shoot Me First, Grant Lock.

Grant Lock is an Aussie farmer, used to tough conditions and people; so when he is confronted by an armed and angry mob of villagers trying to prevent his men from constructing a new school, he stares them down and says: “You’ll have to shoot me first!”

This is just one of the astonishing stories he describes in this entertaining and at times harrowing account of his 24 years working on development projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

His bravado worked, by the way, and the mob backed off.

The book is a series of such narratives in chronological order, connected by a timeline of world events.

It begins with the fear and trepidation, and then support, of friends and family, as Grant and his stoic wife Janna, decide to give up their share of the farm, and take their three young children, to one of the most remote, confusing and dangerous areas on the planet.

A scene from a simple shopping trip when Janna is irritated by the attention of Pakistani men, and her miming of eating when searching for a restaurant is mistaken for a begging, beautifully sets up the initial cultural shock.

The book also examines the intersection of religion and culture. Grant’s motivation to go and serve is his Christian conviction and a sense of calling. An early conversation with a Hindu upsets his expectations of neat boxes for religions. Grant is talking about the Bible and the Hindu says: “Look Sahib, my Bible is much more powerful than yours.”

“You have a Bible? But you’re a Hindu.”

“Oh yes, it’s on my prayer-shelf with the other gods.”

Lock’s reference to his faith is always in the context of the stories. His encounters with joy and frustration, pain and sorrow, or simply everyday connections, weave into his growing appreciation of a personal relationship with the living God who loves us in spite of our flaws and weaknesses and “the dark corners of our humanity.”

The book gives some great insight into the problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan, while not providing many answers to those problems. There is much to learn from a brief quote from a Pakistani poet:

Life’s no life when honour has left,

Man’s a man when honour is kept.

Nation’s honour and nation’s fame,

On life they have a prior claim.

Thus the culture reinforces cycles of honour and revenge, and a willingness to sacrifice one’s life on behalf of the nation.

The Locks are humble people, and the details of their work are scattered rather than gathered, let alone boasted about:

Building schools

Managing various community health projects

Building a hospital

Establishing democratic decision-making process

Training up local workers

Supporting micro-hydroelectric schemes

Empowering Afghan widows

Overseeing an extensive eyecare program

Establishing English language schools.

The most powerful sections of the book are detailed stories of two people: Mariam, fleeing the Taliban where she risks being flogged for abandoning an abusive marriage; also Omar, a Turkish man who fortuitously enters their life in Kabul, encounters Jesus and is transformed.

The story technique is clever for covering the two and a half decades for service; however it feels contrived when recorded as dialogue, especially when dealing with controversial subjects such as the contradictions of Islam or the political situation in Afghanistan.

Overall, though, this is both a great glimpse of two difficult countries, and an inspirational model of faith in action.

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