Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places

Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places


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Hearing from God is extraordinary. But the circumstances He uses to reveal Himself may be more ordinary than we think.

Neighbors and Wise Men introduces captivating dialogues and unexpected moments with God that go beyond the confines of a conventional religious system and offer the chance for powerful life transformation.

Get to know Tony Kriz (known by many as "Tony the Beat Poet" in Donald Miller's best-selling book Blue Like Jazz) through his real-life conversations and experiences that prove that God can and will use anyone and anythingfrom Muslim lands to antireligious academics to post-Christian culturesto make Himself known.

Through his own prodigal-son backstory and return to faith, Tony presents biblical truth in a conversational, but bold light that offers readers the courage to open their eyes to the unlikely encounters that are all around us every day; chance run-ins that turn out to be anything but chance.

Have we limited God's ability to speak in our world today? Have we relegated God's creative voice to the select persons who share our particular religious system? Kriz himself felt like he was falling out of faith until non-Christians encouraged him to "fall toward Christ."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780849947391
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 09/17/2012
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.62(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Tony Kriz has an earned doctorate in spiritual formation. He is a teacher of faith and culture through the mass media, via social media, and at universities, conferences, churches, seminars, and other speaking engagements. He pastors an imbedded community of life-servants in one of Portland’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods. Tony and his wife Aimee have three sons.

Read an Excerpt



Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 Tony Kriz
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-4739-1

Chapter One


I BOUNCED ON TOP OF THE LOOSE SHOCKS OF THE EARLY-MODEL Mercedes-Benz sedan, the ubiquitous choice for taxis all across the developing world. Turkish-sounding music came from the radio. A red flag with a black eagle and gold fringe dangled from the rearview mirror.

My breathing was shallow ... part from exhaustion, part from fear, part from a sense of new adventure. We had pulled out of the airport parking lot just minutes before. My first experience of Albania was a thirty-minute taxi ride from the national airport to Tirana, the capital city. My mind was storing its first snapshots of the Albanian countryside outside the backseat window.

It was late afternoon and the sun was low in the sky. The two-lane freeway, if you can call it that, was in disrepair, a slalom course of ruts and potholes. I will never forget how the road rolled like sea swells on the ocean under the squishy suspension of the taxi.

I had done a bit of traveling in my life, but this was my first time in Europe, and more significantly, my first time in the former Communist world. The images flashed past me. Each new sight made me feel increasingly uneasy and reminded me that everything had changed.

As we sailed toward the city limits, I watched the simply dressed Albanians walking along where cars were designed to drive. I saw fields of greenhouses, now free of glass and abandoned, like huge metal birdcages. We passed small huddles of government police, chatting and smoking, seemingly without cares or responsibility.

Months before, when I looked at a global map, Albania seemed much like my Oregon home. Placed with the sea to the west, it was full of mountains, rivers, and valleys. When I traced my finger along the horizontal lines on the globe, I was delighted to find that both places shared a surprisingly similar distance from the equator.

In light of these kinships, the images out my window could not have been more disappointing. My eyes saw no trees. At home in Oregon, trees had always been my constant companions. Yet here, they were gone. Who could have taken all the trees?

In the trees' place now stood pillbox bunkers. There were thousands upon thousands of them, hideous concrete bulbs, each one the size and shape of a cartoon igloo. I could only guess that these pillboxes were built to communicate defense and strength. They were what they were: a psychological solution to a military problem, powerful in appearance but dubious in effect.

As I stared at the Albanian landscape, I imaged that someone had taken a long, dull razor across her face, scraping away all growth and leaving only an irritated, pimpled surface behind.

* * *

I was twenty-one. Just a few weeks out of university, filled with religious fervor and the sort of self-important idealism that accompanies a theatrical heart.

Nine months before that ride from the Albania airport, I sat in Portland with my friend Cheryl. Cheryl had recently returned from a year in Romania, and I was interrogating her about life outside the United States.

"I want to live overseas," I told her. "What can you teach me?"

Cheryl spoke freely. Though she clearly had a deep affection for Romania, I remember that she couldn't stop talking about Albania. "I can't believe it; Albania is finally opening up," she said. Her voice bounced as she talked about it. "After fifty years of being totally hidden behind the Communist wall, it is now opening up. Albania is not like the rest of Eastern Europe. Under Communism you could visit Romania or even Russia if you really wanted. Not Albania. For five decades no one has been in or out. No one has even seen what goes on there. And"—she paused for impact—"it's Muslim."

She let that last statement just hang in the air.

"I would give anything to be on that first team that goes in." Cheryl's eyes twinkled when she spoke. I loved that about her.

When our conversation ended, I tried to imagine myself going to Albania. I closed my eyes to picture it, but what I saw was nothing but a blank canvas. Albania to me was only a single fill-in-the-blank answer on an eighth-grade geography test, nothing more. So I put the whole idea out of my mind.

* * *

A few months later graduation was drawing near and I was starting to get desperate. Soon I would be armed with a communications degree from my state university. In the place of traditional career aspirations, I had a longing to live outside my cloistered Oregon home. I needed a travel agent more than a career counselor.

One afternoon in March, drunk with curiosity, I dialed an international Christian agency. I asked for someone in international placement. Within moments, a kind-sounding lady came on the phone and asked how she could help.

I didn't even think to introduce myself. I told her that I was finishing college and looking to move outside of the United States. I didn't want to take much of her time. I had just one question to ask her. "Where is the greatest need in the world right now?"

"Excuse me?" she asked.

I said it again, emphasizing each word. "Where is the greatest need in the world right now?"

Understandably, she was caught off guard by my question. For a moment there was only silence. Then she spoke. "That is a difficult question. I am not sure what you mean by 'greatest need.'" She seemed to be processing her thoughts out loud. "I did just get out of a meeting, though ... I don't know if you know this, but Albania just opened up, and we have a wonderful chance to send a team there. We were hoping to send some people in just a few months. The only problem is no one seems to want to go, at least not right now. I mean ... that is not exactly true. We actually have six applicants. Thing is, only females have applied."

Now, I would like to say that the idea of traveling somewhere dangerous, the sole male in the company of six women, was not the appeal that pushed me to say yes. But such a thought might be too much to ask of a twenty-one-year-old daydreaming virgin.

The lady on the other end of the phone continued. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if only we could get a full team to go."

That was all I needed to know. Without hesitation I said, "I'll go."

"What did you say?" she asked.

I said, "That's it. That is why I called. Sign me up."

I could tell by the tone in her voice that I had done something wrong. Her words were full of compassion. "I'm sorry. I don't think you understand." I think she was trying to use small words for my benefit. Her voice became even sweeter as she continued. "That is not the way these things work. You don't just say where you want to go ... at least not like that. These things take time, you see ... Oh my ... let me try to explain."

I was as compliant as I was idealistic. I just listened, giving her an "uh-huh" after every phrase.

She continued. "It works like this. You need to pray first. You might need to pray for a long time. You then need to seek advice from people who know you and love you. Finally, you are going to have to go through a long application process."

With a new sense of enlightenment, I replied, "Of course; all that makes perfect sense. Thank you for explaining all this to me. But as long as you have me on the phone, you may just want to go ahead and put me down for Albania." Without waiting for her to respond, I started to spell my name and asked if she had written it down correctly.

And that's how it began. The imagination of my friend Cheryl, a curiosity-fueled phone call, and those magical words: "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

My course was set, and I never considered looking back.

* * *

I started to read more and found out that Albania was alone and isolated in a forgotten corner of Europe. She had been isolated geographically by mountains and a sea. She had been isolated politically by fifty years of particularly autocratic Stalinist socialism. She had been isolated historically by her unique Muslim roots. That sense of loneliness drew me to her.

On the other hand, Albania felt like a Casablanca movie poster, emanating both mystery and discovery. My family had been in Oregon for generations. We were old pioneers, and Albania felt like another chance to enter the truly unknown. This adventure required my full devotion, and my pioneer programming pushed me to self-reliance, individualism, and risk.

Also, like the American pioneers, I felt that Albania was a land that needed to be conquered. For me, Muslims were the purest example of my religious enemy, and with love as my weapon, I was ready to be sent into the enemy's land.

* * *

The taxi left the pimpled countryside and followed the boulevard into Tirana's city center. We took a quick lap around the square. In rapid succession we passed the National Museum, the Palace of Culture, the city's central mosque, a towering iron statue of Albania's medieval national hero, and the National Bank. We continued east, onto a smaller arterial road. Buildings and boulevards bounded by.

At the next broad intersection, we stopped to wait our turn. The taxi driver could have honked all day, but his chance to cross would not come until all the larger vehicles had bullied through first.

Out the window to my right, there was a three-story-deep hole, just sitting there, purposeless, filling half a city block. I later learned that it was a long-abandoned building project that was supposed to house a modern high-rise hotel. The hotel was never built, but the hole remained, a monument to progress lost.

Off the main drag, the taxi turned into a tight and winding neighborhood, over dirt and cobblestone. A right, then a left and another right; I tried to memorize the path so I could find my way back out should I need to escape. No such luck. I was quickly lost.

When we finally stopped, we were in a small cul-de-sac, large enough to park a dozen cars. All around were high walls, which was typical of private neighborhoods in that area of the city. At the back of the lot was an elegant, Mediterranean-looking home, rising above the wall. I hoped it would be my new home. It was not.

Instead I was directed to a small wooden gate to my left. It was set inside a rough-hewn frame, embedded in a tall brick wall. The wood was black, and the latch was from a different age. The gate was no larger than the door on a wardrobe.

I stepped through the wardrobe-gate and found a narrow flag path, which opened a dozen meters down into a small courtyard. I later learned that this block was the historical plot of a single clan. Over the generations the plot had been divided and divided again to create homes for various cousins. My landlords lived in one of the central homes, now wedged between half a dozen other family houses. The courtyard was six meters by fifteen, with their simple home filling the back end. There were grapevines atop the three-meter-tall surround. A single tangerine tree, like something out of a Frost poem, climbed out of the courtyard's only small patch of dirt.

The house was a simple box. The bottom floor held just two rooms, each with a double wood-framed window opening to the courtyard. This floor was sunken slightly. As I looked up, I saw that the upper floor also appeared to have two simple rooms, accessed by a narrow balcony walkway running the width of the home.

The time had come to meet my landlords.

Before arriving, I had been told surprisingly little about my actual life in Albania. I believed that I would be staying in something of a boardinghouse, run by a Muslim family, the sort of place where you pay for a room but live fairly independently. That vision of independence was very comforting to me. It meant I could control my life. It also meant I could keep a safe distance from my Muslim landlords. The reality, however, was quite different.

Anticipation left my heart pounding. It was the moment that I had been dreading for months. What will I say to these Muslim people? I thought. How will we live together? What will this life be like?

I had tried to imagine why this Muslim family would allow a Christian missionary to live in their home. Was I their mission as much as they were mine?

No more time for questions. The moment of truth had come, and I was too tired to worry about it anymore. I hoped our introductions would be brief, the sorts that my parents had instilled in me when meeting guests at a function: "Hello. So nice to meet you. Thank you for your hospitality." Then I could slip away to my room and disappear for the night ... or a week.

No such luck.

My landlords stood together in front of the house. There were five of them. Most prominent were the two men, Ani and Ari. Both were a few inches shorter than I, with strong, thin builds. Ani had short-cropped hair, and judging by how he carried himself, he was the head of the household. Ari's hair was longer, and though also a grown man, he was more playful in appearance. Ariana was Ani's wife, lovely and soft-spoken. Ridi was their young son, only two years old. Finally, there was Fidnet. The old woman held herself back, eclipsed between the shoulders of her two sons. She was bent slightly, and a hard life had left her appearing much, much older than her actual age. Her head and hands shook just a bit, and her face was filled with a soft smile. She was as beautiful as anything I had ever seen.

We were all quickly introduced.

They laughed at the sight of me. There were a few other Americans also staying in their home. I was the tallest of the group, but the youngest in age. The family immediately christened me "Toni i vogel," which means "Little Toni." They each laughed as they said it, amused by the irony: little in age but not little in size.

With the help of friends, the language barrier was crossed and the basics of the home were explained. The bathroom was in the courtyard; a tool shed–sized concrete enclosure with a porcelain hole in the floor and a small sink. Near me, in the corner, were a few pots and cooking implements. It appeared the cooking was also done outside.

Inside the house, it was as I had assessed: two rooms below and two above. I took a quick account, trying to make the numbers work: a family of five and four full-sized foreign males. That means nine people in four rooms. Oh boy.

We climbed the tiled stairwell to the second-floor balcony. The tiles were white, yellow, and green, and immaculately kept. In fact, everything was perfectly clean and organized. To maneuver along the narrow balcony, between the iron railing and wall, I had to hold my bag in front of me while ducking slightly; the leaves of the grapevines hanging above my head brushed my face.

I was to stay in the second room. I removed my shoes and stepped in to absorb my space. A rich Turkish rug covered the floor. I was pointed to a divan-style bed and a freestanding closet for my things. Everything looked lovely. I am not the sort of person who needs much to feel comfortable. I wanted to communicate my thankfulness. Tragically, like an American cliché, I did not speak even one word of the Albanian language. So, what could I do? With a dramatic flourish I spread myself across my bed, with my hands tucked behind my head, a broad smile on my face and my legs crossed. I wanted to announce to everyone that I was "here to stay."

They all laughed. They laughed in part at my playfulness, but it was also because my feet hung a good four inches off the end of the bed. I looked up to see Ariana. She alone was not laughing. Her brow was furrowed. Everything was not perfect. She immediately brainstormed a solution to this hospitality conundrum. By the next day there would be a simple extension added to the end of my bed. This woman, whose home I was invading, not only accommodated me, but it was soon clear that she actually cared for my comfort and well-being.

Sinking into the metal springs, I closed my eyes. I hoped everyone would quietly slip out and leave me. I wanted to drift to sleep, happy to dream in my travel clothes.

The contentment lasted only a moment. No one left the room. Opening one eye, I looked around. They were giving me the "look." It is the same look my mom used to give me when it was time to leave the toy store or the look my teacher would give me when I needed to get back to class. It was clear. I needed to get up.

I forced my frame up from bed. Outside, I found the hazy blue of dust.

One of the lower rooms served as the gathering space and dining room. We sat around the table. Bread, jam, cheese, salami, and apples were all laid out for a proper Mediterranean supper. It was our first foray into sharing life together. With a bit of language help, but still a very limited shared vocabulary, we began to get to know one another. We talked and we talked. Time was lost. We were able to get through basic details, like age, family, and where we came from. It is amazing what you can communicate with ten fingers and an adventurous face. Everyone was patient with the slow understanding. The laughter was generous.

* * *

Deep into the time of darkness, I was finally released to go to bed. With my last moments of consciousness, I thought about where I had landed. These people were not scary; they were a delight. In just a few hours I had experienced the very first aroma of a few life-altering truths.

This was not a boardinghouse; this was going to be my home.

These were not my landlords; they would soon become my family.

These were not "Muslims"; they were ... well, that one is a bit more complicated.


Excerpted from NEIGHBORS and WISE MEN by TONY KRIZ Copyright © 2012 by Tony Kriz. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xv

Author's Note xvii

Introduction: Born Again xix

Section 1 Living with Muslims

1 Pilgrimage 3

2 Gospel 13

3 Holy Kiss 23

4 Crusade 29

5 Devotion 39

6 Pastor 49

7 Sanctuary 59

8 Revelations 67

Section 2 Alone and Away

9 Cathedral 77

10 Pope 85

11 Faith 93

12 Prophet 101

13 Hope 113

Section 3 Learning to Reed

14 Eden 123

15 Saints 131

16 Ordained 141

17 Ecclesiastes 149

18 Lessons 157

19 Benediction 171

Section 4 Coming Home

20 Neighbor 181

21 Nazareth 189

22 The Good Samaritan 195

23 Parables 203

24 The Prodigal 215

Closing: Epiphany 223

Scripture References 227

Acknowledgments 229

About the Author 231

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