Winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer's Carol Award for Dauntless!!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My Middle Eastern Experiences

Courageous officially releases today. In this story, a group of men, women, and children go on crusade to the Holy Land, so I wanted to share about some of my own experiences with the Middle East.

Historically speaking, Courageous is the hardest book I’ve ever undertaken. While there's plenty of research available on the politics of the crusades and the battles fought, there's very little available about day to day life in the Holy Land at that time. Everyday issues are often ignored by history because they are taken for granted by the chroniclers. I was able to find little snippets here and there that helped me to picture the clothing, architecture, and food. I learned that the crusaders in those areas tended to fuse the native and European cultures. However, the best fact I found was the simple explanation that life in that part of the world changed little from around 1000 A.D. until today.

Suddenly things became much easier for me because my husband is from Lebanon—which was called Tripoli and the northern part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the time of the crusades—and I have taken several extended trips to that part of the world. I've danced their Debke, drunk their Turkish coffee, smoked their argileh, and eaten their tabouli, hummus, and pita bread. I even speak some Arabic--at about a two-year-old level, complete with continuous grammar mistakes. LOL. Lebanon has an amazing and varied landscape. You can easily swim in the warm, blue Mediterranean and visit the snow-capped mountains in the same day in this area located just north of modern day Israel.

Lebanon is varied in its religions as well. In addition to being home to Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Druze Muslims, and even a handful of Sufi Muslims, Lebanon is also one of the only Middle Eastern countries to have a strong Christian presence from the time of the apostles until today. During its last census, taken in the mid 1900s, the majority of Lebanese people were Christian, mostly Maronite (their own denomination which is recognized by the Catholic church), Catholic, and Orthodox. The current Lebanese political system is set up to split key government roles between the dominant religions, with the president being Christian. But perhaps partly because of this diversity, Lebanon has been the setting for war after war throughout history.

Me and my kids in Lebanon, 2006.
My familiarity with the Middle East and its customs and religions is a large part of why I chose to tackle this story in the first place. I have even been caught in Lebanon during fighting between the Muslim group, Hezbollah, and the Israeli forces in 2006 (I'll share more about that in an upcoming post). So I understand the sorts of challenges they face in that part of the world.

Muslims are people just like us. There are many types both religiously and ethnically, and I am blessed to call many Muslims my friends. While there is in fact much violent and negative teaching in the Muslim holy book, the average Muslim person just wants to live a peaceful and prosperous life. They want to be surrounded by friends and family and bring some good to the world. On the other hand, perhaps even more so today than during the crusades, there is a deep religiously based hatred instilled in children throughout the Middle East toward the Christians and especially the Jews. That sad reality cannot be ignored. But there is one more interesting factor to keep in mind. Muslims have been coming to Christ in surprising numbers during recent years. Some through dreams and visions, and many others through the new openness brought to that part of the world by satellite television and internet.

            I hope that by taking a historical trip through the pages of Courageous, you will begin to better understand this complex and fascinating part of the world and the conflicts and challenges they still face today.

Have you ever been to the Middle East? Would you like to travel there? Do you have any Muslim friends or acquaintances? 


  1. I've read that Maronite Catholic divine liturgies are beautiful and are best experienced in person.
    Unfortunately, Eastern-rite Catholics aren't as well-known to their Roman/Latin-rite Catholics. Unless you live in an area with a lot of them or know someone who is!

    Yes, Maronite Catholics are one of the 23 Eastern-rite Catholic Churches in communion with Rome, meaning they acknowledge the Pope as the head of the catholic church while keeping its traditions and hierarchy. Also, leaders of each of these churches make scheduled visits to meet with the Pope at the Vatican.

    Look forward to reading your latest novel!

    1. Elisa, I think you'll be delighted to know that the Maronites play a small part in the story :)

  2. This was great insight, since I am nearly finished the book and realizing that you had to have done a TON of research into culture, religion, animosities, etc. to even begin this story.

    1. Rebecca, I don't think I would have tackled some of the subjects in the book if I didn't already have so much background.

  3. Very interested in Middle Eastern Christian communities, and great how you used your own experiences. We don't consider Christians in the Middle East enough, I think- and there may well have been more of them at that time.

    I seem to recall there was an early Bishop in Anglo-Saxon who was born in Tarsus.

    1. Yes, there are little pockets of historical Christians throughout the Middle East, especially Lebanon. Egypt also has a strong group of Coptic Christians. And of course, these days, there are Muslims who've quietly converted to Christianity throughout the Middle East.

    2. There was a very, very interesting case a few years back, of the remains of a man of North African origin found in what had been a Friary in the city of Ipswich in the UK, dating from (they think) sometime in the 1200s.
      They claim he was a converted Muslim, but I am inclined to think possibly a member of some ancient indigenous Christian community instead?

      Sounds like a very interesting setting for the book (and I did sort of like Rosalind).