Peacemaker Dan Terry followed the way of Jesus into hostile, neglected territory of back country Afghanistan. In the process, he fashioned friendships and networks that have the potential to re-shape a nation…unless war-mongerers and religious fanatics (on both sides of the divide) have their way. Jonathan Larson’s Making Friends Among the Taliban: A Peacemaker’s Journey in Afghanistan is a deeply harrowing and moving account of this champion for peace.
In his book on religious non-violence, Put Down Your Sword, John Dear reflects on the life of the saints and argues that they were hopeful people because they did hopeful things. This reflection sums up the life and work of Dan Terry. A missionary kid, he grew up, largely, in northern India but rapidly fell in love with the people and landscapes of Afghanistan. After attending college in the United States, he returned to set out working for peace in a war-torn region along with his wife Seija, a Christian medical worker. Together, they also raised three daughters in this tumultuous region. Dan spent the better part of thirty years of his life tirelessly and thanklessly building up relationships and communities of trust with Afghans largely through his own efforts and, occasionally, alongside other peacemaking organizations. His concern was always for the most vulnerable, women, children, opium addicts and disenfranchised youth who were susceptible to violence. His gentle spirit, attentive nature, humility and respect for even those who would do him harm lead many Afghan Muslims to claim that not only was he a true Afghan, but that he was more Muslim than they. Unfortunately, as history has repeatedly shown us, those committed to nonviolent peacemaking will most often die by the sword. Dan’s life was cut short by bandits when on a medical mission to the farthest reaches of rural Afghanistan in 2010.
That author and childhood friend Jonathan Larson begins his account of Dan’s life with its tragic end only lends the subsequent stories of his peacemaking efforts a greater level of pathos. Larson’s book reads like myth, gospel, and scripture all rolled into one. It is fitting because Dan lived a heroic, Christ-like life, and his daring example of peace amid conflict is truly good news. This is not to say that he was perfect. Larson also illustrates Dan’s personality traits that often put him at odds with more “organized” peacemaking organizations whose institutional structures would not easily accommodate Dan’s free-spirited approach to his work. At the same time, Larson also shows how these organizations, often with good intentions, actually worked against or hampered the growth of relationships that Dan had worked so hard to nourish.
In our troubled world, when misunderstanding or hatred characterizes the other and breeds resentment, fear, or anger over against humility, openness, and love, Larson’s account of Dan Terry’s life is a clarion call for sanity in the midst of insanity, for courage and hope in the face of fear and despair. Dan’s life reveals the humanity behind even the most reviled individuals and groups in our current public and international discourse. Making Friends Among the Taliban is not only a celebration of a saint but a window into a neglected, reviled, and oftentimes simply misunderstood people and region. Larson reveals that one Dan Terry is more valuable and constructive for peacemaking efforts than all military forces combined. After finishing Larson’s book, it’s impossible to doubt that only ten Dan Terry’s could change the entire world.
Read and be inspired.