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When I heard about the Malaysian airliner going down in Ukraine, I was upset, but upset in the way you are when you hear about bad things happening far away.  It was a pity, but at the end of the day, my life was going on, and I had a book signing to get to.  In the evening, I was on Facebook and saw an update from an old friend with whom I taught in Kazakhstan.  She wrote that she was devastated, having known someone on the flight.   I sent her a PM, and she wrote back that the tragedy had claimed a family we’d all known at the QSI school in Atyrau, Kazakhstan, and suddenly the far away terrible story was personal.

Tambi Jiee, 49, from Kampung Gobielt, was with his wife Ariza Ghazalee, 47, and four children - Mohd Afif, 19, Mohd Afzal, 17, Marsha Azmeena, 15, and Mohd Afruz, 13.

Tambi Jiee, 49, from Kampung Gobielt, was with his wife Ariza Ghazalee, 47, and four children from left – Mohd Afruz, 13, Mohd Afif, 19, Marsha Azmeena, and Mohd Afzal, 17.

I didn’t know the entire family well, but I did teach three of the children.  Two, I only saw once a week in music class, but they were very pleasant, well-natured kids.  I want to speak more specifically of the boy who was in my homeroom, Afruz, the youngest sibling, to remember him, and to honor him.

Afruz came to my fourth grade class in the middle of the year when his father was brought to Kazakhstan with Shell.  He entered school with a handful of other Malaysian boys his age, as the families were brought in at the same time.  When I think of Afruz, those first days, I mostly think of his smile.  He was a nine-year old boy coming to a new school in a foreign country filled with kids from all over the world, who all spoke English (which he didn’t speak very well when he entered), and he could have easily been withdrawn or sulky, having to adapt to this strange new world.  But he wasn’t.  As I said, he was always smiling.  As the year progressed, and as Afruz became more and more proficient in English, he gained more and more confidence to join in the classroom, it became evident that he had a fantastic sense of humor.  All the other kids loved him, and I began to see that it was because his easy-going personality.

All three students were incredibly bright, constantly doing well in school, and pushing themselves to do better.   Another friend who taught Marsha, the young daughter in the family, told me that she learned an entire year of math in four months by coming to him for an extra hour each day to do extra work and get extra tutoring.  On the family’s Facebook pages, there are pictures of all three of the younger students winning science fair competitions for their age groups, and this was par for the course for these kids.  These were kids who would grow up and make a difference.

My family left Kazakhstan that summer, and so my time with Afruz and his siblings was limited.  I was able to keep up a bit with them from China via Facebook, as much as I did many of the students, but I wasn’t so close to the family as to maintain regular communication.  Their pictures on Facebook regularly showed a loving expatriate family, always smiling, enjoying the world together.  They were on flight MH17 because they had completed their time in Kazakhstan, and were returning home to Malaysia.

On Wednesday, that family was lost, senselessly, violently, in a way we all struggle to understand.  We don’t know who is responsible yet, and we may never know exactly.   The world’s hope is that investigators will figure it out, and whoever gave the order and whoever followed the order will face justice.  But even that won’t bring back Afruz’s family, and the others who were lost.

I have to be honest.  This has rocked me to the core, especially when I think of those kids, who were such wonderful members of the school community.  They came from a devout Muslim family, and as a family they were fantastic representations of the Islamic faith to the rest of us.  They will be sorely missed by those who knew them best.   And while my understanding of God’s will has been challenged by this loss, I just can’t help but think that His mercy will extend to this family and the other 292 souls who were lost in such an unfair manner.

At least I pray that it will, because they didn’t come close to deserving to have their lives ended this way.

None of them did.

 اَلرَّبُّ رَاعِيَّ فَلاَ يُعْوِزُنِي شَيْءٌ. 2 فِي مَرَاعٍ خُضْرٍ يُرْبِضُنِي. إِلَى مِيَاهِ الرَّاحَةِ يُورِدُنِي. 3 يَرُدُّ نَفْسِي. يَهْدِينِي إِلَى سُبُلِ الْبِرِّ مِنْ أَجْلِ اسْمِهِ. 4 أَيْضاً إِذَا سِرْتُ فِي وَادِي ظِلِّ الْمَوْتِ لاَ أَخَافُ شَرّاً لأَنَّكَ أَنْتَ مَعِي. عَصَاكَ وَعُكَّازُكَ هُمَا يُعَزِّيَانِنِي. 5 تُرَتِّبُ قُدَّامِي مَائِدَةً تُجَاهَ مُضَايِقِيَّ. مَسَحْتَ بِالدُّهْنِ رَأْسِي. كَأْسِي رَيَّا. 6 إِنَّمَا خَيْرٌ وَرَحْمَةٌ يَتْبَعَانِنِي كُلَّ أَيَّامِ حَيَاتِي وَأَسْكُنُ فِي بَيْتِ الرَّبِّ إِلَى مَدَى الأَيَّامِ.
مزامير 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

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