Many of you know the name “Samir.” He has been a central figure in so many of my stories. I got to know him and his family through his oldest son who was part of our university student work called “The Olive Grove” in the late 90’s.

He’s a Lebanese businessman who has lived in Saudi Arabia for many years. Samir and I first met in 1998 and instantly became best friends. He took me under his wing, introduced me to all of his friends – and led me into a new way of thinking about the Middle East and in many ways – Jesus.

He and I and my other friend, also named Sameer, formed a small group of three that would meet together regularly to pray, study the scriptures and dream about life and changing our world. Samir would simply believe what Jesus said. As a Muslim he didn’t have the baggage that I brought to the discussion out of my Christian heritage. As a Muslim he didn’t have the baggage that I brought to the discussion out of my Christian heritage. He would always say “Jesus is closer to us than anybody thinks, his teachings are so simple and straightforward so don’t complicate him. Just read him, believe him, and follow him.” He would just read the words and follow. When Jesus said “If two or three agree on anything in my name…I will do it” – he just believed. And so he would say – “What should we agree on today?”

And the stories that came from that are many and amazing!

Samir taught me how to mix following Jesus and having fun. He used to say that following Jesus means loving him, loving the people, and loving life, so have fun. He would joke “Carl came to teach me about Jesus and I’m here to teach him how to party.” It was true. I arrived in Lebanon as a fairly uptight missionary working hard to convert the heathens. But I didn’t know how to relate. Relax. Have fun! The parties at the Kreidieh’s home were the best. Oftentimes hundreds of people enjoying life with good Cuban cigars, a glass of something good to drink and a live band with dancing. All new to me. But in every corner – and sometimes all together – we’d have amazing conversations about faith, God and life.

Samir has taught me SO much. Ways to think of leadership relationally, not structurally. How to love both the rich and the poor. How to say “no” without saying no. What it looks like to love your kids and wife. How to honor people who deserve honor…and even those who don’t.

Most of what I do now and much of how I do it – came from Samir. My debt to him is lifelong, and my love for him and his family is full of deep gratitude. Thank you Samir!