PILLAGER -- Mark Sandin of East Gull Lake is praying that Brainerd lakes area residents won't take out their anger over Tuesday's terrorist attacks on innocent Arabs and Muslims living here and abroad.
Before Sandin was hired as a fourth-grade teacher at Pillager Elementary School, he spent five years from 1991-1996 teaching second grade at a private American school in Kuwait.
The Gulf War had just ended at the time and there weren't any American students in the school. Instead, students were from Kuwait and other Middle Eastern countries. Sandin said his students' parents told him they wanted their children to have an American education.
It was an eye-opening experience for Sandin, who grew up in Ogilvie where there were few people of color.
"I really stuck out," said Sandin. "There were only 3,000 Americans living there out of 2 million people. I really got a feel for what it meant to be a minority."
He made many friends in the Middle East. His best friend, Daoud John, is from Pakistan and was the best man in Sandin's wedding. Sandin and his wife, Alisa, have given each of their three children -- Justyna Safaa, 5; Jared Shareef, 3; and Jarome Sallam, 15 months -- Arab middle names. His students at Pillager Elementary School have penpals each year from Kuwait.
"God just really gave me a heart for Muslims and Arabs," said Sandin. "I really got to know the people and discover they have great hearts."
This summer a friend of Sandin returned to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to visit family members. He brought back horrific stories of how the people are being treated by the oppressive Taliban government, which is apparently harboring terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Women, according to various news reports and Sandin's friend in Pakistan, have become hardest hit by the Taliban regime. According to a report by CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour in 1997, since the Taliban took power in 1996, women have been forced to wear burqua and have been beaten and stoned in public for not wearing the proper attire, even if this means not wearing the mesh covering in front of their eyes.
One woman, Amanpour reported, was beaten to death for accidentally exposing her arm while she was driving. Professional women, like doctors and lawyers, have been forced from their jobs and restricted to their homes. Homes where a woman is present must have their windows painted so she can't be seen by outsiders.
The region is also experiencing the worst drought since 1972, which has forced people to flee their homes.
As of June, said Sandin, there were more than 180,000 displaced Afghans at a refugee camp near Herat. The camp was growing by 1,000-5,000 people a day, with 60-80 people dying each day because of famine and exposure. A similar tragedy was happening near Peshawar, Pakistan, where 150,000 refugees in several camps are suffering from the lack of water, food and a way to prepare the food packets they receive from relief agencies.
Sandin felt God wanted him to do something to help the refugees. So after careful thought and research, as well as prayer, he sent a letter last month to more than 120 friends, relatives and neighbors requesting donations to help the refugees. He wants to raise $30,000 to send one shipping container filled with 1,000 solar-powered cookers to a refugee camp.
The solar-powered cookers are built from recycled plastic -- our garbage -- by a Twin Cities non-profit organization, the Solar Oven Society. These $30 cookers are low-cost portable stoves that convert the sun rays to heat rays that are trapped by the lid. (Find out more about these cookers at www.solarovens.org.)
Sandin set up a fund through his church, Lakewood Evangelical Free Church in Baxter, to raise the funds. It was his intention to travel to Afghanistan during his Christmas break and deliver the solar cookers while also teaching refugees how to use them.
Even after Tuesday's tragic events, Sandin still wants to help those refugees oppressed by the Taliban government. But he isn't so sure most Americans would agree with him. He fears Americans will take out their anger and grief on innocent Arabs and Muslims.
"One of my prayers is that people won't take a large paintbrush and paint all Arabs as bad people," said Sandin. "It is a very large concern for me. I hope people will get the information and not be prejudice against others before they know them."
Sandin received an e-mail Wednesday from an Arab friend in Kuwait. He wrote because he and his wife were worried about Sandin and his family. They, too, were grieving for the people who were killed Tuesday in terrorist attacks.
"Dear Abu Shareef, Sister Um Shareef," the e-mail began, addressed to Mark and Alisa Sandin. "We were shocked and very sad to see and hear the bad news yesterday. It's an unexpected tragedy for everybody. Me and Rajaa were very nervous and afraid that something would happen to your peaceful state and your peaceful town. I hope that everything is fine with you and your town. We are very worried. It was nothing like it. It was a disaster and a big tragedy. God bless you and saves you from those maniacs ... I hope nothing happens to you and your people."
Sandin isn't sure what he will do now to help the Afghan and Pakistani refugees.
"I'm just trying to figure out where to go from here," he said. "I don't know what God's going to do with this. I hope people will see the similarities on what's going on over there and react with love."
If you would like to help or make a tax-deductible donation to assist Sandin in helping the refugees, call him at 829-6883 or send a check to Sandin written out to Lakewood Evangelical Free Church at 11609 Sylvan Road, East Gull Lake, MN 56401.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.