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Seattle Pacific University
Autumn 2007 | Volume 30, Number 2 | Features

Henry and Dorothy Littlejohn

Seeking salaam in our time

Henry and Dorothy Littlejohn
“Nobody here knows anything about the world!” So wrote Christine Littlejohn-Wheeler, eldest daughter of Henry Littlejohn ’49 and Dorothy Drachenberg Littlejohn ’47, in her first letter home from college. Barely 19, she had lived all but her first three years in Lebanon with her parents and two younger sisters. With the exception of a year-long furlough every five years, Henry and Dorothy Littlejohn served as missionaries in Sidon and Beirut from 1953 to 1969 under the Worldwide Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“We never lived on the compound,” says Dorothy. “We lived in the neighborhoods, raising our children alongside Arab families. We learned Arabic by immersion.” In fact, in 1953, when the Littlejohns left for Lebanon, with their 3-year-old and 4-month-old in tow (their youngest daughter was born in Beirut), the only Arabic they knew was salaam, the word for “peace.” And how fitting that was: Asked to define the responsibility of global Christians, Henry responds, “I believe we are called to share our faith and to work for peace.”

The Littlejohns, who celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June, have spent much of their lives as evangelists and peacemakers in a war-torn, often hostile, environment. Twice, the political climate became so volatile the family had to be evacuated. It was the stuff of action movies, but to Dorothy and Henry, the most gripping personal stories belonged to the converts Henry and two Arab pastors helped disciple. “Nearly all Christians in Arab countries are Christians by birth whose religious roots trace back to the early church,” Dorothy explains. “Converts are extremely rare. They’re the pearls of great price.”

An ordained Presbyterian minister and former Seattle Pacific adjunct professor of Mideast studies, Henry has spent several years translating and annotating Book of Patience and Thankfulness by 11th-century Persian author al-Ghazali, considered by many the greatest Muslim scholar. “In this book,” explains Henry, “I discovered a common ground for dialogue between Muslims and Christians: the importance we both place on patience and thankfulness within our faiths.” Due to be published soon by the Islamic Texts Society, Book of Patience and Thankfulness is the 32nd book in al-Ghazali’s The Revival of the Sciences of Religion, whose readership among Muslims is second only to the Koran.

“Through the years, I’ve struggled to maintain my Arabic,” says the current resident of Shoreline, Washington. “Often when I wake up in the middle of the night, I will pray in Arabic.”

—By Kathy Henning []
—Photo by Mike Siegel

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