(Persian Lessons is due out soon in February 2021)
In occupied France in 1942 a young Belgian, Gilles, is arrested with a group of other Jews and taken away to be shot. However, he pleads for his life claiming to be Persian rather than Jewish. (An idea which came from being given a Persian book as they were being transported away.) On hearing this the guards take him to a labour camp where one of the officers is desperate to learn Farsi, the Persian language. A language Gilles does not actually know. So Gilles begins an extraordinary existence, creating a language from scratch and teaching it to officer Klaus Koch. He fears being found out and every day lives on a knife edge.
In the camp Gilles has to record the names of the other inmates, crossing them out when they are taken away to die. When he serves up the food at meal times he asks each person for their name. Gilles draws on these names to create words for his version of Farsi. At one point in the film he tells Koch that the prisoners are only anonymous and forgettable to the guards because they don’t know their names. At which point I began to think about the biblical promise that our names are etched on the palms of God’s hands. (Have a look at Isaiah 49 v 16 and John 10 v 28.) Early in the gospels of Matthew and Luke we find long lists of Jesus’s ancestors. In the book of Nehemiah there are lists of all those working on rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. There are other places in the Good Book where groups of people are recorded. All remembered. Names that mean little to us and yet are known by God.
You only have to Google your own name to discover no one is unique. There are lots of Dave Hopwoods around. And yet, God knows us all. Understands us all. Counts us as precious. We are not merely a number to him, not just another face in the crowd. Not another statistic. Even though a mother forget her child, I cannot forget you, says the Lord. So the prophet Isaiah writes in chapter 49 and verse 15 of his book. We may feel forgotten, disregarded, overlooked by a busy, ambitious world. But we have a heavenly father, a good kind father, who will never forget us or lose sight of us. May that knowledge give us strength, courage and patience for all that we need to do today.