There is a mosque about a block away from the house where I grew up, the only mosque for miles. I remember Fridays, that Islamic holy day, watching our quiet neighborhood streets fill with cars that could not fit the small lot. Men with close-cropped beards and smart, professional clothes. Women in their colorful, open-faced hijabs, children in tow. They did not attend my school, they seemed not to speak my language, they did not look like me. I found them curious — and I went on with my Fridays.
Yes, there were the Saudi Arabian brothers who spent Christmas dinners with my family, bringing gifts of beautiful fabrics and ornaments that caught my imagination. There was the Iranian student in college with the poor English and the deep loneliness. There was the family whose head-covered daughter ran track with my kids — and who initially responded to my greeting in the grocery store with the wariness worn by those accustomed to disapproval. The girls at my kids’ school who lit up when I noticed their beautiful headscarves. And… that’s it.
The sum total of my known personal interaction with people who represent 20-30% of the world’s population.
That has bothered me.
Fast forward. Sunday, February 15. The world watches stunned. Weeks, months, years of horrific stories culminate in images of brave, orange-clad “people of the Cross” kneeling in the sand before black-clad captors. You know the rest, I think.
These martyrs are not unique, their ordeal hardly new. Yet the vivid imagery, their breathtaking courage stops us in our tracks and leaves us crying out. “Jesus, Redeem. Provide. Comfort. Heal. Protect. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.”
I watched my Facebook page grieve and reflect, watched the same in the news outlets. And then… something else.
I will not re-write the angry statements I began to see.
Tuesday, February 17. I open the unlocked door of the “Women’s Entrance”. — “Hello?” I call into the alcove, outfitted with the low tub for religious cleansing and children’s artwork complete with glitter. I know there are people in the building. I have seen the cars — but they are parked near the “Men’s Entrance”, and my cultural ignorance leaves me uncertain. “Hello?” again.
I hold in my hand a Hallmark card. “To the People of the Islamic Center of Tacoma“. The card identifies me as a “person of the Cross”, speaks of a desire for friendship and closes with my email address. What on earth am I doing here? At a loss, I see a bulletin board… I take a breath, grab a thumbtack, post my card, and turn to go.
Two days ago, I received a warm email. “I wish to thank you very much for your kindness… I would be honored to be your friend … and hope we can communicate more and set up an introduction meeting. You are always welcome at any time and we love to hear more from you.”
And now… the next step.
“For Christ’s love compels us… God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:14, 18