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Recently, my husband and I visited friends in the Middle East and ministered at an international church. One friend suggested we visit a new women’s park in her neighborhood. At this walled park, Muslim women are free to remove their veils and interact with one another.
It was a warm, beautiful night. As we walked past the security guards at the park entrance, I felt like a fish out of water. Perhaps 100 Muslim women, dressed in long black robes (called abiyahs), were there. Children ran freely.
The women, their faces uncovered, were mostly sitting in circles, sharing food and talking. As we walked in, it felt as if all eyes converged on my friend and me—and on her three blond-haired, blue-eyed kids. We were the only Western women in the entire park. The line from the kids’ song “one of these things is not like the other” began running through my head. It was a peculiar feeling. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I did feel uncomfortable.
I started to wonder what the Muslim women thought of us, how they must hate Americans based on all they see in the media, and concluded they probably just wanted us to leave their park.
Then it happened.
As I was watching my friend’s toddler on the playground, I noticed a small circle of women looking in my direction, smiling. They must be admiring my friend’s cute baby, I thought. Their smiles grew wider—all their eyes seemed fixated on me. “Who are they looking at?” I wondered silently. Surely those friendly expressions were meant for someone else.
Then they began to beckon me with nods and hand motions. I looked to my right, then my left, and behind me. They seemed amused as I pointed to myself. “Me?” I asked. They all nodded in agreement, and I cautiously approached their group. Instantly, one of the women pulled out a cup and poured me some tea. Another handed me some delicious-looking homemade bread.
I was astounded.
These women I’d thought must want me out of their park were inviting me into their circle. “Thank you!” was all I could say. Then she poured me another cup and said, “For your sister.” As I walked with a surprised smile to my friend, another woman jumped up and ran over to give her a different kind of bread. I learned the tea is called karak tea and is a Middle Eastern specialty.
As I sipped on the warm, spiced drink and enjoyed the soft bread, I was overcome by their kindness and ashamed at my initial fear-based reaction. As my friend and I went over to thank them for their gifts, the women invited us to join their circle, even telling us they meet there every Tuesday evening. As I relayed the story to my husband that night, tears filled my eyes. Through hospitality, these women who worship a different god and live in a different culture were forming a bridge for me to communicate with them. Their kindness and generosity melted away all my fears.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many God-ordained opportunities I miss because of my own preconceived judgments.
Peril of Partiality
Through television, the internet, and social media, we are bombarded with images and news of terror attacks from Muslim extremist groups. It’s easy to lump all Muslims into that category, especially when you don’t have any Muslim friends. It was those influences that made me think none of the women wanted me there, that they likely hated Americans. How wrong I was.
The Book of James warns of the sin of partiality. James gives the example of the rich and poor being treated differently within the church. When we presume based on who’s “worth” investing in, talking to, or is or isn’t interested in the gospel, we are judging with an evil heart. “Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4)
Instead, we honor God by loving our neighbor as ourselves, which includes not assuming the worst about others, but the best. I shouldn’t have been afraid of how the Muslim women were perceiving me that night. I should have viewed them as women made in the image of God and in need of a Savior—as women worth reaching out to befriend.
Believe All Things
My friend and I talked later that evening about the many ways the kindness of the Muslim women put us to shame. I hadn’t gone to the park looking to engage a Muslim woman in conversation. I assumed she wouldn’t be interested in talking with me.
How often do I go to the park here in America and look for someone to befriend, someone who seems out of place? How often do I have extra snacks to share with other moms or kids who may be sitting next to me? And how often do I miss an opportunity to build a bridge with someone different than me? I have much to learn from my new Muslim friends.
As the apostle Paul exhorts us, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
Love believes all things.
Love does not assume the worst about people.
Love does not stereotype based on news reports or social media perspectives.
Love sees each person as an individual made in the image of God who desperately needs a Savior—just like I do.
They are worth the risk of looking foolish as you introduce yourself. They are worth the time from your chaotic schedule to meet for coffee. They are worth putting down your phone and engaging in a conversation.
That person you see as unreachable may be the person God has called you to reach with the gospel.