by Steve and Karen Lied
“I hate Muslims.” As a simple conversational opener after church, Bob introduced himself, letting us know where he stood on the Muslim/Christian debate. Bob had heard that we had worked in a Muslim country and that we were offering opportunities to meet Muslims from our city.
“They seem to be only about killing those who aren’t Muslim. We Christians don’t have anything like that, and as far as I can tell from Scripture, they are cursed as a people and excluded from God’s favor, so I have nothing to do with them. I have no reason to change my mind.”
Awkward conversation and strained parting smiles left us each to head home after the service. “How ‘bout that Bob? Think I’ll try to avoid him in the future. Wow….”
Around that time our church hosted a Quick to Listen panel discussion. Two local Muslim leaders and two local Evangelical pastors would answer open questions from a mixed audience and from each other. What does faith mean to you? How do you answer all the violence? Why are you opposed to us (from each side)? That kind of thing. An open invitation was also given to anyone interested in joining a smaller dinner discussion group to explore questions of faith from our different perspectives.
And Bob signed up. “Well, I say I am a follower of Jesus and that I hate Muslims. These two things cannot go together, so I’d better show up and figure this out if I intend to keep following Jesus.”
“What are we going to do with Bob?!” This wasn’t exactly what we planned. Well, the wild Spirit of God blows where it will and we can’t stop it. The dinner group formed, first an Iftar meal, then a potluck; Turkish families, several singles and couples from the evangelical urban church, university students, a professor, a Palestinian father Alrahman and his family.
Stories and meals were shared and turns were taken hosting one another, tasting each other’s favorite foods. Each gathering, specific discussion questions were posed: What does faith mean for you personally? What is hope? Does God love us? How do we know? Who is Jesus? Who is Mohammed? Are they the counter-equivalents? The Q’uran and the Bible? What’s it like to be an immigrant? What was your childhood like?
Several years passed. and then Bob opened up one night after dinner: “Alrahman, I have to tell you something. Before I came to this group, I hated Muslims and I wanted nothing to do with them… Now, I love you.”
“Bob, I have something to tell you. Before I came to this group, if I had seen you on the street, I would have passed to the other side as quickly as possible. I thought you are the most American looking man I have ever seen. But last week I prayed. I said to Allah, ‘I know you said you cannot accept infidels. But can you make an exception for Bob? I want him in Paradise with me. He is a good man.’ I think he said OK.” Alrahaman winked. “I love you too.”
At another dinner at Alrahman’s house, his wife cooked a Turkey to honor her American guests’ practice of Thanksgiving. “I want to say thanks for you all being in my home,” Alrahman said. “This is the closest thing I have experienced to real family since I left Palestine.” Bob replied, “Alrahman and family, you are so dear to my heart.” And as we never expected, Bob and his wife are now among our own closest friends too.