Following the news of the massacre of Muslim worshipers in New Zealand last week, we (Gerald and Gaby) reached to our Muslim neighbors and a local mosque. This is what happened. If there is a Muslim community near you, or if you know a Muslim contact them. Meet with them individually or as a church. Ask how they are feeling and tell them that because Jesus came to break down the walls of separation between people, we stand shoulder to shoulder before God.
Story 1- As I (Gaby) walked into Jamila’s home, I knew something was seriously wrong. Her usually cheerful self was hiding under puffy eyes in a somber mood. I did not see any of her colorful Kurdish outfits, just black--black robe, black shoes, black memories from a past that, as a refugee, she wanted to keep buried.
Since the mosque mass shootings in New Zealand three days before, her locked-tight grief and fears suddenly now ran loose, untamed. When words failed her, a flood of tears came to her rescue. She has three sons and feared for all of them. Will they live in peace?
“Why? Why! Why?” she pleaded, as if expecting me to explain why undiluted evil seemed to be winning. “Why? These people only wanted to pray.”
“One of the victims was the son of Jannah, a well-know calligrapher,” she exclaimed, “and there are victims from Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, . . .” and the list went on before she paused to gasp for breath. Quietly her younger son came and tenderly hugged her. It was a precious moment.
Wishing to say something soothing, I finally spoke. “Sister, all over the world there are many people hurting with you over what happened, even if they seem silent. As believers, we recognize that all humans are given breath by God before they belong to any religion or nationality. But if we allow terrorists to poison our hearts and make us afraid, then they win. Do you know the purpose of terrorism? It is not to kill, but to instill terror. To poison our children to believe that we cannot live together. But as people of faith, we stand shoulder to shoulder together before the same Creator and Father of all. We have to resist them, to ask God to replace fear with His love, so that every time they attack one of us, we come closer to each other. Then Shaytan (Satan) loses.”
She agreed we cannot let the terrorists win. Fatima was with us, so she and Jamila recited some comforting verses from the Qur’an. Fatima also told her we had talked about this very thing earlier in the afternoon. At our monthly gathering of Adventists and Muslims we typically eat, deepen friendships, and share stories of Jesus, but today there was something extra. A group of teens from the South Bay Adventist Church of Chattanooga came on behalf of their congregation. Led by Nicole Parker, an elder's wife, and Faith Anderson, the pastor’s wife, they brought a handwritten poster board with the words: “We Are One Community.” Many hearts, signatures, and hope-filled comments like “Love will win” surrounded their message.
I did not realize how important the teens' presence was till I was with Jamila. Nicole had spoken from her heart that they would stand side by side with our local Muslims and protect them. She rejected violence in no uncertain terms.
Even though Jamila and her family had not attended our gathering this time, someone had already reported everything to her in great detail. But she had missed an important point. “Gaby,” Jamila said, “I know that your family and the Handals love us, but what about other American people? Can they see that we are here to enrich them too? Do they accept us?” Fatima nodded that this was important to know. Jamila continued, “We perceive a very strong anti-foreign sentiment--this is my country, these are our jobs, these are our schools, we do not want you to use them.Can they see that we came to add not to subtract?”
Both Fatima and I had pictures from our earlier gathering, so I pulled out my phone and said, “This church knows. Look at these young people. They are growing up with another mentality. They came to say that as people of faith they recognize your value and want to tell your children that fear will not win. These are also Americans.”
Jamila wiped her tears, called her younger son and nephew and told them in Arabic what I said. Showing them the picture, she said with a soft smile, “These people want us here. They love us.” She pointed to the poster board.
Jamila needed to hear that. They needed to know that. Thank you, South Bay, for turning on a small light in this and other homes. The darker the spot, the brighter the light shines.