by Marie Christi
Last Friday Muslims around the world began their holy month of Ramadan. This is their most sacred holiday. Imagine a month of Christmas filled with spiritual traditions, family gatherings and all your favorite food. Now imagine it all taken away. No trips to the quiet buildings where your faith was formed. No family around the table reminiscing and building new memories, and either none of your favorite food or no one to share it with. This is what many of our Muslim neighbors are experiencing right now, right next door.
My husband and I have opened our home to international students for over twenty years. We’ve faced many challenges but nothing like the current pandemic. It’s forced us to rethink everything we do. Hospitality has been at the core of our calling but how do you show hospitality and social distance? Abba has been so gracious and patient during this time of reinventing ministry. His creativity has overwhelmed us and inspired our team.
We’ve always had a special place in our hearts for our Muslim sons and daughters, but this year has driven that love to deeper places. God hasn’t challenged us to work harder or do more. He’s asked us to slow down, listen and love in a simpler, clearer way.
Our team of twenty formed Care Groups and divided up our list of students based on relationships already established. We pray daily for each of our students and contact them at least once a week. We deliver groceries or meals, listen when they just need to talk and make sure they’re doing alright.
For our Muslim students we’re giving them small gifts once a week. The first week it was a small bag of dates for Iftar (the evening meal during Ramadan) packaged in a pretty gift bag with a Ramadan card enclosed that was made by the kids on our team. Next week will be nuts and dried fruits. Then we’ll do chocolates and Persian tea and the final week we’ll do baklava. But it’s not really about the gifts. What has really spoken to them is that we know it’s their holy season, that we took time to think about what is special to them, and that we care.
We’ve just started taking the gifts to them and we’ve already seen it bear fruit. My husband had a deep spiritual conversation with our most devout follower of Islam. “Ismael” has never shown any interest in Christianity, but he’s been listening to an Imam (Muslim spiritual leader) who was debating from the Bible (The Bible is still regarded in Islam as a holy text). My husband explained that he could provide one for him and asked if he’d like a Bible in his language, as well. Ismael was surprised that we had one and gladly accepted. They talked for over an hour with the promise to continue their discussion. All because of a bag of dates offered in Jesus’ name.
God’s letter to us is filled with verses about loving and welcoming the sojourners among us. He must really care for them because he spends an amazing amount of time teaching us to protect and serve them. It would be worth your time to dig into the word and see his heart for the internationals living among us.
We all have Ismaels living next door. Maybe they’re not Muslim or even international but they’re probably lonely. Is there something they should be celebrating but this virus is about to ruin their special day? Ask Abba to show you ways to make it more special then they could have imagined. Don’t make it complicated, just slow down, listen, and love in the name of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah).