Last February, I shared a story about meeting our Muslim neighbors on a sweltering day in August. I’m not sure how this happened, but it is August again. It’s been a whole year since God injected love for my neighbors into my heart.
When we left our story last time, I was fumbling around cultural and religious barriers, bathing in self-doubt, and feeling like an idiot.
Basically, that’s still what I’m doing.
This month we’re blogging about cross-cultural evangelism, but we’re going to have to table that for right now. Truthfully, I’m just working on cross-cultural relationship. And what I’ve found out is that it is really hard.
Imagine the immense risk it takes for them to accept my invitation to dinner. I don’t know the rules. The meat I cook is unclean. And, let’s face it, there’s a good chance my family will taint their kids, disrespect their beliefs, and offend their consciences.
They did come, after we promised that the men would sit in a separate room from the women and we got a crash course on their food laws. My husband was in a cold sweat for a week.
We found out that in their culture, women don’t talk to men (a rule I unwittingly broke at least half a dozen times). That butter is a pass. That their marriage was arranged. We experienced the husband’s prayer ritual. We felt all kinds of awkward. We also found out that they like gardening like us, that their six-year-old loves to draw, and that cheesecake is delicious no matter who you are.
Turns out, it’s pretty much law that they have to host us since we hosted them. So two weeks later we were at their house. They really had to put themselves out to invite us into their home. They actually had to buy a table to accommodate the genders-eating-separately thing. Mom painstakingly cooked their favorite foods from home. Dad helped entertain our loud and rowdy kids.
Mom took the risk of inviting me to their children’s school fair. What would the other mothers think when she showed up with me? We went. My children and I were the only non-Muslims on the campus. It was the first time I experienced how a Muslim woman might feel in any given public place. I stood out like a PC at a Mac convention. And they were kind and polite, and tried not to stare.
Through play dates, children’s books, tire changes, and texting, our relationship has tentatively begun. My friend is generous and open with me when we talk about customs and beliefs. She hasn’t yet backhanded me for saying the wrong things or for asking stupid questions. She helps me understand the deal with the head coverings. She explains interesting stories and factoids from the Quran. She questions me about Christianity’s apparent inconsistencies (“Doesn’t your Bible also say that women must have their heads covered?” Uh, yeah (1 Corinthians 11:6)…but we can’t take every verse seriously. Sheesh.)
And sometimes we talk about making bread, how yummy fresh cherries are and that my two-year-old just colored green marker all over the stairs.
Trust comes slowly. We still have plenty of awkward moments and long silences. My inner journey is still filled with Spirit-given love mixed with a healthy dose of circular thinking and cultural baggage. I’ve learned a lot. I pray a lot.
Lord, free my friend and me from the heavy burden of having to be perfect all the time. You know we so often try to save ourselves by being perfect. Thank you for bathing me in your grace. Father, show yourself to us both. Make me worthy to be called her friend and worthy to be called “the light of the world.”
Image courtesy of Alpha / Flickr.com