Tall, stunning, and dressed head-to-foot in flowing black, my new Muslim acquaintance strode out the front door of the office to shake my hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said, “I am Aiysha. Please come inside.”
I had never met a Muslim before this moment. I smiled awkwardly, clinging to my little two-year old daughter’s hand. I had left the suburbs and driven into the city on a personal quest, a hunt for global compassion in my local context. I swallowed hard and dragged myself into the modest refugee resettlement office.
Aiysha sat me down, poured me coffee, and wasted no time. “Why are you here?” she asked evenly.
I stumbled across the thoughts jumbled around in my head, trying to think how to explain. I decided on genuineness. “I’m a follower of Jesus, whom you call Isa al Masih in Arabic, and I’m trying to put His words into practice.” I glanced around at her bare office, which overlooked squares of government housing. Countless Sudanese families made their homes in those blocks, only an hour from my white-picket fence back yard.
“I know this might sound kind of crazy,” I continued, “but I was reading His teaching about loving your enemy.”
WHAT HAD BROUGHT THIS EDUCATED, POISED, SINGLE WOMAN TO OUR COUNTRY?
Aiysha’s black hijab hugged her neck and forehead, framing her luminous, beautiful eyes and a porcelain face. I wondered what had brought this educated, poised, single woman to our country.
She leaned forward and it encouraged me to continue.
“Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for those who do harm to you. I can’t think of any enemies, except people I don’t really know. Because of 9/11, the thought crossed my mind that maybe Muslims would be the closest thing to an enemy I might have.”
I wasn’t sure how she would respond. I pulled my daughter up on my lap to make me appear more harmless.
Aiysha didn’t say anything, so I continued, “Well, then Jesus told a story about the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven to judge the world. All the nations of the world stood before Him and He separated the sheep from the goats. To the sheep he said, ‘Come and share in my master’s happiness. I give you the kingdom that I’ve prepared for you since the beginning of time.’ The reason for giving them the kingdom? He said that when someone was hungry, they fed them. When someone was thirsty, they gave them water to drink. When someone was sick or in prison, they visited them. When someone was a stranger, or a foreigner, they welcomed them. And whenever they did this to someone, it was like they were doing it for Jesus.” (Matthew 25:31-40)
I paused and still Aiysha said nothing. I took a deep breath.
“I WOULD LIKE YOU TO COME WITH ME AND ASK FORGIVENESS FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.”
“Someone told me that Muslim refugees were coming here to our city. So I looked it up on the internet and found your name. It sounded Muslim. I thought it would be good for me to actually meet a Muslim. You also said on the phone that you’re helping refugees, so I thought, well, maybe I could help somehow.”
“Yes,” she finally spoke, “you can help.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and smiled to myself. Already I was envisioning myself organizing a food drive or a clothes collection campaign. I pictured all the refugees gathering around and hugging me and my friends in gratitude. We’d smile at each other and then go home.
Instead, Aiysha suggested, “I just met with a young widow with three small children who arrived this morning from Iraq. If all that you are saying is true, then I would like you to come with me to her apartment tomorrow.”
She paused before continuing. “American soldiers accidentally killed her husband. I would like you to come with me and ask forgiveness from the American people.”
What happened the next day is a story for another time. What happened over the course of two more years is a story that will please the watching multitudes cheering us on from heaven.
Living as a follower of Jesus transforms you and the people around you. It’s not easy. It’s not glamorous. It’s often surprising.
Maybe you’ve never met a Muslim. Find one and just be their friend. I promise you that your worldview will expand, your perspective will be widened, and your experience with Jesus will climb to new levels.
Muslims make up one-sixth of the world’s population. Most people groups that still have no Gospel witness are Muslim.
Maybe it’s time for you to meet a Muslim and be their friend.