“Lily white Christian girl, daughter of Los Angeles police officer, in search of adventures in interracial and interfaith adventures” is not how anyone would’ve expected a personal ad for my life to be written.
But trying to open my heart to God’s heart and going through the doors that God opens have led to places I’d never imagined.
In 2014, those doors opened to spending time in Egypt, meeting with Christians there and learning of their experiences and challenges, their history and their hopes for the future. It was learning about their lives and the living out their faith in their own context.
Last year, those doors also opened to spending time in Iraq, again learning from Christians whose lives are different from my own, about how they live out their faith in their context, with their particular challenges. We also meet with some Muslim folks, who spoke wistfully of the days when they and their Christian and Jewish neighbors lived in peace and friendship.
Late last year, the doors opened to spend time in Israel/Palestine and Jordan. We visited sites of ancient and modern Jewish importance, talked with Israelis about their lives, and with Palestinian Christians and Muslims. In Jordan, I met a young Muslim family in a restaurant. They invited me to eat with them, and we had a wonderful time together as we shared family stories and I got to know their delightful children. Since then, it’s been fun to keep up with the mom, a university chemistry professor, on Facebook.
Yesterday, the doors opened closer to home.
Last month, a dozen or so Christian clergy signed a letter of support for folks in the Muslim community. The community of Holy Islamville invited us to lunch to thank us for our support. So rather than hopping on a plane for interfaith adventures far away, I hopped in my car last Thursday to visit the other side of York County.
We were welcomed with warm greetings and spent time simply chatting with each other as we made introductions and found connections and commonality. We were invited into their place of prayer, a place of serenity with beautiful tile work, art reminiscence of Muslim worship spaces in faraway lands.
We met the leadership of the community and heard of their history.
Normally, I believe we would’ve eaten outside, but the weather dictated otherwise, so we moved into a nearby home where a delicious and bountiful feast was ready for us. We ate at tables with our hosts, so we might continue conversations during the meal.
As we broke bread together, barriers were also broken. We spoke some of the things that we all had in common, and where we might have run into each other – at Piedmont Hospital or the YMCA or soccer fields. We spoke of our common love for our country as Americans and our common commitment to this country of peace and justice, with opportunity for all.
We learned their history as a Muslim community in York County and 35 years of being part of the fabric of this wider community. Farmers, hospital workers, public safety officers, educators and physician; they regularly contribute to our community life in ways seen and unseen.
We also spoke of the things we don’t have in common, including race and faith tradition. There is no way, without gross oversimplification and trivializing our differences, to talk about the depth and complexity of race and faith in one meal or one newspaper column. But the door was opened, and I believe that door was opened by God. It is a door that will stay open as we continue the conversation. As we prayed together as people of faith, and stood together as Americans, some barriers were broken down.
The Jewish and Christian scriptures are full of stories about people eating together, hospitality being offered and relationships being developed. Last week’s experience was a reminder that those stories live on.
The Rev. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, near the intersection of Highway 160 and Gold Hill Road. Contact her at email@example.com.