While waiting for a flight from the airport in Istanbul, I ended up chatting with a young Israeli man who lives outside of Tel Aviv. He was quite interested to hear that I was on my way home from Baghdad and asked me about my time there.
I talked about how much I love the people in their warm hospitality, and how much I love the breads of the Middle East. He asked me to say more about that, so I told him about some of the breads I’d had in the past week: a few different yeast breads, and the great variety of flatbreads, including one that had teeny meatballs spread throughout the middle of it. I told him that we have a lot of different brands available here in the U.S., but rarely do we find at restaurants or bakeries the kind of fresh, warm and wide variety of breads we get in the Middle East (It is not unusual to have people baking the flatbread in front of the restaurant there). I told him that for me, the wonderful Middle Eastern breads connect much more closely to manna in the wilderness and Jesus being the bread of life than the breads we buy the grocery store and unwrapped from cellophane.
“I’ll never take bread for granted again,” he said.
The man told me that he was a small-business owner selling health supplements, but after the bread conversation, he told me that his day job was in a bakery, making bread. It never occurred to him that in the United States, we wouldn’t have the same kind of options that they have in the Middle East for bread. He never realized how important that work was, or how valued it could be.
The conversation changed when he asked me more about Baghdad. I told him that the saddest parts about that wonderful city were the giant walls of concrete surrounding one whole area of the city, the international zone in front of all government buildings where no one can get in without a lengthy process. Concrete barriers block streets; there’s so much concrete. I told him (with some tentativeness) that it reminded me of the wall in Israel, particularly the one around Bethlehem, that also made me so sad. He agreed, and we started talking about all kinds of walls, including the walls in Belfast from their Troubles.
We agreed that our hopes for all those walls is that they will come to the same fate as the Berlin Wall. My friend astutely pointed out that the walls are simply the embodiment of the walls that people have in their hearts, and we agreed that praying for the breaking down of those walls is what God might have us do.
And then, somehow, the conversation changed again … to the Monty Python movie, “Life of Brian.” I don’t exactly remember how we went from bread to barriers to Brian; that was a pretty amazing conversation for this Presbyterian pastor to have with an Israeli Jew as our paths crossed at the Ataturk International airport. It was a serendipitous moment, a gift from God to share that time together.
He then left for Madrid, and I for Washington, D.C.
As Christians move through Holy Week, we remember the One who offered us bread, and broke down barriers. As children of God, and we all are that, may we look for those gifts of conversation in connection.
Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill: firstname.lastname@example.org.