The Things I Carried

We’d like to think we are without prejudice, but one encounter can expose the truth.

Completely absorbed in my book, I jumped when my daughter Sheridan barely touched my shoulder. The hour was late, and her tears startled me.

“Mama, it’s happened again. Abdul just texted me and said there are missiles sailing right over his apartment.” Her friend had become accustomed to these threats in Saudi Arabia, but they rattled Sheridan and me.

 

Today, I think back to how I almost didn’t accept him because of my fear and prejudice, and my own tears brim.

Our daughter attended a university with a diverse student body and easily made friends with students from other countries. An art major, she’d reflected, “Mama, Christ’s church is a mosaic of all peoples and nations.” Sheridan particularly wanted me to meet a young Muslim man from Saudi Arabia. I have always loved meeting Sheridan’s friends, but I was extremely wary of him. Rather than inviting him to our home (as I normally would have), I suggested we meet in a restaurant for dinner.

As a white evangelical, I felt afraid of communicating with the “other”—someone of another race who spoke a “strange” language and espoused “radical” religious ideologies. I feared terrorism perpetrated by Islamic converts, with menacing shadows of 9/11 still darkening my thinking. In recent years, I had listened to the drumbeat of condemnatory news reports about Muslims from Christian media and influencers. And there was the continuous flow of suspicious comments by evangelical friends, whether in our personal conversations or their accusatory Facebook memes.

In light of all this, I feared for Sheridan’s safety. I trusted exaggerated perspectives and worst-case scenarios rather than my own daughter’s sound judgment and personal knowledge of this boy. I was also conveniently forgetting God is Creator of all people, made in His image and worthy of dignity and respect.

I feared terrorism perpetrated by Islamic converts, with menacing shadows of 9/11 still darkening my thinking.

That evening, as we chatted over dinner, I became increasingly relaxed and captivated by this charming young man, discovering there was nothing remotely radical about Abdul. He was caring and congenial, loquacious and interesting, sharing in perfect, rapid-fire English about his life back home and how much he missed his mother. He even called her during dinner, exuberating about our family in his native Arabic.

We had more in common than what might have separated us—our love for laughter, our love for family, our respect for older people, our appreciation for modest attire, our enjoyment of good literature, our devotion to prayer. In an unguarded moment, he told us that his aunt, who lived in Yemen, a country in the middle of a civil war, was in constant danger of losing her life.

I invited him to our home to continue our conversation over dessert. After nibbling on almond cake, we retired to the music room where he sang an exquisite song a cappella. As his lyricism filled the air in his native tongue, our hearts soared in the melody’s intricate beauty—beauty that transcended nationality and cultural differences.

After that evening, I invited Abdul to our home on a number of occasions. We played table games. We sang. We laughed. We joked. We got serious. Abdul admitted to me that he had been fearful of living in America because of the hatred he’d felt directed towards Muslims. I was staggered. He, too, had been afraid of people—people like me!

Abdul admitted to me that he had been fearful of living in America because of the hatred he’d felt directed towards Muslims.

We shared meals, and before we ate, Abdul respectfully bowed his head with us, as we prayed to God the Father in Jesus’ name. After one dinner, I remained at the kitchen table with Abdul and Sheridan. She knew that Abdul was devoted to prayer and revered the patriarch Abraham just as Christians do. With her Bible open to Genesis, she explained that Abraham worshipped the one true God, who, while stopping Abraham from slaying his son Isaac, would later sacrifice His only Son Jesus to save sinners. Though Abdul did not pray to receive Christ, he listened attentively.

Abdul has since returned to Saudi Arabia, though we keep our relationship current with frequent text messages and updates as well as occasional phone calls. I remember the last time I saw Abdul at our house before he went back home to his family. After repeated hugs in the doorway, hesitant to say a final good-bye, I walked him to his car like a mom sending her son off to college. We continued to talk, promising to stay in touch, and finally paused in silence absorbing these last meaningful moments together. A light rain fell, the holy descending like a baptism, a cleansing, an anointing. I sensed God confirming to me He had purged the insidious prejudice that I hadn’t even known I’d shamefully harbored for years.

In that moment, I realized God’s rain blesses the faces of Christian and Muslim alike, both precious and created in His image. God loves Abdul and longs to make His Son known to him. As Abdul drove off, I prayed that he would become one shining facet in the mosaic of Christ’s church—that one day, he would be soldered together with other believers by God’s grace through faith, receiving Christ as his Savior and Lord, reflecting Him to the world. It’s my prayer still.

 

Illustration by Metaleap Creative

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