Last night I went to a mosque.
It was a first for me, though I’ve known Muslim people since I was little. Our dinner table was often crowded with my daddy’s PhD students and their young families, and many of them were Muslim.
“Again?” I’d groan to Mom, wondering why I couldn’t be born into a family of introverts like me, but then the doorbell would ring and in they’d come and captivate me with their beautiful clothes, dishes heaped with delicacies like baklava or Turkish Delight, and cinnamon scented stories from their homelands. The students came from all over the world: Iran and Egypt, Iraq and Malaysia, China and Turkey, India and Nigeria. We’d sit and listen and laugh together, and I’d watch them relax, feeling safe to be themselves. By the end of the evening I’d decide again that as families go, I could do a lot worse.
So why did I go to a mosque? I’m a Christian minister to children. I’m in love with Jesus, not Muhammad.
I guess I’d blame Jesus. One of my favorite stories we share with the children at church is the parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. Somebody asks Jesus what the most important thing in life is. Jesus says, “You already know” and the person says, “Yes, to love God and to love people as if they’re your neighbors.” And then the person asks, “But who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells them a story about a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho who is attacked by robbers, beat up, and left for dead. A priest and a Levite- two religious people- walk by and see him, and each one crosses to the other side of the road. But then a stranger from Samaria walks by, and he stops to help. This is SHOCKING because people from Samaria don’t like people from Jerusalem, and vice versa. Yet this Samaritan cannot bring himself to cross the road. He binds the wounds of the beat up man, gives him his coat, puts him on his donkey, and pays for a place for him to stay at the local Marriott until he is well.
Our Muslim neighbors have been beat up lately, so Jesus calls us to help them. To stand beside them and care for them, as the Samaritan cared for the person robbed and left for dead. We cannot cross to the other side of the road. We have to do something.
So Todd and I pulled into the parking lot of the local mosque, and we couldn’t help but chuckle that we had the only pick up truck in the lot. What else would be different? I’d been quick to sign up for the visit when Greenville’s Interfaith Forum offered it a few weeks ago. But now that the time had come, I had to admit that I was a little nervous. My headscarf kept slipping down my head (I knew I should have watched a Youtube video!) and my bangs were showing. Was that okay?
Then we opened the door and my heart skipped a beat. A wall of shoe racks! I had forgotten that I’d need to take off my shoes, and I wasn’t wearing socks. How long had it been since I’d had my nails done? My feet were not presentable! Muslim women hid their hair but did they show their bare toes? As I bent to slip off my shoes, my brain flashed a picture from a few hours earlier.
One of the biggest honors of my life is the chance to teach children about baptism. My young friend Mark (not his real name) is in fifth grade and he’s been thinking about being baptized. His mom dropped him off with me that afternoon so we could spend some time together talking about it, and I was thrilled. I love taking children into the sanctuary and letting them walk into the baptismal pool. (Empty of water, of course!) As we go through the motions, like a dance, I help them remember the symbolism behind each step. As we walk to the front of the pool, I remind them how Jesus walked around on earth, healing people, teaching people how to love and live with each other, telling stories to explain how deeply God loves them and wants to draw them back to Himself where they belong. And then as I lower them into the imaginary water and up again, we remember how Jesus died on the cross and then was raised to life again. The world did its worst to Jesus and God responded by giving the world God’s best!
This was my plan. I was going to share this with Mark. I was going to teach him.
And then I stepped into the baptismal pool and Mark taught me.
“Come on in, Mark,” I said.
Mark stood at the top of the stairs, hesitating.
“Is something wrong?”
“It’s just that…” Mark looked at me and tried to find the words. “Remember Moses and the burning bush?”
“I just feel like…Maybe I ought to take off my shoes before I come in.”
That’s when I JUST ABOUT FELL DOWN ON MY FACE!
Lord, you teach me every day through these children! Yes! It was HOLY GROUND!
And now, there in the mosque, it was holy ground again. A chance to be Jesus’s hands and feet, standing beside my neighbors, loving them and counting them as the children of God they are. No matter how my feet looked.
It was a good day all around, I’d say, for a Baptist girl who loves God.