Strangers are friends we have not met

You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as he has known you. (Deuteronomy 9:24)

We called a Pastor Liz Hanley a year ago in part because of her extensive training and interest in cross-cultural issues. She has been encouraging us to be much more engaged with the community around our congregation, especially our many Muslim neighbors. Houston is the most diverse city in the country. On a walk one morning in a local park I overheard conversations in five different languages. I like that about Houston. We have large mosques all over town, a couple of them within walking distance of our church.

Last Christmas one Muslim group delivered a gigantic fruit basket to our church to wish us well as we celebrated the Christmas story of God’s intervention into human affairs as a helpless infant.

Last spring an adult forum studied a series about the basics of the Muslim faith. A few weeks ago our congregation arranged to visit these neighbors who’d been so gracious last December. Fifty Lutherans (about a third of our congregation) went to get to know our Muslim neighbors. Over the course of the next few hours many connections were made around things we have in common – children, schools, Houston traffic, etc. The reaction on both sides was heart-warming and encouraging.

Now we have this sign out in front of our church. It has gone viral and international as nothing else we’ve ever done has. I’m told we’ve had over one million responses so far and it’s only been up for a few days. Many of the responses are grateful comments from members of the Muslim community. People have posted on Facebook, e-mailed the church and a few have even called to express their gratitude.

Someone – probably my mother – taught me the best way to deal with an enemy is to convert them into a friend. It takes little effort to extend the invitation of friendship to people we don’t yet know. There’s a sign that hangs at Camp Lutherhill that reads, “There are no strangers here. Only friends we have not met.”

I am not naïve. I know there are some very evil and dangerous people among us. This is all the more reason why we need to get to know one another, so that working together we can protect ourselves and our loved ones.

I have trouble understanding why people who claim to love God can so easily dismiss large portions of the humanity God has created in God’s own image. It takes so little effort to reach out. The results are so worth it.

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