Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of North Carolina homeschoolers and then leading them on a tour of their neighborhood mosque.
The students were of varying ages, ranging from early elementary through high school, and they were members of a homeschool association rooted in a local evangelical church. The church facility sits only a hundred yards from the mosque, and one progressive-minded mom from the homeschool group decided she wanted her kids to know their neighbors at the mosque.
The homeschool mom had participated in one of our training events a couple of years ago, so she knew about Peace Catalyst International's focus on building bridges of peace and friendship between Muslims and evangelical Christians. Thus, she contacted us and requested both a speaker and help connecting with the Muslims across the street.
We have growing friendships, rooted in mutual respect and trust, with the leaders of this particular mosque, so setting up the tour was an easy endeavor. At the church on the appointed morning, I addressed the teens for an hour and then the younger kids for 45 minutes. The idea was that I would give them an overview of Islam and how Christians should love Muslims and promote peace in the way of Jesus.
A few minutes before we would go across the street to the mosque, I asked the kids if they had ever been to a mosque and how they were feeling about our pending visit. All confirmed that they had never visited a mosque. As for how they were feeling, a few seemed ambivalent but most expressed excitement.
And then one little boy blurted out that his teenage sister, who was also in the group, said she was afraid that the Muslims across the street would kill her!
Not wanting to embarrass the girl further, I did not single her out but rather assured the entire group that the Muslims across the street are my friends and that they would welcome this Christian group with immense warmth and kindness.
So we made our way across the street, where a Muslim oncologist, his delightful and strong-minded wife, and another dear Muslim woman welcomed us. The doctor, a very gentle man, is a lay leader in the mosque and serves as the Outreach Director. Our Muslim friends led the students on a cleverly-organized tour of the mosque, which ended in the prayer hall with the kids asking some funny and terrific questions.
One student asked what life is like for Muslims in America. The physician’s wife chose to focus on the positive with her answer, and it moved many of us to tears. She said that they were living in a small town in Maryland when 9/11 occurred. In the immediate aftermath, there were many general threats against Muslims. Aware of the threats, a group of Jesus-following women came to the mosque and to the homes of Muslim women to accompany them on trips to the market, thus acting as human shields to protect the Muslim women while they carried out essential duties.
After the tour had ended, both the Christian moms and the Muslim leaders approached me and thanked me profusely for making the connection happen. It was a great experience for all of us, and I was very pleased.
It was a couple of days later, however, when the enormity of what had happened hit me. I remembered the teenage girl who was afraid that the Muslims would kill her. Because of a simple trip across the street to the mosque, this teenager met some wonderful Muslim people, and I am confident that we broke a cycle of irrational fear which may well have been passed on to future generations.
Often, all it takes to overcome irrational fear and hatred is a simple trip across the street. Or across the room. Or maybe across the city. The point is that what we do in Peace Catalyst International is not rocket science. Rather, it's the simple matter of getting people to open their hearts and begin relationships.