Indifference to compassion: Loving the Muslim World

“Much of our ministry is pervaded with judgments. Often quite unconsciously we classify our people as very good, good, neutral, bad, and very bad. These judgments influence deeply the thoughts, words, and actions of our ministry. Before we know it, we fall into the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Those whom we consider lazy, indifferent, hostile, or obnoxious we treat as such, forcing them in this way to live up to our own views. And so, much of our ministry is limited by the snares of our own judgments. These self-created limits prevent us from being available to people and shrivel up our compassion.” – Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

 

If you’d asked me a month ago if I had prejudice toward Muslims or Arabs in general I would’ve responded with an emphatic no. When I came across a covered woman or saw people walking into a mosque in America, I did not feel a whole lot of anything; which I considered to be a good thing. Now here I am not “belonging” to the culture and faith of this nation and seeing from a whole new perspective how my apathy was not beneficial in ministry. (Is it ever though?) Never had I recognized that my indifference toward the Muslim world was leaving me in lack of a real place within me that God would prefer to cultivate into a heart of compassion.

 

Upon our arrival into this nation we had a quick layover in a very busy airport. I rushed in to use the ladies room unassumingly preoccupied with my needs when I was taken off guard emotionally. I walked in to find a woman, who moments ago I’d walked past fully covered from the world, to her whole head, hair, and radiant face exposed as she adjusted herself in this space. All of the sudden a place of convenience for me became a place of encountering the face of a woman hidden away from my own heart connecting with moments before. There she’d been like a tree in a whole forest and now the only life standing before me. I felt deep conviction and honor that I was able to see her smiling eyes. This was the start of an invitation to let my heart expose itself for how it truly feels towards Arabs and mosques, and to replace these with a vibrant heart longing for connection to the people of this nation.

 

Since this encounter, I’ve had many conversations with both men and women who have continued to surprise me. (Side note: I could easily write an entire blog post on the positive ways that Arabs surprise me with their hospitality and generosity – definitely not a side of things we see portrayed when our news stations broadcast this side of the world). They surprise me by what we have in common; the emotions we share on a daily basis, the desire to see good in all things, the love for our families. I’ve also been surprised by what we do not have in common; a belief in a distant God that would never become a man to take away my sin, an oppression towards women with an overall acceptance of this norm, and a perpetual need to cleanse myself approved before the creator of all things. With all of these commonalities and differences, the prayer stirred up within me is, “O God, let my heart be moved by this – whether in mourning or rejoicing, let me be able to feel with these people. Let my judgments not prevent me from entering into a place of deep love and compassion as you had Jesus when you looked out into the crowds seeing them harassed and helpless. Give me a vibrant heart and let my heart speak to theirs that those around me would see the light of the face of Christ shining upon me. Draw them with the love of Your Son.”

 

May it always be the influence of our compassion and not our judgement that guides our hearts.

 

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