Ruthe and I were at the mall this afternoon. She wandered into housewares and heard the accent of one of the employees. She asked about his accent, learned he was from a European country, and was attending a local university. When she asked about his major, he mentioned philosophy – with a religion minor. After several minutes of conversation, Ruthe asked if he practiced a particular faith.
That is when it got interesting.
The following is a summary of the conversation.
“I don’t. I’m just interested in religion – various religions and how they relate.”
“Are you attending a church in this area?”
“No, and I never will go back to church again.”
” Really? What happened?”
“I was attending a church for several months, but I walked out one day – and I won’t be back.”
“The minister started complaining about Islam. He stated that Muslims have no right to be in America. He said that all Muslims care about is making bombs and destroying America, and we should not tolerate them. We should just send them back. That was enough for me. I got up and left. For a religion of love, I’ve never heard so much hatred.”
Ruthe apologized for what was said. She also stated that it made her angry to hear this. He turned to help a customer and she called me. After I heard the story, we approached the young man – who was now talking to a young woman. I introduced myself, and he introduced his wife to us. We talked about some common interests for a few moments.
I also told them that I was sorry about what had happened. I shared that Jesus taught his followers to treat all people with respect – especially those who are seeking answers. (1 Peter 3:15)
His wife mentioned the fact that we live in a very religious area, but she had never met so many gossips and hypocrites. He added that he had been reading some Christian blogs that were extremely anti-Muslim and pro-Israel. As a result, he was intrigued with Islam.
Neither one seemed angry – just matter-of-fact.
The young couple turned to each other to discuss personal business and Ruthe and I stepped away. She handed me one of the “Invite” cards we use at Hope, and I returned to the couple. Handing them the card with our name and phone number on it, I invited them to have dinner with us at their convenience – no agenda – we simply wanted to be friends. He took the card and seemed sincerely grateful.
My reflections on the encounter?
1. Anyone can do what Ruthe did – show interest, ask questions, listen, be friendly, move toward discerning spiritual interest.
2. Divine appointments can take place anywhere – even in the housewares department at a store at a mall in Tupelo, MS.
3. We Christians are our own worst enemies. When cultural Christianity replaces biblical truth, when confessing Christians exhibit untransformed behavior, when fear of strangers replaces faith in a sovereign God, and when hatred replaces love – we drive off the very people drawn to Jesus. The salt has lost its savor.
Pray for our new friends – that we will have that dinner, that a friendship will be nurtured, and that Jesus will be seen in us.