Today, the Prince of Peace surprised me at the front door, dressed as three lovely teachers from the school next door who brought a gift and big card made by their preschoolers.
I live in a “little Jerusalem” in the Crossroads area of Bellevue. On one block are a Jewish synagogue, Muslim school, Mormon church, and Presbyterian church. It’s an opportunity for understanding and friendship. Fear and hatred live here, too.
Many months ago, hearing horrific world news and my neighbor’s comments about “the little terrorists” at the Muslim school nearby, I resolved to be friendly. I walked over to the school, introduced myself, and told teachers how happy I was the school was here. They looked at me quizzically, quickly apologizing for how noisy the children were. I told them, “No, no, I was a teacher, and love the happy sounds of children playing.” Their faces lit up. The preschool teacher invited me to please read a story to her children sometime, which surprised and delighted me.
At the end of the school year, I left a note for the teachers, wishing them a restful summer. I signed the note, “From your neighbor in the corner house.” I didn’t hear anything back, so I wondered if they’d gotten the note, or if I’d overstepped.
It’s an opportunity for understanding and friendship. Fear and hatred live here, too.
Last fall, I was outside raking leaves as two teachers walked by on their break. I smiled and said hello. As they slowed, I said, “Beautiful day.” They nodded, “Yes, it is.” I continued, “You know, I’m really glad you’re my neighbors.” Puzzled, one teacher searched my eyes and said quietly, “You are?” I said, “Yes, the school brings life to the neighborhood. I’m a Christian who believes Muslims and Christians have a lot in common. We’re both children of Abraham, love God, yearn for peace, care about morality and the education of our children, and want to be good citizens.” Smiles appeared. One teacher said energetically, “Yes, yes, we do! I am so pleased to hear you say these things! Thank you…thank you!” We waved goodbye as they continued on their walk, both teachers’ faces turned toward me, still smiling warmly.
Two weeks after the shocking news of the Paris and California terrorist attacks last year, and, hearing some violent reactions toward Muslims, I was nudged to visit the school again. The news shook me, but I wanted to show friendship at a time that must also be frightening for my Muslim neighbors. I wondered if I should bring a plate of cookies or something, but decided just to be me and trust God to give me the words. I put on a friendly pink jacket and scarf and walked up the school driveway.
Children were outside playing. Some pointed at me and yanked on their teachers’ coats. Have they been taught to report strangers? I’m a stranger, I realized. As I waved a happy-little-kid-wave and smiled, they seemed to relax and go back to playing. I introduced myself to a couple of teachers, saying “I love hearing the children playing.” Like last time, they quickly apologized for the noise, and I reassured them I live next door and love having the school as my neighbor. Then I said something about my prayers for hope and peace at this difficult time. The teachers’ faces softened. The teacher next to me seemed more trusting and told me one of their teachers recently moved into a house near me. I said I would welcome her, and went home feeling good about walking over.
I wanted to show friendship at a time that must also be frightening for my Muslim neighbors.
Today, even though I haven’t yet read the story to the preschool, or welcomed my new neighbor like I said I would, God blessed me. I was surprised to find three women wearing beautiful hijabs, standing at my front door. They smiled and asked, “Are you the one who left us the note, the one who visited?” I nodded yes, and they said, “My name is Fouzia, I am Saniya, and I’m Kathy. We are so grateful for you and want to wish you a happy holiday. Our preschoolers made this card, and we want you to have this gift.”
I felt God’s love wash over me. With tears in my eyes, I hugged these lovely women. And despite my dirty house, I invited them in, turned on the Christmas tree lights, and ran to find them small gifts. As we chatted merrily, they looked at the tree, the nativity set, the candles and Santa. I gave them each a Kind Bar, all I could find, and a preschool book. Fouzia asked me to sign the book, again inviting me to read a story to her preschool. “At twelve-thirty, any day, please call Kathy in the office first.” “I guess she really means it,” I told myself.
There are unexpected surprises when I move past fear to respond in love.
As they left, I told them, “May you be blessed with the gifts of Advent: hope, peace, joy and love,” which they received joyfully. At the last minute, I sputtered goodbye in the only Persian phrase I know which sounds like “hoda hofis.” More than good bye, it means “go with God.” Fouzia beamed, saying “Oh, yes, I am half Iranian, yes, the words mean ‘Go with God.’ Yes, hoda hofis!”
I closed the door giggling. The Prince of Peace was here today, I whispered to myself. He was present among young Muslim teachers and a Christian grandma who chose to be friendly. And, in that moment, His promises of hope, peace, joy and love for the world were felt by all.
“God really means it,” I think to myself. There are unexpected surprises when, as Pastor Scott Dudley teaches, I move past fear to respond in love. I’m so glad I reached out. Now I must show I really mean it by welcoming that new neighbor, reading that storybook, and listening for other ways God shows up when I choose love.