When I think about diversity making an appearance in my life, the first place I think of is my very own Kirkland Costco. When I walk through the aisles, I am always amazed by the vast selection of food that was not available there ten years ago. Better yet, go out to the Southcenter Costco, where the selection puts Kirkland’s to shame. Growing up and walking through these same aisles, I do not recall having a variety of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, etc. foods available to me.
Okay, this is a pretty shallow example of seeing diversity in my life, but it points to the makeup of the greater Seattle area. Thanks to companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, our region brings in the brightest minds from around the world.
Growing up in this area, I was pretty sheltered from the incredible diversity that our city has to offer us. I attended a small private school where the majority of my classmates were white and all were nominally Christian.
We took classes like World Religion and World History, but these both emphasized the historical presence of other peoples and faiths. When I graduated, my school had taught me that Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and other belief systems were all faiths of the past, that these religions did not exist any longer, and that Christianity had “beat” them. It was an arrogant view and while I do believe that Christianity is the true faith, and there are real differences between Christianity and these other religions, it doesn’t mean I can deny their existence. (It boggles my mind that I can look back on my 18-year-old self and say this is what I thought given that I was 12 when 9/11 happened.)
I was not completely blind to the fact that there is an “other” out there. It just never occurred to me to be afraid of it.
But I was also very lucky growing up. My parents took my sister and me all over Europe and we hosted Japanese exchange students when I was a child. So I was not completely blind to the fact that there is an “other” out there. It just never occurred to me to be afraid of it.
I went to college and then into a semester-long study abroad program in the United Arab Emirates….that then turned into two semesters. For the first time my faith was really tested. Many of my new friends were devout Muslims: praying five times a day, the women wore hijab, and the men refused to even shake my hand, even after knowing me for a year. And they did not hesitate to ask me questions about my God and challenge my long-held assumptions. To my surprise, even my Westernized friends still maintained the truth of Islam.
I have to admit it rattled me. I had no idea how to defend my faith beyond saying, “It’s faith! I just believe it!” It may surprise you to hear that that is a less-than-impressive argument.
And they began to tell me about Islam and what they find beautiful about it. And they are right: in many ways it is a beautiful, peaceful, loving faith. The Qur’an is a beautifully written work, many ideas are the same between Christianity and Islam, and the Islam of the Qur’an and the Hadith is deeply respectful of Christians and Jews.
And so this new (to me) religion shaped the next five years of my life, and potentially will shape it more in the future. I returned to Virginia and graduated with a B.A. in International Relations in the Middle East. I then went on for my Master’s in Islam at the University of Washington. I had no career aspirations in the field, but simply wanted to learn about my brothers and sisters who confess Islam.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what is this girl doing working for a church? Well, as lovely as I find Islam, it cannot offer me what Christ can. I am offered a Father, a savior, a redeemer, and forgiveness.
But I can’t give up on my friends – or one billion people – simply because we don’t have the same beliefs. The different ideologies, the new culture, and unique perspectives they expose me to are invaluable. It’s not my job to change their minds. All I can do is care for them as Jesus would and show them his love. My prayer is that someday we will all be part of the same body.
I am offered a Father, a savior, a redeemer, and forgiveness.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body…” (Selections from 1 Corinthians 12)