By Rev. Matt Koerber
We plan to conclude our blog by spending the final week thinking about application. We have addressed some challenging problems and we have heard some amazing stories. I hope that some readers are asking the question: “How do we respond?” Over this next week we will hear from people who have reflected on that question. At the end of the week I will try to present some ideas related to immigration policy.
For today’s post, I am going to go slightly off topic and advertise an event that is happening Monday, June 6th, from 7:00-9:00pm at the City Reformed Church office. While it does not relate directly to immigration, it connects strongly to our theme verse. When we think about “all of the nations streaming to the mountain of the Lord,” it is impossible for Americans to ignore our own racial history.
At this event – part of the “Agora Forum” series – we will watch and discuss one of the most intriguing documentaries that I have ever seen. “Accidental Courtesy” is a documentary from Independent Lens (PBS), which follows the story of a truly remarkable man. Subtitled “Daryl Davis, Race and America” it explores the life and mission of an African American musician who has a history of forming friendships with the most unlikely people. He forms friendships with members of the Ku Klux Klan. As a result of these relationships, dozens of people have left the Klan and other white supremacist groups.
Daryl Davis was driven by a simple question: “How can you hate me, if you don’t even know me?” He had traveled the world as an adolescent and had learned to relate to people of many different cultural backgrounds. Returning to the United States, he was surprised by the overt racism that endured. His adventures started accidentally, when he was playing country music at a bar in the South. He met someone from the audience who liked his music and as they talked over a beer the man sheepishly revealed that he was a member of the Klan. Undeterred, Eric pressed in. He asked questions and refused to back away. Then something extraordinary happened. The Klansman asked to see him the next time he was in town. Something had changed. He began to see Daryl as a friend.
When he left the Klan he gave his Klansman robes to Daryl.
The story was repeated in different ways in different places. Not everyone that Daryl talked with changed their mind. Not everyone thought of him as a friend. But his pursuit of friendship with members of the Klan is one of the strongest depictions of “loving your enemy” that I have ever seen. I found his courage to be inspirational and I was moved by the power of his compassion.
A trailer for the documentary can be viewed here: http://accidentalcourtesy.com/. The full documentary is available on Netflix. It can also be purchased through PBS (Independent Lens.)
On Monday night, we will watch (part of) the documentary. I am delighted to say that my friend, Eddie Jones will help to lead the discussion. Eddie is a pastor at Eternal City Church in Wilkinsburg – an intentionally multiracial congregation affiliated with the Acts 29 network. Eddie has been a wonderful conversation partner for me. He is man of great spiritual insights who is deeply committed to building bridges across social divides. I hope that you can join us, but if not… please check out the documentary.
Editor's note: the author's name has been removed from this post.
From a young age, I felt called to serve overseas in places where there is no Gospel witness. I grew up reading biographies of missionaries, and met many workers my church supported. As I grew in my faith, I learned that God made and loves all people. Scripture from beginning to end shows God’s heart for all nations, desiring that people from every people group would come to know Him and worship Him. God’s intent has always been for His people to be a city on a hill, a light shining in the darkness. He told Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. The Psalms and Prophets are full of passages showing God’s love for the nations. Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Revelation shows beautiful imagery of the throne of God surrounded by people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. As I looked at the places that seemed to have the greatest need, I was drawn toward Muslim areas. Millions of Muslims live and die having never met a Christian or hearing the Good News. Through college, God grew in me an interest in the Middle East, and following a trip to Jordan, I felt this confirmed.
I work for a Christian organization (I can't reveal the name for security purposes) that seeks to help Muslims follow Jesus. Its vision is to see the Gospel take root, grow, and multiply in Muslim communities, by coming alongside Muslims to share the Gospel, serve them in practical ways, and disciple them to follow Jesus.
I am part of a team working to launch environmental businesses in places with little or no access to the Gospel and jobs, beginning in North Africa. With a holistic view of mission, we are seeking to live out the Biblical mandates given to us as followers of Jesus. Having a mandate to care for and be stewards of the earth, we believe that we all have a responsibility and a role to play. From the beginning of the Biblical narrative in Genesis all the way through to Jesus’ teachings, we see a clear theme of stewardship. The gifts God has given us are never for ourselves, but are always intended to flow outwards in blessing to others. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. Further, we see in Scripture that we are created to work. Our work has been subjected to the curse, and thus we experience frustration and futility, though work is good nonetheless. Being able to provide jobs for those without opportunities allows us to love and bless our Muslim neighbors and help restore dignity. Business also provides a natural way to enter countries and contexts in which Christians might not otherwise have access genuinely and without pretense. Once we have entered those contexts, we can start building relationships.
We’re currently in the research phase of our project, and are looking to take an initial trip to the place we will be serving in early 2018, then launch our project and actually move overseas later that year.
Concurrently, we continue our mission to our Muslim neighbors here in Pittsburgh, as we work with the Somali Bantu, coming alongside them as we seek to love them unconditionally and serve them practically. In the context of deep, authentic friendships that we have formed with them, we work closely with the leadership of their community to identify their real and felt needs, and assist them in meeting those needs. This plays out in a variety of ways, including assisting in the development of a non-profit community organization, connecting them with practical resources such as beds, furniture, and clothing, teaching conversational English in their homes, and helping them create a for-profit urban farming venture. They’ve come to trust us at a level that often can take years, and we’ve seen God open doors, provide, and answer our prayers.
Muslims in the US & beyond
In their journeys to Pittsburgh, my Somali Bantu friends have experienced deep hardship and pain beyond what I can imagine, and yet they maintain joy and show a resiliency that is an inspiration to me. In Pittsburgh, they still face bullying, misunderstanding, and persecution. Their kids have been bullied downtown on their way to school. I had a friend tell me about a man who verbally attacked her at a bus stop while she waited with her kids. After a member of their community was targeted and killed, one friend’s children begged her to take them back to Somalia, a country they have never known.
My Muslim friends will tell you that terrorists are not real Muslims, often pointing to a verse in the Quran saying that killing one person is like killing all of humanity. We should not forget that today, all across the world, we see people of all creeds (both religious and secular) commit terrible acts in the name of their “beliefs”. We should also not forget that the vast majority of the victims of terrorist bombings are Muslims.
While extremism exists in the Muslim community, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people. They’re our neighbors, classmates, coworkers, and friends. They’re trying to practice their faith and build a life for themselves and their families. Their faith looks different than Christian faith, and the women may have their heads covered, but we are more similar than you might imagine.
For those in the US, they find themselves in a context where they often feel unwanted and unwelcome. For my Somali Bantu friends, the refugees trying to enter the US are people like them, and in many cases are their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Having had the opportunity to interact and befriend Muslims in different places throughout the years, I’ve found that Muslims tend to be some of the kindest and most hospitable people I’ve met, while being people like you and me with hopes and dreams for the future and their families. Just as most Christians have never met a Muslim, most Muslims have never met a Christian.
MK: Originally from Pittsburgh, Sarah teaches English in Iraq through an NGO. Her Christian faith compels her to cross boundaries and serve the people of Northern Iraq. When the presidential travel ban prompted international outcries and anger against Americans abroad, Sarah wrote a particularly insightful post. I have republished it here with her permission. These three short posts offer a window into her world.
Christians, why do we idolize the illusion of safety for our temporal time on earth over the potential guarantee of eternal security for another person? Have we drifted so far from the legacy of Jim Elliot?
January 30, 2017:
Today, driving home from school, The World's Greatest Taxi Driver* got quiet for a minute and said, “Sarah. Please be careful today and this week. Things are very strange right now with America. If anything happens, I will call you and come get you and Susanna and take you to my village.” What he didn’t say, but what I know to be true, is that he would also drive us 5 hours to the Turkish border at great personal risk to himself, to get us out of the country. And if it came down to it, I know that he would actually die for us. He is a Muslim from Iraq. The last few days have communicated to the community that I love and have made a home in that they, as individuals and collectively, are inherently suspect because of who they inherently are. When our fears over possible outcomes that are never going to be 100% preventable rule our hearts and minds, not only do we not win, but everyone loses. Americans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Yemenis, Iranians, Sudanese, Libyans, and the whole wide world. The whole world loses when we turn whole people groups into the boogeyman. Christians, do we really have such a poverty of trust in our Lord? Iraqis are not all angels. But nor are they all devils. They are varied and a very complicated collection of individuals of numerous tribes, ethnicities and religions bound together by geography (and a fierce love of chicken and rice). And each individual is just as fallen as I am, and just as loved by God. So, please, when you are obsessed with your own illusion of keeping your country safe from Muslims, know that there is a Muslim who has told these Christians that he would keep us safe. And he is not the only one.
(*Sarah introduced the “World’s Greatest Taxi Driver” in an earlier post.)
April 6, 2017:
For the last few years the mud swallows have returned to this nest outside our door each spring. Because it is messy and the birds are so loud, the nest was removed last week, just as the birds came back. But we were so sad about it. It seemed like one more small loss in a part of the world where there are so many large losses. A few days later, the swallows began to rebuild it in earnest. And an unknown neighbor left a note asking people to not destroy the nest. There are so many horrible and sad things that are happening in the world right now. And birds rebuilding nests do not give refugees homes or bring children dead in chemical attacks back from the grave. But there is a promise I am clinging to that there are no more tears at the end of all things. And that the Lord Christ is reigning over all. And sometimes I am reminded of that in birds and mud and notes from neighbors. Come, Lord Jesus.