“The season of peace is at hand.”
Christmas is just days away, and even many people who reject Christianity tend to share in the good will and hope that this season represents.
Just over a year ago, I met a lot of good people in Nigeria. Some were missionaries, some were Nigerian ministry workers, some were Nigerian church officials, and some were just average Nigerian folks. Almost all spoke actively of wanting peace, of wanting their country to have a better present, a better future, and a better image abroad. Almost all of them were Christians, howsoever informed, sincere, and successful they were in living that out.
I didn’t, though, interact significantly enough with Muslims. Some of the people whom I met at markets, some of the soldiers keeping roads safe, and some of the people who served my food were Muslims, but I didn’t get to really talk to them enough. I didn’t get to interview any about their hopes and dreams for their country. I didn’t get to ask any of them what it’s like for them living under the threat of radicals who claim to represent their faith while killing those who differ in what that means. It wasn’t a conscious omission but simply a result of our trip’s itinerary and the security situations there.
On the way home, though, I made a connection while waiting for our first flight.
My colleague was chatting away with a fellow computer expert from Texas, but they were on my right (nearly deaf) ear in a somewhat noisy room. I gave up trying to follow their conversation. Besides, I was thinking about getting home and how much I missed my family, and in front of me were two adorable Nigerian girls, about 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 years old. A smile turned into a few moments of playing copycat, with the girls enjoying the influence they seemed to exert over this big white man.
I complimented the parents about their children. I smiled. I showed them a picture of Karen and Billy, which they liked. The father smiled. He and I connected as just that, as fathers, and we spoke briefly about the joys and fears of that sacred, difficult role.
It was too brief, but in a country where sectarian violence has largely inhibited such interaction, we created a moment of peace, fellowship, and mutual understanding.
When we all left to board later, I shook his hand and told him, “May God bless you and your family,” and he replied in kind. I believe he knew that I meant the three-personed God of Christian belief, and I’m pretty sure he meant the Allah of Muslim belief, but we were able to offer and accept these blessings. Underneath our theological differences, we shared our humanity and, I believe, a sincere wish that things would go well for each other. I know that’s presumptuous on my part, but I prefer to focus on it as a choice to have faith.
We come from different religions with irreconcilable beliefs about the nature and identity of God, but we were able to join briefly like friends. Were we neighbors or otherwise in frequent enough contact, such interactions could surely make us friends, or at least open that door (Tracy and I look forward to developing such opportunities when we move to South Africa). With peace comes the chance for familiarity, with familiarity the chance for friendship, and with friendship the chance for respect and kindness, and with those comes the chance to discuss our beliefs.
I am a Christian. I am a missionary. I believe Jesus meant it when he told his followers in John 14:6 that he was the only way to God. If I didn’t believe the things he said, then I wouldn’t still follow him. But I also believe He meant it in Luke 10:27 and Mark 12:30-31 that the two most important commandments were to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love others as we love ourselves.
Please take a moment to pray for peace and healing for Nigerians and all other people suffering from terrorism, fear, and hatred. Pray for the health and safety of those trying to love their neighbors and for changed hearts among those who seek to divide and destroy. Pray for the leaders, that they might understand the situations well and choose the right solution to each problem.