Today, our local International Rescue Committee organization hosted a solidarity event at the Islamic Society of Wichita while their members were gathering for Friday prayers. We stood outside, held signs, and let them know that we are with them. That we are for them.
But before the event I met my new friend, Ratna, for a tour and some lunch in the well-worn gym. I was running a little early so I sat by myself on the concrete fountain in front of the building.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was warming me. I could smell the food cooking. A suburban in the parking lot said, “Girl Scout Cookies For Sale!” written in white shoe polish on the dark windows.
Pretty soon, Ratna pulled up in her minivan, tagged along behind by her 5-year-old son with his bright blue iPad and headphones. He was watching a Pokemon cartoon and was humming along to the songs. Skipping as he went. Ratna smiled, hugged me, and led me inside for a tour of their worship space.
It was a beautiful building. Everyone that we passed smiled and said hello. The people were on their way to prayers- women in one room, men in another. Ratna explained to me that it is not at all a matter of not valuing women, but rather, that they separate so that they might fully focus on prayer and devotion to God.
Well, I get that. Being in church ministry for 12 years, I have had enough conversations with people that are only attending so that they might hook up with the opposite sex.
We then went into the gymnasium for lunch. The aroma was incredible. Falafel, gyros, and biryani were made by hand in the small kitchen. A-Maz-Ing. Also in the gymnasium was the Girl Scout Cookie mom. She was helping her daughter reach her goal of selling 1,000 boxes so that she could win a trip to Great Wolf Lodge. Of course, I bought Thin Mints. I asked her if she was close to her 1,000th sale. She said “almost” and her mom giggled– “We’re at about 150.”
Ratna and I discussed her upbringing in Indonesia and a little bit about our personal faiths but mostly the conversation centered around the chaos swirling around our country right now and the anxiety that she feels she herself, her family, and her community. Hyper-vigilant, she said.
My heart felt heavy. I have only known her a short time but her heart is gold. She is so funny and open and kind. I am so glad that I have had the blessing of knowing her and her family. And today was a new kind of blessing. I was there for a solidarity event- to support her community. But every time that I open myself to this kind of experience, I am blessed more than I can even describe here.
I met another man at the event- a minister. He was standing on the sidewalk with a sign that said, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in three different languages. He smiled and said, “Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Because our neighbor IS us. What happens to our neighbor, happens to us.”
My heart is full.
I worshiped my God with biryani and new friends.
I saw a small glimpse of the vastness of my God. In the smiles, the handshakes, the friendly waves.
I drove away from that place with the windows rolled down.
With a song on my lips.
This was church.