I’ve taken my kids to countries in Africa for the past decade. Waking to the Muslim call to prayer that broke the early morning silence in the city became a normal part of our trips.
Our ears were filled with foreign languages and our mouths with unique foods and fives times a day, many in the city would stop, roll down their shop doors and roll out their mats and they would stop to pray.
On one of those first trips, when my youngest was only four years old, we walked past a group of women, covered head-to-toe in solid black burkas with only small slits for their eyes visible and she tugged on my arm. I leaned down and she asked in her tiny innocent voice if the “black angels” were good or bad. Her heart was pure but her question still broke my heart because she asked it in fear of what she didn’t understand.
I whispered that they were good.
I don’t ever want my children to think that something different is bad.
If we believed that, we literally wouldn’t be living this life– we wouldn’t have experienced the best relationships with people from different countries, eaten the most delicious food we can’t pronounce with our hands, visited mosques and temples where we felt welcomed or been exposed to incredible cultural experiences.
As we exposed our children to the world, we also exposed them to people of different races, cultures and faith. It’s easy to be afraid of what is different and it’s tempting to consider opposing beliefs as bad. As my kids have grown, two of them into near-adults, they have remembered this and the golden rule: to treat others as they would want to be treated.
Now when they call to tell me about their burden for buddhist and hindu international students on campus or explain their compassion for their gay or transgender friends or share their political views that go against evangelical norms, I’m proud that loving the world has turned my kids into people who think for themselves, but mostly they understand that above all our differences, love wins.
I think it might be what we’ve gotten wrong most as Christians in our culture–how we are tempted to build taller fences to keep people out, when the Gospel compels us to build a bench instead. What if instead of quarreling with those we think are wrong we question our heart that longs to be right? What if instead of talking about our neighbors who dress and worship differently, we invite them over to break bread and share recipes? What if we loved no matter what?
“Phone someone before it’s too late. Agree to deeply love been when you deeply disagree. Reach across a fence and unleash kindness. Tear down a fence and build a bench. Sit with the benched and usher in more of the Kingdom.” -Ann Voskamp
We still believe what we believe and as a family we stand on the absolute truths in the Bible. Loving people who are different hasn’t changed who we are, but it has changed how we love. It hasn’t made us weaker Christians, it’s made us stronger.
Recently, I sat with my kids on the floor of a Muslim home. We sipped hot tea and we swapped stories with our friends. After some time, the women we were talking to removed their head coverings and I remembered my not-so-little girl’s question about “black angels” so long ago. As she colored with her new friend on the floor, she was not afraid. Her question had been answered long ago.
When we love our neighbors we don’t agree with or understand, we tear down the fence and build a bench.