Arab and Christian!

During a recent visit to Abu Muhammed’s house, several new children from the neighborhood joined us. Bishara tried to continue with the story of creation, but the kids were having difficulty paying attention.

Bishara cut the story short, and we sang some songs again. This time I looked around and saw that the mother and the father were singing with us. Abu Muhammed’s eyes were closed, and he looked as peaceful as I have ever seen him.

Bishara made sure to pray with the group, explaining again how we close our eyes when we talk to God in order to focus our minds on prayer.

Just before we began praying, one of the older children pointed and asked “But don’t we need to pray in that direction?” (In Islam prayers are done toward a specific direction). Bishara answered that we don’t have to pray in a specific direction because God can hear us no matter what direction we pray toward, for he is God.

After the prayer, Lubna presented the children with a huge chocolate cake and brought out special gifts: little containers of play-dough. The news of the free gifts spread quickly, and kids from the neighboring houses starting trickling into the house. Lubna kindly but firmly told those who arrived late to come back next week to hear the Bible story, as the gifts are for those who come to the meeting.

As they were leaving, some of the preteen boys asked Bishara, “Are you Arab or Christian?”

“I am Arab, and Christian,” he responded. “And Christian, and Arab.”

The term “Arab” is not religious, but ethnic. It denotes a people group. The term Muslim, however, does denote a religious group. Sometimes I imagine that only we westerners have trouble understanding the difference between ethnic and religious categories: apparently this is not so! These boys had confused the two, assuming that to be truly “Arab” meant being Muslim. How glorious that Bishara could be a living example for these kids of the falsity of this claim!

After overcoming their bewilderment at this, they asked my name. We told them “Yohanna,” (an Arabic form of John). They couldn’t pronounce it at first, so Bishara encouraged them by saying, “It’s easy, it is an Arabic name, Yohanna!”

“Yohanna? That’s not Arabic,” the boys said. “Muhammed is an Arabic name.”

It looks as though they are not yet convinced that the terms Arab and Muslim are not synonymous. We pray that as we spend more time with these children, the Holy Spirit will touch their hearts and change their preconceived assumptions.

As we were leaving, Abu Muhammed stood outside the driver’s side window of the van and asked Bishara “How do you see me?”

Bishara told him that he finds him to be an honorable and respectful man. He urged him to speak with love and calmness to his children, and to refrain from yelling and threatening them. Abu Muhammed listened carefully. We pray that the Holy Spirit will continue working in him, transforming him from the inside out and giving new life to every member of his family.

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