Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Masses

“She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe.”  Mark 5:27

I braced myself for that all too familiar wave, poised to descend and crash down on me, of feeling overwhelmed. Every time I visit Toronto it happens to me. There is such a large presence of Muslims who live in certain areas of the large multicultural city. I can get overwhelmed with the challenge.

We were hungry for chicken curry and naan and found a Pakistani restaurant which was next door to a huge mosque.  A Muslim man wearing Pakistani clothes and sporting a long beard walked across the street at the same time. He looked formidable giving the appearance of a fundamentalist. Ed engaged in conversation with him and found out he had recently come from the very same town in Pakistan where we first lived. After we crossed the street Jamal and Ed continued in friendly conversation on the street corner while I stood quietly beside Ed waiting to move on. The man was in no hurry. For Jamal it was amazing that somebody would care enough to talk to him. As we waited for our chicken curry we took in the scenes of the restaurant. There were partitioned areas curtained off for privacy for women who prefer strict segregation. Suddenly from behind one curtained off area a woman in face niqab and black cloak emerged. A little girl all dressed up in purple and frills ran around. I beckoned for her to come to me. Shyly she approached me. I asked Fatima where she was from. “Somalia,” she answered. I told her that was where I grew up. “Are you Muslim?” she inquired. “No, Fatima, I’m a Christian.”  There was silence as she stared at me.  “Is that okay with you?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied and then ran back to her table. But I knew she was trying to process that she was actually seeing and talking to a Christian; probably for the first time. Then the manager who excelled in pleasant public relation skills came over to our table offering us free dessert. He was eager to get more regular clients. In our conversation he informed us that he was a Muslim from India. He had married a classmate from university in the States. She had converted to Islam. My heart sunk. Oh no, not again, I thought. “Does she wear the hijab?” I asked. “Yes, she has totally become one of us. My mother taught her about Islam.”

Everywhere in that area of Toronto are masses of Muslims from all over the world. How much more in Cairo, Karachi, or Tehran! I can easily get overwhelmed by the masses. What difference can I make? Where do I even begin? Then I reflect on Jesus. He encountered the masses, too. As He moved among the masses He focused on an individual man, woman, or child.  Likewise when I encounter masses of Muslims I will start by engaging with a Muslim crossing the street, a little girl in a restaurant, or a manager of a restaurant.

Dear heavenly Father, please help me not to get so overwhelmed by the masses that I can’t see the individual in my path. In Jesus’ name, Amen.