Friday, September 18, 2015


….Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.  I Corinthians 9:22b

Ed and I and two year old Christina were invited to a Muslim home shortly after arrival in Pakistan. I remember the visit clearly because I never saw the wife. We were led to a guest living room.  She would pass food to her husband through a curtained off doorway to serve us. I kept wondering when the wife would come in and join us. Such was my introduction to segregation in a conservative Pakistani home.  Now I know from experience it would have been wiser if I would have asked if I could be with his wife in the other room.

One of the first impressions we have to come to grips with in Muslim ministry is the issue of segregation of the genders; not only in majority Islamic countries, but also in secular western nations where Muslims reside. Sometimes as Christian women we may sit with our husband and Muslim man while his wife remains out of sight, usually in the kitchen. Sometimes Ed and I are separated entirely into different rooms. Normally the children were with me when they were younger.  The wife will join me but the Muslim man may serve Ed in the other room. You never know quite what to expect when it comes to social protocol.  Every culture and every family is different. This is not about Islam, but about cultural preferences. Frequently Ed and I will eat with the whole family together but then the women prefer to go off to another room to visit after eating. The men usually remain in the living room.

After more than three decades engaged with Muslims I still have not gotten accustomed to this segregation and occasionally forget to check about it. Recently we invited a family for tea which included five daughters. We ate all together. They gave the appearance of frozen statues which really bothered me. Why were the women just not entering into the conversation, I wondered? It was only after they left that it dawned on me that I should have taken the women to another room. They would have felt much more at ease and so would I have!  One way to gauge if segregation might be preferred is whether the women wear hijabs. If they wear an abaya cloak you can be pretty sure they will desire to be segregated. Just ask them if they would like to be together or prefer a separate place.  Seldom do women without head coverings prefer segregation except to enjoy “women talk” especially after a meal.

After Ed and I got married we temporarily moved into a rural Mennonite farming town. Although no longer practiced among Ed’s particular people group, at that time men and women sat on opposite sides in church. After eating a meal in their homes usually men and women would move into separate areas to enjoy men and women’s talk. God began preparing me at that time for segregation.  I flourish best when male and females are mixed but some customs are necessary to carry out to identify with people.

Dear heavenly Father, please help me to understand best how to culturally identify with people to show love.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.