I trade my shorts for blue jeans, even though it is 90 degrees inside and out. It has been so long since I wore long pants, I’ve forgotten what it feels like. I print out a short note, translated by Google into Arabic. I arrange a few freshly baked cookies on a plate and take a deep breath. This is hard for me, so hard. To do something as big as introduce myself when it is so much easier to stay home; to do something as small as offer cookies when the need for love to bridge the gap and heal the wounds is so great. I’m not sure which of these makes tears well up in my eyes, but they do and stay there.
Overdressed for the weather, cookies in hand, I head out the door. It is a short walk. It is sunset. It is Ramadan.
It is not my holiday, but then, I am not heading to my home. I am a neighbor. I find the right building and eventually the right door. I knock.
She opens the door, dressed all in black from head to toe. She speaks no English and I no Arabic. Between my hand gestures, my translated note, and my cookies, at least part of the point comes across. My note explains how I came to know of the tragedy she is experiencing; of the pain her community is undergoing; that the cookies are a gift as she breaks her day’s fast; that I am grateful to have her as a neighbor and will pray for her family. She invites me into her living room.
I stay only for a while—we can only smile awkwardly at each other for so long—but it is good to be here, to be neighbors, and to sit together as people with real lives.
As I go to the door, she indicates that I can come anytime, and I try to do the same. As the door closes behind me, the tears finally spill out.
I cry because my cookies can do little to sweeten grief because my presence can do little to ease the loneliness of injustice. But my tears also come out of relief. Relief in having found the courage to begin as a neighbor. And for the joy of looking into the eyes of another human being, so different in every way from myself, and finding a friend.
Not all of us can travel the world on mission. But for many of us, our own towns and neighborhoods are home to immigrants and refugees, brothers and sisters from far-off countries who have come to us. It is so easy to stay in our own comfort zones, our own circle of friends. We romanticize the idea of buying a plane ticket to minister to those far away, yet rarely consider those in our midst that might need a neighbor, a sister, a friend.
As Christians, we believe the living God came and made his dwelling among us…but we chose to reject his presence. We also believe that anyone who is hungry, thirsty, in need of shelter, or in prison is him, the living God, once again making his dwelling among us. Will we see him? Will we go out and meet him?
The pain and injustice in our world is staggering; the walk across the street can seem insurmountable. The plate of cookies is too small to ease the pain, but there is no gift more powerful than the offer of genuine friendship.
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” —James 2:1, 8-9a NLT