I was driving today and decided I wanted a coke with peanuts in it, it’s a 70s thing. So I pulled into a convenience store where I knew the owner. I went to a store that I have been in a few times. The owner is Ibrahim, whom I know on a first name basis as we talk from time to time when I go into store. He is from Syria, and I speak pretty good Arabic so I go into his store to polish up on my language skills when I can.
My Father was a missionary to Mexico so I was bi-lingual in English and Spanish even as a small child. I have traveled extensively in the Middle East in my oil business ventures and with a friend Khalid from Palestine. I have learned a lot about Arabic culture and speak Arabic decently enough to be considered almost tri-lingual, and have even preached in a Chaldean church in Bagdad. I enjoy the opportunity to speak Arabic when I get the opportunity as I have not traveled to the Middle East in some time.
Anyhow, back to the story. I walk into the store and say to him marhaba, which means hello in Arabic. We exchange small talk and I get my Coke-Cola and some peanuts pour my peanuts into my Coke, and we stand exchanging small talk for a few minutes. As I look to my left, down the hall, toward the office I see an elderly man sitting in a chair, his head buried in his hands, his elbows resting on his thighs, and he is weeping.
I ignore him at first but after 5 or 10 minutes I keep looking at him and he is still weeping into his hands. I say to Ibrahim, Shufi mafi, meaning what’s up or what’s wrong. He tells me that the man in the hallway is his uncle, and he is weeping because he buried his wife after 52 years of marriage, two days ago. He is hanging out in the store to be around family, as his brother and his nephews run the store.
I immediately feel something inside me urging me, wanting to pray for Him. I watched my grandmother mourn deeply in pain, after my grandfather died. I ask Ibrahim to please introduce me to his uncle. I introduce myself and we speak in Arabic as he does not speak any English. I tell him that I am sorry for his loss and I explain to him that I am a Christian, but I would like to pray with him. He tells me “I am Mahmud, I am Muslim, not Christian”. I then ask him if he is the seed of Abraham. He indicates to me that he is. I ask him in Arabic if he serves the God of Abraham. He tells me he does. I tell him that I too serve the God of Abraham, and I would consider it an honor to pray to the God of Abraham with him for comfort. He indicates that he is too distraught to pray, and that he is uncomfortable having a Christian pray with him.
Ibrahim indicates to his uncle that I am a friend so he allows me to pray for him. At first I pray in Arabic, in prayers that are familiar to him as his sits looking at me. But I need to talk to God, in words that I cannot explain in Arabic, so I began to speak in English and Ibrahim begins to interpret for his uncle. As I pray I feel God in the very depth of me, and the Him reaching out to Mahmud in love. I place my hand on his shoulder and pray for God to comfort him and to bring healing to his shattered and broken heart. As I pray he reaches out and takes my hand and we began to pray together, at first I am praying in English, he is praying in Arabic, but after a few seconds we are both praying in Arabic. We are praying to God, acknowledging his greatness, accepting His mercy and thanking Him for His goodness and asking Him for mercy for a broken heart. A Muslim….A Christian…and we are praying the same prayer, word for word. He is weeping, I am weeping…and we are saying together Alhamdulillah, which means thank God, and we do thank Him, together.
Mahmud grabs and hugs my neck and he says to me, ana b’hebbak akhi, which means I love you brother, and I tell him that I love him too. And at that moment, I knew ….this is the power and love of God which transcends every race, every creed, ever culture. God is God, and no matter what religion, what race, if we can reach out to each other in the love of God, our lives will be changed. Today changed my life, today changed Mahmud, and Ibrahim’s life, and regardless of the circumstance, the love of God was shared, doors were opened and lives were changed.
I pray that God opens more doors like this in my future, as I believe it is my calling to share my faith with those who do not believe in God as I do. Ibrahim and Mahmud and I share different theological differences. They believe that they should share their interpretation of God with me that, I might be converted, as I do with them. And so it goes, but today, I met a Muslim, a man in need. He met a Christian, who had religious views different from Him, and we prayed and wept together.
In the end, God being God heard a prayer, showed mercy and love, and for a minute there was not a Muslim, not a Christian but two men earnestly praying before God, together. I pray the Lord opens more doors of opportunity for the love of God to be expressed in my life, as today was one of the greatest blessings in my life. Today I met a Muslim, and gained a friend, may the Lord be glorified.