Real Love is Infectious by Liza Burchman
**Names have been changed in this article to protect the privacy of friends and family.
Growing up in the wake of 9/11, I saw so many changes take place in our country as I watched the news on the television screen. From TSA to the Boston Pops, security was heightening around me. The following decade of my life was illustrated from a perspective of fear. News headlines seemed to point rather quickly toward a specific people group, leaving out the truth that some individuals were acting alone. As a result, I allowed the media culture of America to shape my thinking during my childhood.
Now twenty-two, I moved to Jerusalem for five months of study abroad, and my entire perspective on compassion changed. I encountered people and situations that pushed me out of my comfort zone and deeper into God's overarching plan for my life. Instead of fear, I began to feel God's love for all the people in front of me, despite our cultural differences (something that I learned on our Dominican Republic Missions Trip in HLI). I felt a sense of joy in having the chance to know so many unique people. I grew deeper and deeper into friendships of all kinds, especially with a local Palestinian family.
Sejad and his son Maheer own a family business in the Old City of Jerusalem that I would visit on occasion. They were always kind to me, and would hospitably offer juice, tea, and baklava when I walked into their shop (adhering to the ancient cultural custom of hospitality; Genesis 18:1-8).
On one occasion Maheer and I talked about what life is like for a Palestinian Israeli, and he shared his experiences with me (specifically the metal detector controversy at the Dome of the Rock last summer). Sejad and Maheer actively acknowledged their faith as Muslims while accepting me as a Christian, and there remains a respect between us.
When the month of Ramadan (May 15th - June 14th, 2018) made its way into Jerusalem, I saw amazing changes in the Old City. Green lights and paper lanterns were strung everywhere, while Jerusalem's favorite falafel man began making atayef (simple and tasty pancakes meant for dessert after dinner).
Maheer shared with me that some families would gather at the Dome of the Rock and lay out a blanket to spend the day there with their community. Because Ramadan is a time of fasting for all Muslims, there wouldn't be any food during the day, but plenty of refreshing water shared together. While mostly everyone would be hangry, they'd be hangry together.
During Ramadan, Sejad and Maheer had been fasting with their family during the day as an act of prayer but broke the fast at night by eating together. When I visited Sejad and Maheer that day, they were as busy as ever helping customers and organizing the shop. In the middle of the craziness, Maheer invited me to eat dinner with his family that night. Maheer was going to cook, and he was excited to be hosting. He honored me with his invitation, which would normally be reserved for his closest friends and family. It was a pleasant surprise.
I was honestly nervous, and much of my anxiousness came from a place of fear. Would I represent my beliefs well? In eating dinner with my Muslim friends during their religious season, would I be agreeing with their beliefs and allowing my faith to take a back seat? Is this something that Jesus would have done? (The answer to that one was surprisingly difficult.) After a few hours of anxiousness, with the dinner approaching, I decided that Jesus was a perceptively clever student.
Even while Jesus was teaching as a Rabbi in his community, He never stopped being a student, admitting, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner" (John 5:19). Jesus watched for His father's next move and jumped in when He saw God make a move. Jesus was His Father's student. Phil Strout wrote about it: "Whether in the street, the nations, or the world, we must realize that it is not up to us to create something but to discover what God is already doing" (Core Textbook: God's Relentless Pursuit, pg. 80).
I realized then if I went to Sejad and Maheer's family dinner that I wasn't responsible to start any conversations about faith or belief - it was already in God's control. God was already working in my friendship with Sejad and Maheer, and all I had to do was keep being a friend.
God orchestrated this dinner and invitation so that I had an opportunity to follow Him. While I was a Christian, Jesus was a Jew, and He followed God's promptings to sit with tax collectors, prostitutes, and Samaritans. Jesus stepped out in faith to love where society told Him not to, because His confidence came from the Greatest Love of All. I realized that God set this situation before me so that I would have the ability to do what Jesus probably would have done: love.
And that's what I did. I went to dinner and ate lamb kabob and pita with my fingers with Sejad's family, because God didn't call me to love others based on what their beliefs were. I could barely understand the light-hearted Arabic conversation around me…but I loved being in this moment - standing around the table with my fingers messy and my heart full.
God called me to love indiscriminately, whoever He sends me to - white, African American, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian. It's what Jesus did. And the choice to love has been changing me because real love is infectious, and God’s love is relentless.