The matter of loving all
It started with a refrigerator.
Four days and nights was the amount of time my two youngest sons, David, Joe and I had booked for a hotel stay in Fargo, while we attended musical theatre productions and connected with friends. We could not afford to dine out the entire time, so a quick call down to the front desk brought us a refrigerator free of charge.
Isaac was on maintenance so he made the delivery, and per usual I began my interview as I welcomed Isaac into our room. As Isaac maneuvered the fridge into a far corner of the room, I was able to gather that he had only been in the United States for less than a year, he loved it and hoped he could bring his son to live with him soon.
Isaac is from Liberia. While that is a country I know hardly anything about, I would soon know more in the days that followed. What connected Isaac, Joe, David and I was that we all knew Jesus personally. This information came out toward the end of questioning as Isaac shared that his name meant "laughter" in accordance to the story in Genesis when Abraham and Sarah were finally able to have a child. They named him Isaac because it was laughable that they would be holding a newborn of their own when they both were past the age of having children.
When Isaac found out all our names had biblical origins, he asked if we knew the love of Jesus, too. We did. We took a selfie and all was good, and we figured we'd not meet again. But when the boys and I returned to the hotel from buying groceries at 10:30 p.m., we ran into Isaac. I asked if he could score us a microwave. He smiled from ear to ear and nodded. When he arrived with our newest appliance, we now had cream soda and Funyuns to share so we asked Isaac to join us for a late night snack as he indulged in his first experience with perfect American junk food.
Not once did it strike me as odd that Isaac was sitting in the desk chair with the three of us on the double beds asking questions and listening to his story. Isaac's parents had been killed in the civil war during the early 1990s, and so he was left to care for his father's other two wives and siblings. He was the eldest and so it was his job to carry fresh water atop his head to and from the village each day, walking many miles each way. I could understand Isaac quite easily as his English was good despite his heavy accent, but because he spoke so fast, I still felt the need to translate some of what he was saying to my sons. We got into serious topics, too, like the tribal practice of female circumcision. We also talked about witch doctors, other traditions and ways of life that we had only really read about, but without this kind of personal connection.
Because we had exchanged phone numbers, Isaac texted me the next day and wrote, "I sure am going to miss you people when you leave." So, of course, we had him over for the renowned Duane's Pizza the next evening.
Isaac was so eager to connect with us and thankful that we were interested in what he had to share. But the next day I couldn't help but think of his text saying, "you people" in relation to myself as the crazy white girl and her kids who invite strangers into their hotel room to hunker down and share life stories. But I am quite certain Isaac thought more about my eccentric personality more than he did about my skin color.
It is now only, because of the state our country is in, that I paused to think more about our different skin colors. I do know that on some level my naïve northern white girl attitude thinks there aren't color issues and surely more people think like I do as a Christian Caucasian female. Surely, no one is really racist or THAT self-righteous, but just because I feel this doesn't mean it's not happening out there.
The summer of 1979 when I was 12, I spent two months attending the Minneapolis Children's Theatre Company where, in my jazz and improvisational class, I was the minority white girl. I remember being a little weirded-out. True to my character, I said aloud what I was thinking and complimented a few girls with, "Your eyes are pretty, like big Oreo cookies." Thankfully, they took it as the compliment I intended and teased and loved me back.
I guess because Isaac is black, there's this part of me that says I am such a good Christian because I am talking to a black person with no fear, which sounds totally self-righteous and kind of racist because it kind of is. I have ALWAYS been like this. I love to engage people and then drill them with question after question. Just as much as I LOVE to share and tell my stories, I love to listen, too. The act of listening is where love is. I mean, really listening to the heart and asking questions. We need to be better listeners. Actually, there is no black or white, just different shades of brown. Acts 17:26 says, "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth." In other words, we did not evolve at different rates like the Nazis claimed so that one race is superior to another. We all came from one blood.
When I enter into any community, I know I can find at least one person who just needs to be heard and who needs to know that Jesus is personal and always hears us. When others leave or fail me, Jesus doesn't. Because I have met Jesus personally, I can meet others personally. I am secure because I know Him and He knows ALL of me and loves me no matter what. I don't need to perform or hide.
Sometimes when I attend church I feel like I have to perform with, "I'm good. How are you?" because it's harder and takes longer to sometimes share the truth or really listen to another. But I'm getting better with just being me. Church can be in a hotel room, too, where we can meet people like Isaac.
My story has parallels and connections to the stories of Isaac because we both have felt alone, lost, scared, in pain from the loss of love from another, and in physical pain, too. And THAT is how we connected, in person, honestly sharing our hearts. Jesus is personal. Pain is personal. And when you know Christ, He finds a way into the conversation. It's where love takes you.
Joey and David were wide-eyed and listening the whole time and asking questions, too. Multiculturalism is not a hot topic in northern Minnesota. In general as Christians, we try to "love others" as Jesus loves us. It makes me smile every time I think of the scripture Joey chose as his confirmation verse, Acts 17:26. He went to the microphone stated the reference and then said, "And He has made from one blood every nation of men." I had no idea why he had chosen the verse, but later when asked, he was quite emphatic of the importance to understand that we were all created as one race and therefore we are called and able to love everyone. "There's no need to be a racist, Mom."
I am always a fan of what author and Pastor Timothy Keller has to say from a Biblical perspective. Most recently, after the atrocities of events in Charlottesville, he wrote,
"This is a time to present the Bible's strong and clear teachings about the sin of racism and of the idolatry of blood and country — again, full stop. In Acts 17:26, in the midst of an evangelistic lecture to secular, pagan philosophers, Paul makes the case that God created all the races "from one man." Paul's Greek listeners saw other races as barbarian, but against such views of racial superiority Paul makes the case that all races have the same Creator and are of one stock. Since all are made in God's image, every human life is of infinite and equal value. When Jonah puts the national interests of Israel ahead of the spiritual good of the racially "other" pagan city of Nineveh, he is roundly condemned by God. One main effect of the gospel is to shatter the racial barriers that separate people, so it is an egregious sin to do anything to support those barriers. When Peter sought to do so, Paul reprimanded him for losing his grasp on the Gospel."
Every one of us who claims to be a follower of Christ cannot ignore the fact that God loves all people of all shapes, sizes and colors, just like the nursery song, "Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight." God just loves us as we are and not as we should be because we'll never be where we should be and He KNOWS this...HE KNOWS US.
We all have ways to show and give love. I have a mouth and personality that makes connecting with people fun. I love to have in-depth conversations. We all do not have to engage in hotel room ministry, but we are called to love and minister to others in some way with the gifts God' has given us. He tells us plain in simple, "Others will know you are Mine by the way you love one another." (John 13:35).
You matter. I matter. We all matter to God and when God matters to us, then we actually desire to share His love and grace with others no matter who they are. This is what makes the world go round and round.