“Let’s Be Friends”
It was a simple idea: United Methodist Women reaching out to Muslim women and saying, “Let’s be friends.”
As a United Methodist Women member at Kennewick First United Methodist Church in Kennewick, Wash., I contacted the imam’s wife at the Islamic Center in nearby West Richland with this wide-open invitation: “We would be pleased to visit your center or meet at our church or wherever is best.”
The response was immediate and enthusiastic, inviting my United Methodist Women to come to the mosque for a Saturday lunch and tour at the center. The goal, as expressed in an e-mail from the imam, was “to build bridges.”
“You know it very well; misunderstanding, bigotry, prejudices, racism and negative stereotyping will ruin the human society,” he wrote.
That’s exactly what our United Methodist Women committee on social justice thought too. That’s why when we asked our United Methodist Women mission team about contacting the Islamic Center, we were told “Go for it.”
The date for the visit was set in late fall. This gave our United Methodist Women a chance to notify all of the women in our church about the invitation and arrange to take the large church bus. It also gave us a chance to share a little about Islam with our members and answer any questions.
To our joy, the interest of our United Methodist Women and other women in the church in visiting the center was just as enthusiastic as the Islamic center’s. Nearly 40 responded that they’d like to go.
But the morning of the visit, an early snowstorm swept through the area. Worried, I called the imam’s home to be sure the Islamic women still wanted to host the event.
“They are already at the center, preparing the meal,” he said.
Okay. The visit was on. But how many of our United Methodist Women members and friends would come out on such a blustery day? Many of our members are elderly and justifiably might be discouraged by the threatening weather.
I got to church early. The bus was there, warming up. There were a few already on board, including those on the social justice committee with me, Shirley Knox, Chris King and Eddie Kenoyer. We were all glad to see one another. We chatted on the bus and waited.
As departure time approached, car after car pulled into the church parking lot. Two or three arrived by city transit. We cheered each woman as they streamed onto the bus, some using walkers and canes.
A sense of camaraderie and purpose filled the air. No snow flurries were keeping us home, not today! Besides, in mid-November, how long could the storm last?
A long time, it turned out. Snow fell gently all the way to West Richland. It snowed for the several hours we were there. It snowed all the way back to church.
To us the snow was beautiful, and a blessing.
Standing at the center’s door, watching as dozens of us carefully exited the bus, the Islamic women seemed so pleased. They greeted us warmly, laughed with us, shared stories about their families and asked about ours.
In small groups we were shown their school rooms, their worship area, offices, kitchen and the large meeting room where we were treated to the most delicious lunch.
As hostess gifts we took them our United Methodist Women’s Holly Daze Bean Soup Mix and an anthology of works by America’s poet laureates. Truly it was a day of friendship and a day to remember.
This year we will reciprocate with an invitation to a United Methodist Women lunch and build on our new United Methodist/Muslim friendship. Hopefully, as it should be late spring, there will be only sunny daffodils, but if we are blessed with snow, so be it. We’ll still get together.
Bonnie Taylor is a member of the United Methodist Women social justice committee at Kennewick First United Methodist Church in Kennewick, Wash.