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“For you were strangers…”

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Learning hospitality from Muslim shopkeepers

My brother and I wander through the bustling old market. It’s a struggle to wend our way through hordes of people, motorcycles, and cars. The aromas of fish, spices, perfumes, fresh fruit, and diesel exhaust combine to create a smell as strange to our Western sensibilities as the shawarmas in our stomachs. Shopkeepers shout out their wares, each trying to outdo the next.

We are in Tehran, Iran’s capital.

Brothers Jared and Lucas Klassen (middle) with their Iranian shopkeeper hosts. Photo: courtesy Lucas Klassen

Brothers Lucas (second from left) and Jared Klassen (middle) with their Iranian shopkeeper hosts.
Photo: courtesy Lucas Klassen

As we inch past a shoe shop, the owners perceive our foreignness. Bright smiles erupt on their faces as they approach, beckoning us into their store. We politely accept.

Before we even take our seats, they pour us cups of tea. Our interest in their shoes is as nonexistent as their desire to sell them to us. Not once do they attempt to show us their products; there is simply a genuine interest and respect for us as foreigners. Their minimal knowledge of English combined with our minimal grasp of Farsi enables only the most basic conversation. Yet they are thrilled to speak with us.

After much tea and little talk, we express our gratitude. Before we leave, one of our hosts goes to the back, takes precious heart-shaped stones out of a safety box, and fashions them into necklaces for us. These are tokens of friendship.


A deeper level of respect

Countless times on our travels through the Middle East, my brother and I were astounded at the hospitality of Muslim people who see it as their responsibility to make foreigners – guests in their land – feel welcome.

In the Western world, we often fall short of God’s calling for us to be generous and hospitable. Jesus’ command to love our neighbour implies a deeper level of care for others, yet we often struggle with the minimum requirement of treating strangers with dignity.

Perhaps making eye contact or saying hello to strangers doesn’t come naturally to you. If this is the case, try it!

If you see someone looking at a city map with a vacant look on her face, offer your assistance.

If someone is struggling with his groceries, help carry the bags to his car.

Offer words of encouragement to a cashier who was just yelled at by an angry customer.

These are but a few simple examples of what we can do to treat our neighbours as people loved by God. We need not extend dinner invitations to strangers in order to make them feel cared for; you will be surprised at how far a simple gesture can go.

We are called by God to display his love for his people, not only by our mouths, but by our actions as well. What if we shifted our mindset from complacency to one of servanthood toward our brothers and sisters who do not know
the Lord?

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34, ESV). What would it look like if, as God commanded the Israelites, we began to treat the strangers in our lives as our own family?

A popular phrase in the Arab world is “Insha Allah,” which means “God willing.” God is more than willing to use us as vessels to show his love in the most practical of ways. Are we?

—Lucas Klassen is a member of South Abbotsford MB Church, B.C., currently serving as communications intern with MCC in southern Africa.  



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