“Can we pray Shegofa’s prayer, Mommy?” Eden asks. She’s anxious again; her 7-year-old yearnings for a world of peace arise at bedtime.
Shegofa comes in to Eden’s room, spreads out a small mat on the floor, and leads Eden in an Arabic prayer. As I listen, the soothing words wash over me. I know that Eden loves the actions too – standing, hands in prayer position, kneeling, bowing,
lying prostrate, foreheads to the ground. It calms her mind and body like no other prayer she knows.
“In the name of the Lord, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to the Lord of the Worlds. Show us the straight path. Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty. Peace be upon you and the mercy of the Lord.”
Eden crawls into bed, ready to drift off to sleep.
A bit of background: Shegofa is a 19-year-old woman from Afghanistan living with us for the past 2 years. “Shegofa’s prayer” is an evening prayer that is part of her daily routine as a Muslim. She taught thi
s prayer to my daughters. It is beautiful to watch.
Two years ago, my brother told me that there were about 10 Afghan refugee youth looking for host families in Ontario. Our family talked about it, and we agreed – we could offer hospitality.
But I had many worries and concerns. My fears and questions ranged from the practical to the absurd:
– What will it be like to have a teenager in our home?
– Would we need to eat halal meat?
– What will this experience be like for our children?
– What prayers would we pray together?
– How will we live as two different faiths under one roof?
– Do I have the energy for this?
– Does she have links to the Taliban?
– Would she use up all of my favourite shampoo?
I marveled at the courage it took for Shegofa to come to Canada without family members to support her. I wanted to host Shegofa because I knew that deep down I was a refugee too. Not exactly ME, but my people. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “You were once aliens, strangers, refugees…” Remember? My ancestors were refugees to Canada hundreds of years ago, but their story lives on. I tell it to my own children: “we were refugees once, did you know that? We were aliens in a strange land. THAT’s why we do this. Because we have the heart of an alien. We need to remember, it could have been me. This could have been my daughter.”
Through travels to other countries, our family has experienced a bit of what it is like to have the “heart of an alien” – to be a stranger in a strange land, not knowing the correct things to do or say or wear. Being obviously “other.” But we were warmly welcomed as strangers, and that makes us want to show hospitality to others in return.
I have told my children: “at school, it’s not your job to get the best marks, or be the fastest. Your job is to notice people. Who is feeling left out? Who feels less important? Go to them. Be their friend. Offer hospitality.” I want my children to have a strong sense of home and hearth as one that travels with you wherever you go. A home that is shared with others.
Hebrews 13:2 tells us that when we host, we just might be entertaining angels without even knowing it. Our angel, Shegofa, has taught us so much about life. My daughters have learned that some children grow up in countries where war, instead of peace, is the norm. They have learned that family can extend beyond the usual boundaries.
And they have learned a new prayer.
New experiences have also come our way. This past year, I helped to facilitate a Mennonite/Muslim afternoon of dialogue and interaction. This was initiated by a Muslim group of girls ages 12-15, wanting to meet with Mennonite girls of the same ages.
As they entered the room, the girls introduced themselves to each other. For one Muslim girl, there was no need for small talk. Her first request to two of the Mennonite girls was this: “Can you teach me a new prayer?”
What if all of our interactions with people of other faiths began like that: can you teach me a new prayer?
These Muslim girls wanted to know what Mennonites believe. This led to a time where girls from both groups asked and answered questions. Their ability to articulate, desire to learn, and commitment to faith was truly inspiring. Even my young daughters were spellbound.
The Mennonite girls spoke about what it means for them to be part of the church. The Muslim girls shared their beliefs and the challenges of living out faith in their every day lives. They told us of girl support groups that they meet with once a week for teaching and encouragement.
At bedtime that night, our daughters asked, “Why can’t we have a girl group like that, Mom?”
Several girls from our church reflected on this experience.
One said, “This experience taught me how much you can learn about your own faith while listening to what others have to say
about their own faith.”
Another reflected, “Because their faith is more visible (because of what they wear) they are more vulnerable to bullying for what
they believe than I am. One of the girls said that it’s easier to endure the tough stuff when you know that in the end, what you do, you do for God. That’s powerful.”
Teach me a new prayer. Our daughters have taught Shegofa the Lord’s prayer and a blessing that we say at bedtime: May God bless you, and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and give you peace.
We are truly grateful, and have been blessed immensely through hosting a stranger. I could never have imagined that our family would one day include a teenage girl from Afghanistan, someone whom my daughters call “sister.”
I still have a lot to learn about hospitality. Most days, I feel nudges from God that I ignore because I think my house is too messy or our lives are too busy or I don’t even know what to cook.
But when we host a stranger, we can expect surprises. We can host angels. And we might even learn a new prayer.