I had the opportunity this past fall to instruct a 16-week course in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The students were young Emirate college graduates entering into the UAE’s government service. The western instructor staff and the Emirates were different in so many ways – culture, dress, and religion. But as we developed a relationship with them, those differences went from stark to not noticed at all. Over a short period of time, we knew them. First by name and then by personality. Mansour was there because he wanted to serve his country. Thabit was married and had a new baby boy that brought joy to his life. Shaika was following her father’s footsteps and hoping to make him proud. Nayla was diagnosed with cancer. Badr, was Big Man on Campus, commanded everyone’s attention. Abdulla was the smart, quiet one with a charming personality. Saeed worried for his father when he had major surgery. Hessa was the instigator who showed me what my own mother was probably like at her age. And so go all 41 of the students.
Being in relationship makes a difference. For us, it erased the difference in culture, dress, and religion and allowed us to see them for who they were – people, like all of us; human like all of us; children of God, like all of us.
How will each of us live out a relationship with those who are different from us? Perhaps joining St. John’s on its next trip to South Africa and getting to know the children? Perhaps joining Saint John’s at Grace’s Table, providing a meal, eating and praying with the homeless in Georgetown? Perhaps spending time tutoring? Perhaps calling the homeless you pass every day by name? How will we be in relationship so that we see people who are different from us as not so different after all?