Like many other parents or grandparents my daily routine involves taking my grandson to school each morning. I play for 15 minutes before he goes into class. During this time I may smile and have eye contact with various kids and their parents. Interestingly, about a third of his classmates are Muslim!
One child in particular has a radiant personality. I've had a couple small pleasant interactions with him over the first three weeks, but didn't know who was his father. Several days ago I saw his beaming smile and waved “Hi.” He beckoned me over and literally took me by the hand, saying, “Come see my Daddy.” We walked about 15 paces to where his father was standing by himself. I recall on a couple earlier occasions smiling at this man but now it dawned on me who he really was!
Shaking his hand, I exclaimed, “What an amazing son you have. He's so friendly! By the way, my name is Roland. And what's yours?”
He replied, “Issa.” I warmly replied, “I love your name!” The following day the young boy took me again to his father. This time he talked about his mother who I hadn't realized was nearby. Issa pointed to a car parked just 20 yards away as he beckoned to his wife. She came over to the edge of the fenced enclosure where we were standing and smiled at me. Then, seeing my grandson standing near her son, she took a picture with her phone!
A minute later she handed Issa her phone saying something in Arabic. He made a remark about the boy's grandfather and then handed the phone to me. On the screen was an elderly man so I assumed this was a video clip of the grandfather. What a surprise when Issa said, “This is my wife's father talking on whats app!” (His father-in-law lives in a refugee camp in Jordan.)
I smiled and spoke into the phone, “Salam u alaikum.” which means, “Peace be with you.”
Her father laughed and said something in Arabic, which Issa interpreted for me, “I like you.” I responded, in kind, “I like you too.” Issa is the name Muslims use for Jesus. Surely this encounter is not coincidental! In fact, my mind is brim full recalling recent conversations with my friend Fadi whose name means Redeemer. You don't have to be a theologian to imagine me having a coffee with Issa and exploring the meaning of his name.
But there's something else that confirms God's handiwork in this encounter. Prior to meeting Issa I had asked friends to pray that God would give me opportunities to meet Christians across our city who are rubbing shoulders in the daily routines of life at places like school, work, etc. The very next day after sharing this request, someone in our church recounted a remarkable experience meeting a Muslim. I was encouraged by this and also by having my own providential encounter. How true it is: God prepares hearts and opens doors in answer to prayer. Indeed, he is Lord of the harvest! But are we ready to make the most of opportunities God is opening? Are we ready to give an answer for the hope we have, doing it gently and respectfully?
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