Q: What am I doing in North Africa?

A: Learning how to love…

There is a lot of tension between Muslims and Christians in the world right now. Sometimes, we even think about each other as enemies. In America, we’re afraid that Muslim extremists are coming to kill us just like on 9/11. The Arab world is still emerging from the control of colonial oppressors and they’re afraid too. The West hasn’t exactly been nice to Arabs lately.

With all that bad blood, lots of people are puzzled about why an American girl would come to live in North Africa. In the states, people told me it would be dangerous—that as a woman and as an American, it was too big a risk. Here, people wonder about me too. The economy is struggling and people risk their lives to immigrate to Europe illegally on a perilous voyage across the Mediterranean. If the local people are trying so hard to get out, why would I come to stay? It doesn’t make much sense. What’s in it for me?

Here’s how I explain it. This is what I tell myself on the days when even I wake up and wonder why I’m here. It starts with Jesus (peace be upon him). While Muslims and Christians don’t agree about his death and divinity, we both esteem his teaching. In one of his first recorded sermons, Jesus said (my paraphrase), “Anyone can love their friends. Loving your friends isn’t hard. Even wicked people love their friends. God isn’t like that though—he makes the sun rise on evil people and good people. You should be like God and love everyone, not just your friends.”

According to Jesus (peace be upon him), love is not optional.

And that’s not just what he taught, it’s how he lived. He spent a lot of time hanging out with the “wrong” people. He even welcomed a tax collector and a zealot (read a traitor and an extremist) into his inner circle. If I’m following him, I’d better be sure that I am loving the people who my culture and religion tells me are the “wrong” people too.

So I’m honest with my friends here: I definitely came with mixed motives, but in the end this is about following Jesus’ example. The world is full of hateful rhetoric, but each and every person has the freedom to choose love instead. So yes, I’ve worked as a teacher, I’ve been involved with freelance design projects, and I’ve studied the local dialect. But I came here because I really wanted to understand how Christians can be better at loving their Muslim neighbors. And it’s hard to love people if you choose not to be with them.

Love, after all, is incarnational. It begins with presence. 

So that’s what I’ve tried to do the last few months—to listen, to learn, to be present. I’m not really sure what it all means, but I know that love is never a waste. 

Who do you think God is asking you to love today?

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