I’ve just returned from a spontaneous trip to Atlanta. An old friend of mine ran across my mind the other day, and I text him to tell him he was on my mind and just to let him know he was thought of and loved. His name is Dibwe Simone Ntumba, he’s from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). I love to say his name, Dibwe, but like so many of us, he has a nickname all his friends call him, Tutu. Tutu text me back and said he was going to call me later in the evening. I met Tutu when he was 22 in Washington, D.C. He was a new immigrant to the U.S., and I found him to be a kind and gentle young man. We hit it off immediately and so our friendship was off and running. Tutu worked hard to make his way through culinary school and to become a U.S. citizen. Tutu is now turning 50 in November, an absolute wonderful creation of God. If you have the chance to meet him, you will instantly love him. Giving, loving, compassionate, wise, hard-working, the adjectives to describe him could go on and on.
I went about the rest of my day not really thinking about hearing from Tutu, and then as I was dozing in front of the tv the phone rang. It was Tutu making a video call. I roused myself from my sleep and tried to focus on the screen. There was Tutu’s smiling face. But, there was much more to come. As my eyes focused, Tutu had a surprise for me. Another friend I had met in Houston was there on the screen as well, Moussa. Moussa was 19 when I met him, he had just come to the U.S. from Chad. Moussa had a light in him that shone brightly when I met him, but like so many people who cross our paths, time and distance separated us, I hadn’t heard from or seen Moussa in over 20 years. Moussa is 42 now, and the years have bestowed a crown of wisdom on him that comes from experience and the school of hard knocks. Moussa lives in Central Africa now and has started several businesses. He had found himself in a very dark place in his life at one point, he prayed to God for guidance and direction. He pulled himself out of that dark place, provided for his mother, and struggled and scratched to make his businesses profitable. Moussa is now wanting to give back to the children he sees so mired in poverty in Africa. He’s not intent on gaining riches, but rather on helping others to have a good start on their lives.
Okay, I’ve told you way more than I planned, but I wanted you to have the backstory. When I saw Tutu and Moussa, and other friends of Tutu’s that I had met over the years, there was a yearning in my heart to be with them. I got on a plane and flew to Atlanta the very next day. Tutu and Moussa came to see me that night at my hotel, and when I opened the door I cannot begin to convey to you the joy that filled my heart. They were truly “a sight for sore eyes.” We hugged and kissed each other like there was no tomorrow. I held their hands as they caught me up on their lives. It was as if I had been dipped in waters that brought healing to my soul. I shared with them the grief and pain of losing Antoine, they embraced me and that pain in such wonderful ways.
We spent the rest of the week together. I was invited to Tutu’s home for dinner, to another of his friend’s home for a birthday party, and another friend’s home to just relax and feel loved and accepted. That’s really the point of what I’m trying to say today. Love and acceptance come to us from many places, and sometimes from the most unlikely of places. Among Tutu’s friends, they are from the Congo, Liberia, Chad, Ivory Coast. An old man from Texas makes their acquaintance and is immediately taken in as a brother and friend. These men had no reason to care for me, and yet they did. These men shared their hospitality in ways I can’t even describe. Most of them are Christians, but Moussa is Muslim. There’s no animosity, no rivalry, no bitterness or sense of superiority in them. They love and care for each other as images of the God who created us.
Moussa, which means Moses in Arabic, humbles me when I’m in his presence. He prays steadfastly. He takes out his carpet, he prays, he kneels, he places his head on the ground. It’s a ritual of prayer that he ardently keeps. I asked him about the carpet, I was curious. There’s no magic in the carpet, it could be a sheet or a towel. It’s about the ground where you pray being clean because at that moment it’s holy. We talked about God and our understanding of who God is for us. I remind you Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all people of the book. They all spring from the same ancestor, Abraham. They are called the Abrahamic religions. We all share the first five books that are found in the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
We are related one, to the other. We have made religion, and from it, some truly horrific things have taken place. God made all of us for love, to love and accept one another, and to live in peace and harmony together. We, as people, have used religion to divide and not unite. We have used religion to exclude, rather than include. We have used religion to separate, rather than to bring together.
Moussa sat with me on Sunday morning and watched our worship service online. He enjoyed very much Jim’s sermon and found common ground in what we believe about loving without exception. I have to wonder what our communities and our world would look like if we all tried to start with where we find agreement? What would happen if we all acknowledged the power of love and acceptance and how that can heal the divide we seem to not be able to bridge? No, we’re not all alike. We do have different beliefs. We do follow different religions. We act differently, we speak differently, we look differently, we even love differently. At the end of the day though, love is love. When we learn to love with our whole heart, we look past our differences to see the image of God which is imprinted on all of us. We ask, does God love us differently than God loves our neighbor? The overwhelming answer to that is NO! God created us with all the myriad differences we have, and each one of us forms a tapestry that is beautiful in the sight of God. God loves all of God’s people the same, without exception. Let’s you and me start loving as God loves. I hope and pray your week is filled with all the wonder, all the grace, all the beauty, and all the love that God provides.
Blessings and Peace,