Ramadan, Refugees, and the Power of Walking in the Weeds
By Shane Bennett
Ever wonder what the coolest city in the world is? You’re going to know in less than three seconds: Catania, Sicily. Surprised? Me, too, but I’m shooting you straight. Although there is a slight chance I may be biased, inasmuch as this city, where I am off and on again this summer, has my heart. It’s a fascinating city at its core and is now home to a burgeoning population of migrants and asylum seekers from East Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere else.
I’m writing this month from Catania and want to float out three quick topics for you chew on. Wait—it being Ramadan and all, let’s say, “mull over.”
1. Ramadan, Halfway Gone
I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in Sicily the sun rises early, burns hot, and hangs out late. Faithful Muslims don’t eat until the sun sets at 8:15pm. If you stop eating at 5am, that makes for a long stretch. Of course in some places the days are shorter; I suppose there’s no whining this year if you’re a Muslim in Cape Town.
Regardless of where they live, faithful Muslims are giving it a go this month (May 26 to June 24), exercising self-discipline, trying to honor God, and excelling in good works, charity, and gifts to the poor. I imagine you’re likely already praying for Muslims and the Muslim world this month. If you’d like a brief aid to prayer, shoot me an email, and I’ll send you a one-page Ramadan Prayer Outline.
God told Israel through Jeremiah that if they’d seek him, they would find him (Jeremiah 29). Scholars brighter than me might disagree, but I hope we can lean into that promise and apply it to Muslims this season: To the degree they’re honestly seeking God, may they find him in fresh ways.
2. Refugees, Like Never Before
This afternoon I played Jenga with some guys from Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, and Egypt. They’ve all fled persecution, abuse, and economic deprivation in Libya and/or in their homelands. As I write, two of our team members are leading a late-night discovery Bible study with a young guy from Senegal.
Christians now have an unprecedented opportunity to connect with Muslims from many of the most challenging places on the planet. We’re living through an epic shift in humanity which opens doors of staggering breadth for Christians, offering us a chance to act like Jesus toward people who have never experienced such and to extend Jesus’ invitation to follow him to those who’ve never heard it. What are you doing to engage this opportunity?
Of course, none of us is asked by God to do everything. But to the degree to which God is inviting you and me and our churches to this effort, let’s dream big, show up early, and work hard until the sun goes down.
If you speak French, Arabic, Bengali, or Italian, I’d love a chance to buy you all the cannoli you can eat right here in Catania! We feel like we’re wading knee-deep through Luke 10:2 right here, and our city is only one small part of the current global refugee situation.
3. The Power of Walking in the Weeds
Finally, can I remind you of something you already know? Nothing will expand your view of the world like talking to someone very different from you. I know it’s fun to cheer with like-minded friends and have long conversations with people who agree with you; it’s good to hang with your tribe. But it’s also really good to get off the smooth path and into the weeds from time to time.
We were walking home late last night after celebrating Geralyn’s birthday at dinner. She’s the lone African-American woman in our group. We were carrying left-over pizza and hoping to give it away to some hungry people on the way to our vans. We passed some Nigerian guys prepping to sleep on the sidewalk and found out they were Christians. This, and their hunger, made them good candidates for our pizza, which was laden with pork.
As we shared it with them we talked about the road that led them to this place. Deep in the conversation someone mentioned it was Geralyn’s birthday, and then an amazing thing happened: They proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to her—from their pallets in the streets of downtown Catania, Sicily, hands greasy from leftover pizza. You just don’t get that in Suburb-istan. It will be a long time before Geralyn and the rest of us forget that birthday song.
Since most of us have had these moments off the beaten tracks, let’s be the best cheerleaders to provide such experiences for others. In fact, let’s actually take them along.
- This Sunday after church, invite a couple people to go with you on their first trip to an Indian restaurant.
- Grab some buds and spend an afternoon in an ethnic neighborhood.
- Start planning now for a late fall or early spring trip to a place that requires a passport and a plane ticket.
And take care. When you get off the paved paths, there are thorns, bugs, and snakes. But few worthy adventures come danger-free.
Until next month,