Gathered around a fire pit at a small Presbyterian conference center outside Stony Point, NY are a dozen young adult soon-to-be missionaries. Sarah suggests a pick up line for Will while Keri and Joseph play Cornhole.
Out of the darkness and up the hill approach two men, one dressed in a white robe, the other casually in a polo and khakis. Though unassuming, they are two world renown peacemakers, Azhar Hussein of Pakistan and Imam Mohammad Ashafa of Nigeria.
It takes a while to unearth the tens of thousands of lives the two men have touched, but then, as if releasing a dam, Imam Ashafa lets flow a river of insight into the life of these young missionaries, broken by the comedic interjections of Hussein.
American policies and its people are two different things, Ashafa begins, and they are often conflated the world round. America is a young nation, a very young nation, but nonetheless a model for the world, good or bad, due to its power and influence. He observes that when we individual Americans go abroad people are attentive to the way “Americans” eat bread, the way they eat a biscuit, the way they drink water, the way they dress. We carry the responsibility, he says, to be a light, to carry good news where we go, and to be the compassionate heart which is America’s greatest asset.
We cannot think that we are battling against a tide of injustice that is unwinnable, if we think that, it will always be unwinnable, he continues. We must know that we have a positive seed to plant and trust that before our eyes it will sprout and bear positive fruit. We must trust that others will not see our skin color or the character of our hair, but will see the human in us, themselves in us, and join us in nourishing that seed. Then we will succeed.
Hussein tells a story as he rises to leave. Standing before a great fire, a frog poured a little water on it. Laughing, the people ask why he did this if he could never hope to put the fire out. The frog says that when he goes before God he wants to say he has done what he could to help put the fire out. We too must know that we have served our God, our faith, our brothers and sisters faithfully, he says, and as result we must take heart. Standing he takes Imam Ashafa’s hand in his own and the two men walk down the hill and beyond the firelight together.