From: This missionary in Senegal…To: Rev. Terry Jones

September 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

O.K., I’ve never considered myself the smartest guy in the world and I’m sure that none of you ever thought I was either.  I’ve always stayed pretty quiet on controversial issues for fear of showing my ignorance and being made to look even more foolish than people already thought I was.  But as 9-11 approaches, and the Rev. Terry Jones is promising to lead his supposed-Christian congregation in Florida in a burning of the Quran, I’m having a hard time keeping quiet.

You see, I have lived in Senegal, a 95% Muslim country, for the last twenty months.

Never once have I felt threatened because I am a Christian.  Never once have I thought I was being mistreated because I am a Christian.  Often I go out on the streets of my country wearing a clergy collar.  Never once has anyone looked at me with anger or hatred.

Often when I come home from work in the late afternoon, Mon, the young Muslim man who manages the apartments where I live, will be kneeling on his prayer mat saying one of his five daily Muslim prayers.  I believe he would give his life to protect me, and I would give him the last dollar in my pocket, as long as I knew I could go to the bank and get some more.

There is much I don’t know about the Islamic faith.  I’ve tried to read the Quran and it is even harder than the King James Version of the Old Testament.  During Ramadan, when Muslims are fasting from sunup to sundown with a devotion I really haven’t seen much among Christians, and which I certainly do not exemplify myself, I’ve tried to read some on the history of Islam.  All of the names of the early Islamic leaders, and the countries and cities where they lived, are so foreign to me that I have great difficulty keeping it straight in my head.

What I do understand is that the roots of Islam are peaceful and noble.  I am afraid that it is the followers of Mohammed who have messed things up, just as some of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth have misunderstood and misinterpreted his teachings.

One of the things I have learned since arriving in Senegal is that people here, whether they are Christian or Muslim, love their children just as we in the United States do.  When I see the faces of grieving people in Haiti, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or any other country – people who have lost spouses, parents, children, homes, their way of life – I realize that all of us are much more alike in this world than we are different.

I am convinced that the problems of getting along in this world are not due to religion, but due to religious fundamentalists; people who know the teachings of their religion, but do not understand the heart and spirit of their faith.  I haven’t done any polls, but I am convinced that 99% of the people on this planet we all call home just want to get along and live in peace; to see their children grow to be adults and accomplish more in life than they were able to accomplish.  To see their children and grandchildren live life without fear of bombs, hunger, and hate.

And religious fundamentalists, who have quit listening to reason and believe that they alone are the protectors of true faith, cloak themselves in the cross as well as the Quran.

I may not have ever considered myself the shiniest apple on the tree, but I have always considered myself a loyal American.  I bleed red, white, and blue; put my hand over my heart and sing when the National Anthem is played; cry when American soldiers come home in body bags.  But it seems to me in this day that the freedom of religion that I was taught was the primary reason that those first pilgrims left family and home, only applies if it is freedom to express the Christian faith.  Anything else is a wrong, and a threat.  This is the freedom that so many have died to protect?

You and I live in a world that is getting smaller every day.  If we are going to get along, and not spend all of the world’s resources in hating and killing one another, then it is time for the 99% of us who want to live in peace to lift our voices against the hatred of fundamentalism in the name of tolerance and love.

Yes, there will be those who call us stupid, misguided, and naive.

But somewhere I seem to remember a man who has been pretty important in my life saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

I’ll take that!

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