The call to prayer

“Canadians are great at being friendly,” a Mexican acquaintance began, “but they aren’t very good at being friends.” I nodded sympathetically, but in my mind I couldn’t help but get defensive. What do you mean? I make meals! I drive newcomers to their appointments! I invite my Korean friends for lunch!

Later that evening I reflected further on this woman’s comment. She’s right. Sharing a smile and a warm “hello” is one thing. Helping a new immigrant figure out how to work an ATM or enroll in school is another thing. But taking the time to open one’s heart, home and life and invest in a meaningful and lasting relationship is something else entirely. Most of what I’d done for others was servant work, but none of it required a relational commitment. That all changed when I became an ESL teacher.

A few weeks ago, my new friend Selam called (see “A lesson in humility,” CC Feb. 8). When I answered the phone, all I heard were loud sobs. She was weeping inconsolably, so I hung up and made my way to her house as quickly as the traffic would allow. On the way, I began to pray. First, I prayed for safety and was given a sense of peace as I drove, not panic. When I arrived, I knew in my heart what was wrong: a beloved brother who had been shot only a few days earlier had died.

I calmly walked up the four stairs to where Selam was lying on the floor and kneeled down. I wrapped one arm around her as my other hand stroked her head. There was nothing to say. There was nothing to do. I was there, and I knew that would be enough for now.

Her phone never stopped ringing. Her family in Yemen was trying to talk to her, but she couldn’t muster the strength to speak. Then, in between the ringing came the adhan, the call to prayer from her phone. Muslims must pray five times a day at set hours, and now, in the middle of her living room – in the middle of her mourning – she was being called to pray. “Selam,” I whispered, “come, let’s pray together.” I helped her stand up; she nearly fell over on the way to the dining table where her sajada, prayer mat, was. She placed the mat on the floor and began her prayers to Allah. I assumed a position next to her that I had grown accustomed to in my own prayer time: down on my knees. Two women bowed in humble submission, pouring out our sorrowful hearts before our God. As a follower of Christ, I believe that there was only one God who was listening to our prayers. Who will hear her prayer? I thought.

After our prayers, Selam made her way to the couch. I sat down beside her and she fell sideways onto my lap. She was so small in my arms. Yemeni women are married off very young, and often to men more than twice their age. Her mother was married before she began menstruating, she had told me, and her sister was married at 13 and, 10 years later, already had nine children. Selam has no one in Canada but her three boys and now me. Yesterday I was her sister. Today, I am her mother.

Doors of opportunity
I don’t know how long I sat on the couch with my friend. I suppose it doesn’t matter. When Selam finally calmed down, I told her I would be back the next day to pick her up for dialysis and that she had better be ready. “Wear your niqab if you wish,” I said. “You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to say anything. But you have to go to the hospital. I will sit with you and bring you home again, and I will do it every week until you find the strength to do it on your own again.” As I spoke, I realised I was committing myself to a lot.

Being friendly is easy. Being friends is not. Following Jesus is most often the harder way, but it is also the most rewarding. Jesus gave the best gift when he gave his life – when he gave us life. I cannot give my new friend life but I can give her hope and, for now, the best way I can do that is by giving her my love.

  • C. Green is a Steeltown girl who would always rather be sailing. She enjoys dining with friends who can’t speak English while eating exotic dishes with names she can’t pronounce. She loves sharing stories, because everyone has a story. And if given a choice, she will always opt for the road less travelled by.

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