“… And that Sandusky guy, at Penn State? I heard everyone in the whole town knew what he was doing …”
I remember overhearing a stranger say those words, in a cafeteria in Ohio, soon after the Sandusky scandal had broken.
As we all sat down to eat, I introduced myself and said that I was from State College and we talked about the size of the town, Penn State, and the details of the scandal that he hadn’t heard. By the end he thanked me for setting him straight; for clearing up his misperceptions.
I remembered that conversation last week, after the attacks in Paris, and after our nation, yet again, began lumping all followers of Islam together with terrorists acting in the name of Islam.
The attacks in Paris happened on Friday, and on Sunday my church hosted two Muslim students studying at Penn State, from Pakistan and Afghanistan, who came to our church to discuss and explain their religion to us.
We had been working for months to arrange for them to come, and, at first, we couldn’t believe how awful the timing was … but then we realized that the timing was actually perfect.
What better time to realize, to really appreciate, that not all Muslims are terrorists, that there are well over a billion Muslims in the world and the vast majority of the victims of terrorism are Muslims, than by hearing the life stories of two Muslims coming here to study?
And it came off so much better than we had hoped. Both Muslims and Christians learned, asked questions, and even laughed together. Most importantly, I think, was merely the personal connection.
Now, when the media report about “Muslims” a couple of specific human faces will come to mind; a couple of new friends. And the complexity and diversity within the name “Muslim” has become real, and has become human.
And so I would encourage all the churches and houses of worship in the area to consider hosting a couple of Muslims students for a time of discussion. Global Connections at Penn State can arrange it (and consider giving them a small donation too). You can contact them at: 863-3927 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.gc-cc.org.
You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll probably make some new friends!
Craig Rose is the pastor of Howard United Methodist Church in Howard.