Sometimes You Have to Smile
It was nearly 7:00 and I was staring down a long evening of back to back meetings (bible study, followed by a refugee information meeting) in the midst of a pretty frantic few weeks dominated by all manner of logistics with helping our new Syrian friends make their way in this new land. I had been up early for another refugee meeting at City Hall (I’ve been collecting committees as a hobby over these past few months) and the day had been a long one already. The kids needed to be driven hither and yon, there was a church AGM to get ready for the following day, and, as always, a sermon to prepare. And there was the looming prospect of the remainder of the week sans spouse as my wife left town this morning for a conference that will occupy the remainder of her week. All in all, I was not particularly looking forward to the evening ahead.
As I was in the final stages of steeling my resolve for the next three hours, a little old man gently poked his head around the corner of my office door. “Am I too early for the meeting?” he asked. I recognized him right away. He was the local Buddhist minister. I have seen him a number of times over the years at various funerals and events involving my wife’s extended family. I did not know him well, but he struck me as a kind, decent man whenever I had met him in the past.
“Well, you’re a little early,” I said. “It doesn’t start until 8:00.” I had no idea how he had even heard about the meeting, but I assumed he would leave and come back later. Or just leave. He smiled and said nothing. I waited for him to indicate what his plans were (bible study was to start downstairs in five minutes) but he seemed content to just smile. “Well, I need to go downstairs to lead a bible study…” I said, hoping he would take the hint. “Oh, ok.” He was still smiling. “May I join you?” I stared blankly at him for a minute. “You mean, for bible study?” I asked, stupidly. “Yes,” he said. Still smiling. I stood there for a moment, pondering the unlikelihood of this scene. I thought about all the people who, in my situation, would say something like, “You have someone asking to join you for bible study! What are you waiting for?!” I smiled now, too. “Yes, of course you can join us.”
So, for the next hour I sat with a group of Mennonite seniors and a Buddhist minister and discussed the ins and outs of 1 Corinthians 13. If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing… We found our guest a bible and he followed dutifully along. He smiled a lot and nodded. He bowed his head when we prayed for each other. I asked him if Buddhists talked a lot about love. He said, “No, not so much. We mostly talk about oneness. Being one with those who weep, with those who suffer, with those in pain. But this is part of what you mean, I think.” He smiled. Of course.
When Bible study was over, our Buddhist guest bowed his head while we recited the Lord’s Prayer. Then, he and I began to make our way upstairs where we heard the rumblings of people beginning to arrive for the refugee meeting On the way, he said, “I really enjoyed that tonight. Do you think I could come back next week.” I grinned. “Yeah, I think that would be just fine.”
Upstairs, a wonderful group of people involved in various private sponsorships of refugees in our city had gathered to share information and to hear about our own group’s experience in the first three weeks of our Syrian families’ journey in Canada. It was an impressively diverse assortment of humanity—Anglicans, Mennonites, Muslims, United, Catholics, folks from the university and the hospital, a Buddhist minister, and others too, no doubt. And, for the next two hours, we all shared stories, asked questions, and made preparations to welcome people in desperate need of a new start and a warm welcome. There were plenty of smiles here, too.
At one point, I looked out at this delightfully disparate group and had to shake my head. I thought of the scene half a year ago when our little Mennonite/United committee sat in our church basement and watched all these new people trickle in. “The picture” of little Alan Kurdi had been on the news and all kinds of people had showed up at our meeting because their hearts were breaking, because they knew we were doing something, and because they wanted to help. Because they wanted to be a part of a good story. And now, it is actually happening. Syrian families have actually arrived and more are on their way. Friendships across all kinds of divides have actually formed, bonds have actually been created, people are actually investing in the lives of their neighbours, around the world and in our own city.
I looked over at the Buddhist minister sitting off by himself in the back. He was still smiling. Of course. What else could one do?
Some days it is just really cool to be part of the human family.