Encounters in Elevators, & a Book Launch Surprise!

As-salamu allaikum” (Peace to you), I greet them, the young veiled woman with quiet smile and her male companion, a man in his early thirties with a circular Muslim prayer cap on his head.

We’re stepping into the same elevator in this hospital in the Fairview-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.

“How did you learn that greeting?” he asked with a surprised smile. He and his female companion look at me, and she pushes number seven on the elevator pad.

“Five for me, please,” I say, looking at her. “Oh, I have many Muslim friends and I used to live in West Africa and France.” My eyes light kind welcome as I smile at them, mostly looking at her, but politely nodding and smiling at him too. My years of living in Muslim and African cultures feels second nature and my eye contact with males is brief.

The elevator whirs upwards as we speak and, in a moment, my floor arrives.

“Have a good day. God bless you,” I tell them warmly and step into a hospital hallway.

They smile back brightly and it feels like home. Already I’ve noticed it, how Minneapolis reminds me of my home in West Africa. Halal meat markets sell goat and lamb. Billowing veiled women of all ages, mostly Somali women, cross busy streets in sandaled feet, and small veiled school girls rush home with backpacks bulging textbooks. African men in prayer caps and flowing white or blue linen robes over loose-fitting pants walk on Minneapolis avenues or gather to talk over fragrant Somali tea.

I love it, seeing the growing diversity, hearing other languages as I walk, shop, and drive. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul and surrounding communities are expanding and growing quickly over the years with a wide range of international arrivals: Karen, Somali, Liberian, Hmong, Latino, Vietnamese, Myanmar, Russian, Ukrainian, Afghani, and many more. And in the Fairview-Riverside neighborhoods as I followed winding highways and pulled into a parking ramp under construction, it’s the wonderful African flavor of home for me.

On floor five I find my youth group teen whom I’ve come to see. Pneumonia has gripped his body for days. His lungs struggle to drain all the fluid that has been pushing heavy on his chest this weekend. In blue and white hospital gown, he sits up in his bed, his parents and big brother in the room too. We talk for a couple minutes and I ask if I can pray. His mom and I have been exchanging prayer texts for the last few days. He is thankful yet shy, a little ill at ease at the weird setting we’re all in. I pray briefly, respectfully, and then take my leave, letting him rest with his family.

Walking back through the hospital and then the sunny streets, I smile and call out friendly greetings to robed veiled Muslim women parking their cars or passing me on sidewalks. It fills me with joy to welcome them.

Another woman who loves international people as much as I do is Emily T. Wierenga. Emily is a global nomad like me. She and I both lived in Africa as children and it has shaped us, drawing our hearts to international people. Emily and I first encountered each other through weekly blogging link-ups in 2011/2012. She and I, and a bevy of other bloggers, opened up our lives twice weekly, reading along on each others’ journeys with Jesus. Emily’s writing is intimate, vivid, descriptive, and she shares disarmingly vulnerable stories from her life.

I’m honored to be on the book launch team for Emily’s newest book: God Who Became Bread: A True Story of Starving, Feasting, and Feeding Others,” coming out June 4th.

Having lived and worked in many countries, Emily holds people’s cultures, languages, and stories in loving, respectful, humble hands, seeing the beautiful way God has made each of them. Here is an excerpt from her upcoming book:

A week later I’m in Warhenieh [Lebanon], a tiny mountain town with white stucco houses teetering on the edge of a valley. We’re surrounded by hills, like mounds of dough or a mother’s breasts. 

Communion is everywhere here, on the flat roofs crawling with grapes vines, in the porches of the houses where women sit and cook flat bread. 

I live with two other missionaries. Below us is an elderly lady we call Teta or Grandma. She owns the house. When we laugh too loud she bangs on the floor with her stick. Sometimes we go down and eat grapes with Teta. Behind her hijab, her eyes twinkle. 

Morning and evening I’m seated on the porch overlooking the valley. I watch the sun rise and fall like flames of fire. Somehow the sky never burns up. 

If I peer far enough, it’s as if I can see my Lord walking the streets of Tyre and Sidon. 

All night, while I sleep, I listen to Arabic tapes. All day, I listen to God, while walking the paths and talking to people. 

Tfeddali,” they call from their doorsteps. “Ahlan wa sahlan,” they cry. “Welcome!” they say these village women who sweep and bake flat bread and hang laundry.   …[ We eat] figs and grapes and leaf-tea in tiny little gourds with metal straws or masassa. This type of tea is yerba mate. We smile and sip it together. 

God lives in the doorways here too. 

Emily’s writing and heart for Jesus and people is beautiful. I gobbled up her book in one evening, sipping cold citrus kombucha in a noisy coffee shop.

Join me in savoring spicy hot soup in Korea, sweet juicy mangoes in West Africa, and the salty hot flat bread of the Middle East, seeing most of all that God is good, a feast for our souls.

Pre-order Emily T. Wierenga’s book God Who Became Bread: A True Story of Starving, Feasting, and Feeding Others here today.  And, just for fun, here is a sample chapter from Emily for you too.

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Jennifer speaks often at conferences, retreats, MOPS/MomsNext groups, churches, camps, home school co-ops and more. She loves getting to know people and making new friends.

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