By Angel Sullivan
But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 MSG)
This past April, I, along with five American Baptist women colleagues, had the opportunity to spend ten days in the Republic of Georgia visiting with Muslim women and girls. Prior to leaving for my trip I shared with a few people that I would be visiting sacred Muslim sites and visiting and learning about the Islamic faith. The immediate response received was, “Why? Don’t you know how dangerous it will be? Muslims want to hurt Christians! Don’t you watch the news and know about ISIS?”
While I knew that I was visiting with Muslims, a people of a peaceful faith tradition, and that they did not have any intentions of hurting Christians, I still was unclear as to what to expect and how to be. During my time there, I visited a Muslim school for girls, where the ages ranged from 18-27. I have to admit, prior to meeting the girls I did have my own stereotypes. I thought many wore long dress, skirts, and traditional head wraps, did not engage in any type of pop culture, and focused primarily on their faith. I was proven wrong. There were, indeed, girls who wore long dress and head pieces, but many wore jeans and t-shirts just like American girls. I had the opportunity to hear girls talk passionately about their faith during a celebration for the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. I engaged in conversations about their families, hopes, and dreams, that were similar to the girls I know back at home, and I danced. Yes, danced! We had one big slumber party where we ate popcorn, laughed, and engaged in traditional, free-style, and competitive dance until the girls tired us out. The next morning, the girls surprised each of us with handmade envelopes and letters, expressing gratitude, prayers, and well-wishes for our taking the time to get to know them as people, as Children of God.
It was during the dance that I thought about a Scripture passage found in the book of Samuel, that reads, “Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” As I danced, I did not feel as if I was an African-American Christian women dancing with Georgian Muslim women; rather, I felt as if I was a soul dancing with another soul, enjoying the beauty of life and creation as God has intended. The dance taught me that if we take the time to find common ground and break down barriers and stereotypes, that we can get along, have fun, laugh, work through difficult times, and dance to the rhythm of life until our heart is content.
Rev. Angel L. Sullivan is an American Baptist-endorsed chaplain, serving as Staff Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital-Bay Care Health Systems in Tampa, Florida. She currently serves as an adult member on the AB GIRLS national leadership team (AB Women’s Ministries), and is nominee for the position of national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, 2015-2018. Elections are held at the annual meeting of American Baptist Women’s Ministries on June 26, 2015, at Women’s Day in Overland Park, Kansas.