These are my friends

by Paula Clayton Dempsey

Tea and Jilda pictured above are my friends – my Muslim friends. These are the kinds of people now barred from entering the United States. Tuesday’s ruling of the Supreme Court does not speak for me or for the Alliance of Baptists. We reject any ruling that discriminates on the basis of religion, race, culture or country of origin.

Why this photo? It puts a human face on the ruling of the Supreme Court upholding the travel ban that focuses on predominately Muslim nations. Tuesday when I posted on social media the photo with my comment, Tea (pronounced Tay-uh), the young woman on the right; wrote me asking, “What’s going on in your country?” To this brilliant young law student, I tried to explain how the highest court in our land upheld an executive order that, from all appearances, is discriminatory based on religion.

I met Tea and Jilda four years ago on my first trip to the Republic of Georgia. These gregarious young women love God and neighbor in ways you and I, our governmental officials and leadership could stand to emulate. And their compassion for others is grounded in faith.

Tea’s faith and practice were embodied during my most recent visit to Georgia which occurred during Ramadan. She spent a day with our group of pilgrims journeying to a site in Georgia where the oldest humanoid remains—dating back 1.8 million years—have been discovered. Even though it was during Ramadan, Tea was excited to spend the day with me and our group of pilgrims. And even though she was fasting, her energy that day never waned. The food that sustained her was our love and friendship. Every time we visit, I have taken a gift to share with her, and each time the gift has been in the shape of a heart. Tea is teaching me about love—love of God and neighbor.

Jilda in three short years completed her university degree and is working in her family’s business in Batumi. Upon spending time in her home, I have marveled at her hard-working and disciplined life, as well as her love for God coupled with a life of prayer.*

The fear of Muslims among U.S. Christians finds its source not in the knowledge of people who are Muslim, but in a basic fear of difference. Our faith calls us to welcome and love the stranger. In the words of Deuteronomy 10:19: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The antidote to fear of difference is to spend time with those who are different from you. Perhaps your experience will mirror my experience of spending time with these young women who are Muslim. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2 holds true for me; Jilda and Tea have been angels to me—and I was unaware. 

*You can read about my interactions with Jilda in these reflection pieces:
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Paula Clayton Dempsey is director of partnership relations for the Alliance of Baptists.

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