On Sept. 11, 2001, I had just begun serving as an intern at Salam Arabic Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. I well remember walking north on 4th Avenue in the Bay Ridge neighborhood that fateful morning. As I looked up into what should have been a clear blue sky I could see a jet black cloud forming to the northwest. At first, I thought it must have been a storm cloud. It reminded me of funnel clouds I had seen while growing up in Iowa.
I had no idea what had happened that morning until I reached the church door. There I was met by Pastor Khader El-Yateem, a Palestinian Lutheran who was my internship supervisor. He told me that there had been a terrorist attack in New York that morning and that there were "planes down around the country." He said to go back to my apartment and wait for him to call me. And so I walked back down 4th Avenue and went home to watch the horror that was unfolding on television.
Brooklyn has the largest concentration of Arab immigrants in the country. In the days that followed 9/11, you can imagine that there were people who very angry over the terrorist attacks that had occurred in Manhattan, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Some chose to express their anger by targeting the members of Brooklyn's Arab community. People drove through the Bay Ridge neighborhood and threw eggs at Arab homes. Arab stores were vandalized. Muslim women who wore head covers were harassed on the street.
Pastor Heather Brown
What many people failed to realize following 9/11 is that Brooklyn's Arab community has been around for more than 100 years. In fact, Khalil Gibran ("The Prophet") once lived in Brooklyn, where he wrote some of his finest work. Even here in North Dakota, Arab Americans have contributed to our state in unique ways through their agricultural work and businesses. These folks have added just as much to the US as the immigrants who came from European countries and elsewhere around the globe. It's also important to note that there are people from Arab countries who have chosen to leave the Middle East for the U.S. in order to escape the kind of violence that was perpetrated by the hijackers on 9/11.
It is so easy for us to stereotype others and place them in categories where they don't belong. This is exactly what Jesus was trying to keep us from doing when he was asked by a lawyer, "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). For Jesus, a person's "neighbor" cannot be defined according to skin color, country of origin, economic status or even religion. The Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates that a true "neighbor" is one who shows mercy to others regardless of who they are, where they are from, or what they look may look like. Jesus invites us all to join his mission of mercy when he says, "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37).
Pastor Heather Brown serves Trinity United Parish in Glenburn and Lansford.
Reflections, a mini-sermon written by Minot and area clergy, will appear each Saturday in The Minot Daily News. Clergy interested in writing a mini-sermon should contact Religion Editor Loretta Johnson at 857-1952 or Debbie Sandvold at 857-1950. The toll-free number is 1-800-735-3229.