Loving Our Somali Neighbors
by Michael Ly
On October 16, 2010, two Somali women were attacked by another woman at a gas station in Tukwila, a town just south of Seattle.
These Somali women represent just two of the thousands upon thousands of Somali refugees that have come to make the greater Seattle area their home. Among men, women, children, and young and old from varying tribes, there is one thing that unites them all: Islam. Well, Islam and the fact that almost all of them are refugees, fleeing war and turmoil back in their home country. Many hope for peace to rule in their country one day, but until then, America is now their new home.
So how should followers of Jesus respond? Should we respond like the woman did to those two Somali women at the gas station? Should we ignore this opportunity to show the love of Jesus to our Somali neighbors? Should we fear Somalis as enemies of America and pray to God they leave our country?
Here are a few stories from a small community of people in the Seattle area that have instead chosen the path of Jesus:
I remember meeting Aden for the first time. Well dressed and clean shaven, Aden serves hundreds of Somali families through the organization he started, called Somali Youth and Family Club (SYFC). I left Aden a message after getting his name from the apartment’s front office, the same complex from which he runs most of his organization’s operations. I wanted to meet the man the Somali community called “the mayor” of this apartment complex. I also wanted his permission to invite the Somalis in his community for a dialogue about Jesus with my church.
He called me back within the hour and I met him the next day. I walked upstairs into what I thought would be a normal apartment, but I opened the door to see a room full of students being tutored by volunteers with the SYFC. I was amazed at how many children he was serving in such small quarters, yet how much joy filled the room as they learned. I sat down in Aden’s “office” (one of the apartment bedrooms) and I listened to him and his associate Hamdi tell me about the SYFC and Somali community in general. Their stories reminded me of my parents’ stories of fleeing from Cambodia and I was able to relate to the children that were being helped by SYFC.
After listening to the stories and telling them about my faith as a follower of Jesus, I kindly requested their presence at a dialogue about Jesus being hosted at my church for Muslims and Christians. Because I honored them with my honesty and kindness, they asked me to bring back as many flyers as possible to post them around the complex. Wow… not the response I was expecting! I returned the next day with as many flyers as I could print. I have continued my relationship with Aden and Hamdi and I am thankful that they see me as a follower of Jesus that loves and cares for the Somali community.
Peter volunteers with the Gideons on a regular basis. He frequently stands on a street corner in south Seattle passing out copies of the New Testament to people passing by as they get on and off the bus. Just recently Peter was speaking with a Somali woman and her children at the bus stop. He offered them a copy of the New Testament and said “Jesus the Messiah is called the Word of God. This is a copy of the message from Him, the Gospels. Would you like one?” She would not take it at first and prevented her children from taking a copy. As Peter stood there and listened to her and continued talking with her, her demeanor changed. She said “you are the first American that has been willing to talk to us and listen to us. Thank you for your kindness.” Peter offered the New Testaments again and this time the woman took copies for her and her children and asked if she could take more for her family and friends.
I heard from Aden that SYFC needed two computers for their new second office. I asked my community and Peter responded saying he had two computers. I met Peter at the apartment complex and we surprised Aden with two computers. Aden could not stop thanking Peter and me. As we left, Aden told Peter, “I want you to know, I thank God every night for bringing Michael into my life. He is a great supporter of our community and I am so thankful God has brought him into our lives.”