My family recently moved to the Phoenix area. We have really enjoyed this new season of our lives. It is exciting to see a new place through fresh eyes and dig into the culture and people of our new home. After spending the last five years living in the Muslim country of Morocco, we were thrilled to learn that there were many Muslims living all around us, even in our neighborhood. We continue to drink sweet mint tea, eat amazing food, and build friendships with some of the kindest, and most hospitable people we have ever met. For us, this is a true gift, a blessing. Our eyes have been opened to this new and exciting world, due to our time spent investing in the lives of Muslims in their own country and allowing them to invest in our lives as well!
We recognize, however, that discovering this gift is not something most Americans have experienced. We have often pondered, how do we invite our friends, folks that have grown up and lived most of their lives in Arizona, to walk this exciting journey with us? How can we be a catalyst to help others see, with new eyes, the place where they grew up? More importantly, how do we help others discover and engage with people that are different from them in their own neighborhoods where they may have gone unseen and forgotten? And most importantly, how do we share the joy and treasure that we have experienced in meeting Jesus in the homes of our Muslim friends, in the mosques of our foreign neighbors, in the tea and chwarma shops of our brothers and sisters from another country?
I was recently on a guided hike through the desert. Although this was yet another new experience for me, the group was made up of people that have spent most of their lives playing in the desert. This was nothing new to them.
We put boots on the trail and started following our experienced guide. At one particular spot on the trail, our guide paused and turned our attention to two small and seemingly identical cacti, side by side, just off the path.
“What do you guys see there?”, he asked. My group desert veterans, began to chime in. “I see two cacti.”“Twins!”“I’m guessing two saguaros.”
To me, the latter seemed like a great guess.
“Look closer”, our guide said, smiling. “There are two types of cacti there. The one on the right is a saguaro cactus, but the one on the left?”
“A barrel cactus?”, questioned an eager hiker. “That’s right!”
He then began to teach us the difference between the two. What we learned was fascinating. You could sense our awe and wonder as our eyes were opened to this new discovery. The best part was the reaction of the locals in the group that had hiked these trails innumerable times.
“I have never seen that before! I have lived here all my life, hiked these trails many times, and never knew the difference between the barrel and saguaro. I’ve never noticed. You have opened my eyes to a whole new world!”
What an amazing gift our guide had just given us. The rest of the hike seemed to come alive for each of us. At every turn we were pointing out barrels and saguaros like expert guides! The trail had new life, new color, new meaning.
I quickly jotted down, in my field notes, “we have to put ourselves in places to SEE IT. And once we see it, we see it all the time!”
Perhaps this relates to our real life experience. It’s easy to put our heads down on the trail and miss the beauty all around us. It is equally easy to stay insulated and comfortable behind our front doors. We grow up in one place, one pocket of culture, and become conditioned to the world around us. The true adventure starts when we put boots in the dirt and follow our guide, even when the trail leads us outside of our comfort zones.
I suppose I could have read a desert botany book, or trusted Google to tell me everything I needed to know about barrel and saguaro. It takes intentionality and courage to gear up and hit the trail, but once there, the actual experience is inspiring and life changing. I see the desert with new eyes!
I want to see my neighborhoods, my workplace, my schools, with new eyes! I want to peel off the blinders and discover the blessing that God has given to us: the nations coming to us. It starts with us intentionally putting ourselves in places to see the people around us. It means believing that Jesus has put us in these neighborhoods for a purpose, and recognizing that the foreigner on our street is not there by accident. We have an opportunity to be a blessing to our neighbors, and to approach them with humility and love and to discover how full and rich our lives become as we experience the blessing that they are to us!
We want to meet Jesus, our inspired guide on the trail, and have Him open our eyes to the people all around us, in the places we have always known. And when we SEE THEM, we will see them all the time!