On Sunday I was invited to worship with my ESL student. She asked me to come to their service that would be mostly in Arabic. Being the church geek I am, I said yes right away!
When I arrived it seemed there was some confusion with their worshiping community and the host church in the building they normally use. We sang some songs in Arabic and then joined the Catholic mass a half hour later.
As they were singing, I recognized some words: Gloria in excelsis deo.
Their song included lots of repeating so once I figured out when they would sing the Latin words, I joined in. The look on my student’s face was priceless. She was delighted that I would join their song. After all, most of our time together is spent with me telling her the right word or pronunciation or definition. She is the learner – seemingly at a disadvantage. Now the tables were turned. I did not know what they were singing but tried to join in as I could. In truth, I did know what they were singing. I may not have known the words but I knew the meaning: Glory to God in the highest!
That truth transcends language.
I felt just as comfortable with the singing in Arabic as I was with the mass in English. We all were worshiping God; looking ahead to celebrating the birth of Jesus.
After the service we ate! As you can see from the picture, I had my fair share – including seconds! The homemade buffet consisted of their favorite foods from Africa. My student is from South Sudan. The food came from there as well as Ethiopia and Egypt.
So how has this experience changed me? I am rethinking what it means to be welcoming. I want to see my life and my congregation through new eyes – looking for barriers that divide and imagining ways they may be dissolved.
I ended Sunday chuckling. God has a funny sense of humor. The language that brought us together wasn’t English or even Arabic. It was Latin! The message of hope in God unites us in every language.
Gloria in excelsis deo! Gloria to God in the highest.
And peace to all people on earth!