I sit down with my American friends on the terrace, a shady respite that offers sight of pale buildings gleaming in the distance. The waiter, a young, bespectacled Arab, tells our ginger-haired friend that he is the Ron Weasley to his Harry Potter. Harry is thrilled that we have come back to his restaurant after walking by last night. We stay for a while, our energies dissolving into the afternoon sun. I sip a leafy cup of mint tea. Filled with lemon-zested chicken, vegetables, and prunes, we prepare to leave. Harry and his friend come back with a plate of thick cookies and, of course, mint tea. We will stay.
Forty-five minutes late to our meeting with new friends–a stretch even for the relaxed locals–we sit down and share stories of how our lives were changed by our interactions in the gallery. A few stories in, our host announces that it is time for mint tea–and a host of other treats. My stomach is overflowing with tea, a little bit of coffee, and culinary love. We tell more stories and dance off a few calories. Some of our friends even dance in rubbery animal heads. It is good to celebrate.
I told my new friends, who have bravely decided to follow Jesus in a place where their government says they may not, that they have loved us well. I told them how here, in their country, I met a French lady who bemoaned how in her grand apartment building, she longed to knock on people’s doors and get to know them, but she could not. Here, that is good; it is an honor to host someone, not a burden. Here, mint tea and cookies and Arabic names are an extension of grace. It creates relationship, not unlike the one God invites us into. And when those who follow Jesus keep these customs of knowing each other, their neighbors will know they are Christians by their love. That is good.