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Stepping out of your comfort zone

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I love the comfort of my recliner and that cup of hot coffee in the morning as I catch the news on my big-screen color TV in the ease of my heated/air-conditioned subdivision home.

The bubble of my daily life is secure and the routines of each day bring me a sense of satisfaction during my days of retirement. I know my neighbors, the grocery store clerks and my druggist. Life is good. Don’t mess with it.

How very easy it is for so many of us Americans to live in such a bubble, to stake out our comfort zones and dare anyone different form ourselves to come in and disturb them.

I’m sad to say that in a big, diverse, beautiful world, far too many want to build walls to keep out all that diversity and beauty to protect their little bubble world of comfort, mostly white comfort. That is not the real world, the world in which we live or the world God created.

Most of my professional life was devoted to working with college students and their leaders. One primary lesson I sought to teach them and model for them was in getting out of their comfort zones to learn more about their world and themselves.

In order to do so, they would have to leave that which was familiar, comfortable. They learned that comfort zones don’t inspire. They learned that they are only confined by the walls they built around themselves.

One must practice what one preaches.

In the fall of 2016, my wife and I spent our wedding anniversary doing volunteer work for the Collateral Repair Project in Amman, Jordan. We gave assistance to Syrian and Iraqi refugees who had fled the ravages of war with ISIS and sectarian conflict.

At times, we were only a few kilometers from the Syrian border and in areas where ISIS had been active. We were out of our comfort zone. But, we were learning in ways that could have never taken place in that comfortable recliner at home.

What we saw and the stories we heard of escape and near-death experiences, while taking nothing with them but the clothes on their backs, was riveting and heartbreaking.

When one listens to two children, a brother and his sister, tell of being forced to witness the beheading of their grandfather, one comes to understand “stepping out of your comfort zone.”

When we asked these refugees, mostly Muslims, what they wanted us to communicate to our fellow citizens and neighbors back in the United States, two requests were common.

“Please tell your people we are not terrorists. We hate ISIS. These murderers who call themselves ISIS are not true Muslims” was communicated to us over and over.

“We are human beings, just like all people and all Americans. We are no different. Why does your presidential candidate, Trump, speak so badly about us?” was a common theme we heard on many occasions.

Prior to this journey to Jordan, I decided it was hypocritical to travel halfway around the world to assist Muslim refugees and not know my Muslim neighbors right here in Johnston County and the Smithfield-Selma area. I discovered there was a mosque in Smithfield.

Following our return, the Muslim community of our area purchased a vacant Pentecostal church and rehabbed it into a new mosque. With the assistance of the mosque leadership and several area Christian ministers, a dedication service for the mosque was planned to assist in building a bridge of Christian/Muslim friendship.

Invitations to this historic event went out to the community of Christians and township political leaders. Very few responded.

Gratefully, there were those brave souls who, as Christians and community leaders, did attend and participated in the conducting of the service of dedication and joining hands with our Muslim neighbors.

We must never allow fear of that which is different, that which challenges our comfort, from doing that which is Christ-like. May I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and into the heart of God?

“Though my faith is not yours, and your faith is not mine, if we are free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.” — Rabbi Sachs

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.

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