From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Standing in Solidarity

Cultivation of tolerance for other faiths will impart to us a true understanding of our own. For me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.

Mahatma Gandhi

Five miles from our home in LaVerne, California, are two Muslim schools that I did not realize were there until the days following the terrorist attacks in September. Then came that day, September 11, 2001, that changed every American’s life in some way. It is interesting to notice that the 911 in its dateline is the emergency telephone number throughout our country. It is a reminder of how so many felt helpless and threatened during the tragedy.

It became a time to watch the unbelievable scenes on the television news. Later, a question came to my mind. What could I ever do to help ease the pain in this tough situation? One answer came very unexpectedly.

My husband, Chuck, a pastor in the Church of the Brethren, was invited by a Muslim acquaintance to an interfaith meeting on the Friday following the attacks. There, one idea presented was to give support to the Muslim schools, which had closed upon hearing the news of the terrorist attacks.

A few days later, a phone call came asking us to go stand in front of these schools when they reopened. All we were expected to do was to be a “presence” there, to show our support for the Muslims as human beings and fellow Americans, not as terrorists. It sounded simple enough.

With some uncertainty, I arrived at the gated school the morning it reopened, September 19. Several other Brethren, as well as people from other denominations came. Our waving, smiling and greetings began to be returned to us immediately by the parents and teachers as they drove into the drop-off area. Many expressed their appreciation for us being there. As days passed, we were given donuts, flowers, letters of thanks from the students, a breakfast and a thank-you luncheon where plaques were presented to the LaVerne and Pomona Fellowship Churches of the Brethren. These plaques state that we are united under the same God.

We have become acquainted with these dear Muslims who are more like us than I could have imagined. Never have they tried to convert us or terrify us. They have been very accepting of who we are. In fact, it was an amazing moment when one Muslim stated that some of them wanted to come to our worship service in LaVerne. Her faith encouraged learning about other faiths, she reported. The date of October 14 was set for their visit, and thirty of these new Muslim friends were warmly greeted by our congregation.

The following Monday, we heard that their attendance at our church had been a meaningful time for them. They sent a note of gratitude to the LaVerne congregation.

For us, a relationship with the Muslim community is just beginning. We have been invited to attend their worship service. We have scheduled a planning session to determine how we can work together. Out of tragedy has emerged a Christian-Muslim relationship that is exciting and fulfilling. Little did I dream of what blessings were in store for us from being just a “presence” at the Muslim City of Knowledge School, and little did I know how much our presence would mean to the teachers and students. A thank-you note from a fifth-grader said it all:

Dear People,

You make me feel safe. Without you, I wouldn’t feel safe. I like how polite you are. With you I won’t feel suspicious. This is a thanks from my best friends and me.


Shirley Boyer

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