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Four years ago a rather frantic woman greeted me right before our second worship gathering. She was outside the door. She was wearing a hijab. She had a little girl by the hand and she could say four words in English.
“Glenna. English. Help me!”
Friends from church were trying to assist her, but none of us could communicate in Arabic. When I arrived, I greeted her with the words, “Marhaba.” When she heard that greeting, she responded with a flurry of words in Arabic that I could not understand. We were able to use our cell phones and the Google translate app to communicate.
I learned in a very short amount of time that she was a recent arrival from Syria. She and her husband had three children. Someone had told them about our church’s Englsih as a Second or Other Language program that helps new arrivals in our community. The leader at our church is Glenna. She was desperate to find Glenna.
Over the course of a few minutes, we were able to communicate what days our ESOL program operated, where it was located and who could assist her with registration and materials. This mom was ready to learn English!
Over the course of the next several months, I would stop in the classes and check in on her and the other students. Our congregation has persons from 55 nations (pre COVID). Many of them entered into our faith community through the ESOL program or other ministries that we provide. In Northern Virginia, the nations have come to us. When we think about the Great Commission, we don’t need to fly around the world, we can literally walk across the yard and meet our neighbor.
Six or seven months into my friend’s journey with us, I asked her to step way out of her comfort zone. Her English had improved dramatically. It was astonishing really. Our church regularly celebrates the diversity of our congregation with a gathering we call, ‘A Taste of Heaven.’ During that worship gathering in February, I asked our Syrian friend if she would give a greeting to our congregation. On that particular Sunday, she came on the platform with me, wearing that same hijab and said to almost 500 people, “Because of you, I speak English. Thank you.” I must tell you, that brief statement brought tears to many, many eyes. We stood and applauded her bravery and determination.
One day Jesus was asked what is the greatest command. We can summarize his response with, “Love God and love your neighbor.” I don’t know how you need to express your faith in loving God. It might be through your devotional life. It might be as you gather to worship. Perhaps it is through generous living. Loving our neighbor can also be expressed in so many ways. I don’t think Jesus is really concerned with how you love your neighbor, but I do think He is concerned with…if you are loving your neighbor.
Neighbors can be scary. They might not look like us. They might not speak our language. They might not have the same customs that we have. But they are our neighbors. And Jesus told us to love them.
Don’t miss the opportunities God puts in your way to show the amazing love of Jesus.
David Donahue is the pastor of Manassas Baptist Church in Manassas, Virginia. He has been married for 31 years to Veronica and they have one daughter, Lauren. David and Veronica met on a mission trip to Mexico City while David was in college and Veronica was a student there. They were married in Mexico City in 1989 and moved to Fort Worth, Texas where he studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and she studied at Texas Wesleyan University.
In 1994 they moved to Virginia where they have served four congregations in the past 26 years. In 1997 they welcomed their daughter Lauren into their lives and she has been a blessing of epic proportions. In the fall, she will be leaving home again to pursue a master’s degree at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.
David is the son of Bill and Gertrude Donahue of West Frankfort, IL. He has three siblings and their extended families, all living in Illinois. David is a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys! He enjoys skeet shooting, hiking, and traveling with Veronica.
David is a pastor. He has a pastor’s heart for people, the city they live and the global community. He has served in rural congregations, small towns and now on the western edge of Washington, DC. Building relationships with those he encounters and sharing the Gospel message has been his passion and focus of his life.
Manassas Baptist Church is a unique congregation. People from 55 nations gather to worship and serve there. They host four language congregations in their buildings as well. The church is active in feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless and assisting new arrivals to our nation. Through all of these endeavors, they share the story and the hope of Jesus.