The Monday night women’s Bible study welcomed two friends from Pakistan on February 6.


February 23, 2017

Sue George

Director of Communications & Technology

Two weeks ago our Monday night study group welcomed two unexpected guests: Veda Javaid, an old friend of Derry, and Shama Zia, a new friend and Muslim colleague of Veda’s. Both women are natives of Pakistan. That night, instead of talking about Ephesians, we learned more about the good work happening across the globe in Presbyterian Education Board (PEB) schools for girls and boys. I’d lost track that our group had first met Veda in 2010. Since then we’ve empowered Pakistani women by selling handmade shawls and scarves through Friends of SHE, and recent Christmas ornaments and Isaac’s fundraisers have helped to support a boys’ school in Sargodha, Pakistan.

Our discussion kept circling round to the idea that education changes lives. That’s as true for Americans as for the children of Pakistan. We delighted in hearing that in PEB schools, Muslim and Christian children learn together, side by side. And we agreed that it’s in getting to know others - like Veda and Shama Zia -- that bridges are built between countries, and these friendships foster peace. We draw closer to living in ways pleasing to Jesus Christ.

I’m glad that Derry is a place welcoming to Muslim and Christian friends alike, but I shouldn’t be surprised: welcoming is who we are. In person and on social media, Derry is a friendly and welcoming place. New members tell us so, and that’s a reason why so many of you are still here through staff changes, building changes, program adjustments and new ways of doing things. When newcomers walk in the door, I hope they catch a glimpse of what we already know: that this is a remarkable community of caring individuals who come together to worship and serve.  

And now we have another opportunity to be welcoming. It’s one that the Communications and Technology Committee embraces and your Session supports. It comes in the form of ordinary orange, blue and green signs that you’ll soon be seeing on our church lawn. You may have already seen them around town, signs that say in Spanish and English and Arabic, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

The sentiment is a simple statement of what we have heard so often in the Summary of the Law from the Gospel of Matthew in Sunday worship:

Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.

The signs were purchased from one of our mission partners, Christian Churches United, and originated at Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia -- the church their Executive Director Darrel Reinford attended when he was in college. The current pastor at the church, Matthew Bucher, is from Central PA and also has connections to the CCU staff. As a response toward the recent increase in public speech directed against various ethnic, religious and refugee populations, Pastor Bucher placed a hand-made wooden sign in his churchyard. Says Bucher, "This is a symbol of Jesus' command to love your neighbor, and as followers of Jesus, we follow someone who was himself a refugee."

Soon after the wooden sign was created, it was designed into a colorful, reproducible format and before long, garnered national attention, as evidenced by a recent feature on National Public Radio:  A Message of Tolerance and Welcome Spreading From Yard to Yard. Our own Presbyterian Church (USA) offers more ways we can be welcoming.

I’m glad the signs will be out front soon, and will be a visible symbol of who we are and what we believe. My only regret? They weren’t already in place when we were visited by our two friends from Pakistan.