When Steve Stone picked up his paper on that fateful morning and read the headline: “Muslims buy land for hub in Cordova,” he immediately felt queasy and uncomfortable. The rest of the article informed him that a new Memphis Islamic Center was to be built on 30 acres of land.
It would be right across the street from Heartsong Church, a United Methodist church in a suburb of Memphis, Tenn., where Stone preaches. Rather than accept his immediate impulse of fear and ignorance, he turned to God. He prayed and read the gospels until he came across the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In the parable, a beaten man lies in the street, overlooked and ignored by all passersby, except one: a Samaritan, a member of a religious group that was widely reviled and feared. It was this that inspired Stone to make the decision that would be the start of something beautiful. He erected a banner in front of his church that read: “Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood.”
Bashar Shala, cardiologist and chairman of the Memphis Islamic Center’s board of trustees, dreamed of building a safe space for Muslims to “pray and play;” the center was meant to be a mosque, recreation center, daycare center, banquet hall, all rolled into one, a place where the Muslim of community of Cordova could gather to socialize, relax, and worship together.
While Shala and his board dreamed big, they struggled with more than their fair share of obstacles. The beginning of Ramadan was to be the unveiling of the new center, but they were not ready in time. After asking the Heartsong Church whether they could use the space to pray for a few days, Muslims in Memphis ended up spending the entire month of Ramadan at Heartsong. “We are a better congregation now. We are a better people because of this friendship with Heartsong,” Shala said.
Many of the Christians in the video recount that the friendship between the two congregations across the street resulted in unlikely solidarity, a bridging of the gap we so desperately need, and immense understanding—which many otherwise would never have known could emerge in the Bible belt.
Let this serve as an example to the kind of work that needs to be done in this post-Trump political climate. This shows that the distances between communities can only be conquered through empathy, active participation, and aid through struggle.
The video is part of Starbucks’ original new series: “Upstanders.”