Grocery shopping used to seem so routine. If I wanted to make French toast
for Saturdays breakfast, I could pop into the supermarket on the way home from
a long week at the office, grab a crusty loaf in the bread aislepre-cut, of
courseand follow a simple recipe the next morning. Who thought about whether
French toast was an international dish? Just pass the syrup
Stores became more sophisticated (and so did I) adding delis and bakeries
and a mind-boggling array of choices. My shopping habits changed, upgrading
with my consciousness of finer cuisine. French toast now means starting with
the real McCoy. I reach into a huge basket for an 18-inch baguette (which I
slice at home with a proper bread knife, never mind the crumbs). And if Im
feeling particularly erudite, perhaps fueled by a Friday afternoon sugary
latte, I may pick out a loaf of Cuban or Armenian, pretending to know the
But recently this change in international market choices has accelerated.
Hey, who stocked the pasta shelves with tabouli and phyllo just when I was
finally figuring out the difference between manicotti and linguini?
Last week I was standing in produce trying to decide between South African
forelle pears and New Zealand comice pears. An Asian woman inquired: had I seen
any Chinese lotus roots? No, I replied, feeling a bit squeamish and wondering
why. I pushed my cart to avocados, considering whether the shipment from Chili
could be any tastier than the California fruit Ive always loved.
A man in a flowing white robe asked if knew the going rate
for cilantro. I didnt, I said, then impulsively asked where he was from. I
think he replied Guyana, but later I wondered if he had said Ghana or even
Guinea, feeling incredibly geographically challenged.
I resolved to be bolder about clarifying details (and which hemisphere would
your country be in, sir?) if
another opportunity presented itself, and sure enough one did.
I rounded a corner and stumbled across two couples arguing, or so I first
thought. Turns out they were just excited to find fellow Muslims in a grocery
store. The tip-off, I learned, was that each wife was dressed in a hijab, as
Americans call the womans white head covering (a detail I asked as they
included me in their conversation).
Reporter instincts kicked in, and I began to probe. For example, why are
Muslim wives covered head to toe? They explained that this was protection
against loose morals. The more I listened the more I learned.
What I got was a mini-course in Islam. Muhammads faithful shun what they
consider to be the low personal standards of the West, which they blame
squarely on Christianity.
America is so me centered. In Islam we say its not a religion, its a way of
life. Christians become slaves to the local politics and culture. This lecture
was delivered by a man whose business card said he is a web developer/system
programmer for a major wireless company. An African American, his ancestors
came from Nigeria, he said. His wife was born in Morocco. The husband of the
other couple, whose card identified him as a consultant for a high tech company
I wasnt familiar with, explained that they both were from India and would
return when his contract was over.
The conversation seemed loud and even crude to my American sensibilities,
probably because of their fervor and passion. As another shopper joined the
discussion and attention drifted from me to her, I had a chance to catch my
breath. Much as I disagreed with what the Muslims were saying about both my
religion and my country, I liked their conviction and directness.
The newcomer to our little circle was an immigrant from Estonia. Svetlana
defended not only America but also Christians, who, she pointed out, founded
the country and made it possible for such a discussion to take place. I hadnt
heard a reference to our Bill of Rights in quite a while and was touched by her
sincerity. She was applying for citizenship, she said, because of such
The conversation drifted and so did the Muslims, although not without
jotting their cell and pager numbers on their business cards. I might want to
know more about Islam, they suggested. I was struck by how such a gesture was
what we Christians call being on mission.
Together Svetlana and I pushed our carts toward frozen foods. We exchanged
the basics: marital status, neighborhoods, jobs. Finally I felt bold enough to
invite her to church.
Her response was another jolt of the reality of North America as a cultural
melting pot. She didnt need to go to church, she said, because just living here
is enough for me. In other words, she elaborated, life is so much better for
her now than when she lived in Estoniafirst in communism and later in an
economically struggling democracy.
Svetlana associates worship with asking God for help, not thanking Him for
it. She is free now, shopping where there are plenty of choices and money to
pay for them. Its not that she doesnt believe in God; its that she
doesnt know about an ongoing, personal relationship with Him. She
believes that He has blessed certain nations, and that her personal
connection to Him was to uproot and move here. To Svetlana, becoming American
is becoming Christian.
Im happy, she assured me with a beaming smile.
And I believed her. But I felt down, defeated. I had not made a convincing
case to her (much less to the Muslims!) that church is more than another
Christian cultural phenomenon, like shopping at the supermarket.
How can I show the Svetlanas I meet more and more often these days that
Jesus died for their sins, that faith is their link to Him in eternity, that a
fellowship of believers will enrich their lives and help them to follow
In this issue of On Mission we look at the changing face of North
Americaimmigration statistics, distinctives of ethnic people
groups, people who are reaching out and people being reached.
Go with us to this supermarket of ideas where we learn to share Christ
Carolyn Curtis is editor of On
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC