“Hi, I'm Gabi Aelabouni.”
"Yes, I know I have an accent. No, I'm not Italian. I'm from the Holy Land.”
“No, not Minnesota. Israel and Palestine.”
“Actually, I'm not Muslim or Jewish. I've been Christian all my life. I'm from a small town near Nazareth.”
“Yes, just like Jesus.”
“No, we're not related.”
“Yes, believe it or not, I'm studying to be an ELCA pastor.”
Since I arrived in the United States in 2001 to study at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, I've had many such conversations. People who meet me are naturally curious about where I come from. Usually, I'm happy to give these answers. I'm proud of who I am and glad that people care enough to want to hear my story.
But I was less than thrilled when these questions came from a visitor to my internship congregation, Antioch Lutheran, Farmington Hills, Mich. During the passing of the peace, I reached out to shake the man's hand and say, "God's peace be with you." Instead of responding with words of peace, he said, "I notice you have an accent. Where are you from? What are you doing here?"
This was an unpleasant surprise. I was three months into my internship. Since I'd been assigned to a mostly white congregation in suburban Detroit, I expected people to notice the things that made me different. I even hoped they would ask. But I did not expect them to ask me in the middle of worship, when I shared the peace as a brother in Christ and as a pastoral presence in the congregation.
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