Love Thy Neighbour
Contributed by Jessica Jahn of the Abbotsford British Columbia Stake
When asked which of the commandments was the greatest of all, the Saviour declared that love of God and love of our fellow beings were the most important of God’s commandments. We should love and serve not only those with whom we have much in common, but must also reach out to those who are different from ourselves.
In 2000, Carson Noftle, of the Abbotsford, British Columbia Stake, was hired to design a Sikh temple on the property across the street from the Abbotsford Stake Centre. This project would provide him with unique challenges as an architect, as well as opportunities to develop and witness greater charity for others.
From the outset, obtaining approval to rezone the land and build the Sikh temple was met with much opposition. Then Stake President Brian Leavitt provided a warm letter of support, and the Sikh neighbours were very impressed with that gesture of good will.
At the public hearings, President Leavitt attended as a representative of the Abbotsford Stake to show support for our neighbours. Brother Noftle described the meeting. “The public hearing lasted for 12 hours, over three nights, and included some very dramatic moments comprising anger and barely hidden racism. The tension in the council chambers was palpable. One side of the auditorium was filled with those opposed, who were angrily vociferous as they attempted to interrupt Council’s discussion.” Brother Noftle sat quietly with his Sikh clients on the other side of the auditorium. When the decision was rendered in favour of the Sikh Temple, there was chaos. Yet in the midst of this unhappy scene, Brother Noftle experienced a moment of beauty: As the people began to leave, “a Sikh man, stooped from age and with evident physical difficulty, limped slowly towards me. He laid his cane against the seat beside me and placed his head, which was wrapped in the turban of his faith, on my chest and embraced me. He said not a word, but I have seldom felt such a profound sense of appreciation in my life. I hugged him in return and we moved on.”
Brother Noftle came to understand more clearly the Savior’s instruction to love his neighbour, and to “feel deeply the importance of knowing that the man who hugged me was my brother, my little, stooped, worn out brother. His courage in reaching out to me like that … helps me see him as a son of God, meek and humble, full of love and tender feelings for others. My respect and appreciation for the Sikh people was magnified, my understanding of the brotherhood of man expanded.”
Through the years, the relationship between the members of the Abbotsford Stake and their Sikh neighbours steadily developed. The Sikhs were welcome to use the Stake Centre parking lot when they needed extra parking, and communication remained open and friendly. In response to the division among cultures and faiths, the city of Abbotsford began a program called ABC (Abbotsford Building Communities), designed to encourage interfaith relationships. In 2011 a city representative asked Stake President Neil McKenzie, to encourage even more activity between the two religious groups. This initiative was acted upon with great enthusiasm. After several meetings with the Abbotsford Stake, Sikh and local government representatives, many plans for building bridges of understanding and cooperation were developed.
One of the first interfaith opportunities occurred in 2011 when the LDS organized BC Thanksgiving Food Drive. The Sikhs assisted by having collection boxes at their temple. On collection day, they brought 400 lbs of food across the street to the stake centre collection site. This collaborative effort was duplicated the following year, with the 2012 food drive.
In April, 2012 LDS and Sikh leaders organized an interfaith evening. One hundred and fifty LDS members toured the Sikh temple and one hundred Sikhs came through the Abbotsford Stake Centre. One participant commented, “it was enlightening to see many of the similarities in our beliefs. Everyone developed a better appreciation for each other.”
Brother Noftle enjoyed leaving his professional relationship in the background as he experienced the joy of sharing personal, deeply held beliefs while guiding tours that night with his wife, Elaine. He shared the following precious moment: “During one of the tours in the Stake Centre, an elderly Sikh woman, who couldn’t speak English, was standing next to my wife. She pointed to a painting of the resurrected Saviour standing in front of Mary outside the tomb, noticed the nail prints in the Saviour’s hands, pointed to her own hands, so that Elaine would know what she was focused on, and wept. My wife knew precisely what the woman was expressing, and wept with her.” Brother Noftle continued, “It was a tender exchange, to see these two women from such different cultures and such different faith traditions sharing a profound spiritual moment.”
The following Sunday, three Sikh leaders attended sacrament meeting in the LDS chapel. As it was fast and testimony meeting, members of the ward were privileged to bear their testimonies in front of the men for whom they had developed so much respect, and grown to love. More recently, Sikh women hosted Relief Society sisters from the three Abbotsford Wards and taught them how to make samosas. In return, the Sikh women will soon be joining the Abbotsford stake sisters for classes on cooking, emergency preparedness, and crafting.
The cooperation between the Abbotsford BC stake, the Abbotsford Sikh community and the City of Abbotsford, is a shining example of how to follow the Saviour’s admonition to love our neighbour, as well as President Monson’s counsel to “be good citizens of the nations in which we live and good neighbours in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths, as well as to those of our own” (‘Until We Meet Again,’ Ensign, Nov. 2008). We look forward to all the future holds regarding this friendship between neighbours and fellow sons and daughters of God.