23942_000_003We came from different backgrounds and religions, but her kindness reminded me of all we had in common.
After surveying the many travelers in the closest coach section of the train and finding no empty seats, I decided to sit in the quiet solace of the luggage car. The solitude would give me a chance to reflect and prepare for my new assignment as a missionary in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Since leaving Sint–Niklaas, Belgium, I’d made several train transfers with armloads of luggage, and I was relieved this train would be taking me all the way to my destination. With a little more than four months left as a missionary, I anticipated this would be my last transfer.
My stomach growled as the train thudded along. I had left Belgium early and without breakfast. There were vendors on the train platforms selling snacks, but after crossing the border, I realized I had forgotten to change my money and carried only Belgian francs.
Lost in thought, I hardly noticed as the train lurched to a stop between stations until the luggage car door screeched open. I looked up to see a Muslim woman enter, followed by her three young children. Her scarf covered her hair, and her black dress reached the ground, covering everything but her hands. She found the orange vinyl seat closest to me, flipped it down, and sat. Her children followed her lead and sat facing me. My secret hope that they would leave me to my pondering vanished. They were here to stay, so I smiled politely.
“Are you going to Amsterdam?” she asked.
I told her I was and learned they were going there as well to see her sister. Neither of us had been to Amsterdam before, and we were both curious about what we might find there.
Then she read my name tag aloud slowly: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
“Yes, I have heard of Him,” she told me, referring to Christ, “but we worship Allah and follow the teachings of Muhammad.”
“Yes, I know,” I answered, nodding. “I mean, I can tell.”
She smiled knowingly, turned to her children and then back to me. “Are you hungry?”
“No, I’m fine,” I answered as my stomach growled. She gave me a disappointed look, and I saw the faces of her children fall.
“My children are hungry,” she replied as she pulled bread, cheese, and juice from her bag. “And it is rude in our culture to eat without sharing with others,” she explained. “So you must eat with us. Otherwise, we do not eat. If you do not eat, we do not eat. And my children are hungry.”
The children looked at me with pleading eyes.
Then their mother laughed and added, “Why do you think we sit in here? We cannot share with so many,” she nodded toward the crowded coach section, “but with one, it is easy to share.”
I laughed too, her point well taken. I spent the rest of the train ride accepting gifts of chewy chunks of Turkish bread and red, wax-covered pieces of Gouda cheese from her children. We sipped apple juice from cardboard cartons with Arabic writing and spoke both English and Dutch as we conversed. The children wanted to know if I wanted more bread, more juice, more cheese, more crackers, or more cookies.
When we parted on the platform we felt like old friends, wishing each other luck and hoping we would see each other again. We waved good-bye, and they disappeared into the crowd. As I watched them go, I was reminded of Matthew 25:35 [Matt. 25:35]: “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”
I felt enriched because of our brief encounter. Our differences of religion, culture, and race were overshadowed at the moment by our common destination, a common meal, and her common courtesy.