Last month I went to North Africa. We spent nine days setting up an art gallery, meeting new friends, talking with gallery visitors, eating at new restaurants, and praying for the city we were in.
The country we were visiting is 99% Muslim. The city we were in had a handful of indigenous believers. We were told that it was a great risk for the locals to choose Christianity, because they would likely be rejected by many of their friends and family. Many people we met through our art gallery had never had a prolonged conversation with a Christian before.
Our pop-up gallery gave us a unique venue to get to know people and to explore the ideas presented in the art: Who should we care for? Who can we relate to? How can compassion transcend cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers? What does it mean to welcome “them”, whoever “those people” might be? What kinds of people should we assign value to? Artists from across America sent us pieces centered around those ideas for the three day show we hosted.
Over the course of three days, our pop-up gallery was filled with a mix of tourists, students, and locals we invited from the nearby boardwalk. Although we were in a neighborhood filled with hotels, just minutes from the ocean, the majority of the visitors to our gallery were North African.
As I mentioned in my last post, our friends at the language school did not let us down when they promised to come see our exhibition. We had over 200 people come to see our art show, and many of them were friends from the language school who brought family and friends with them.
After walking around to look at the art, many visitors to the gallery accepted our offer of cookies and tea, then sat down to talk with us for half an hour or more. They talked with our group, with our friends who live in the city long-term, and with other locals that they had never met before.
Overwhelmingly, our idea of caring for one’s neighbors resonated with them. In their culture, you owe your neighbors care and hospitality. To refuse to show sufficient hospitality to a guest would be embarrassing and shameful.
The compassion and care present in the hospitality in their culture led to great conversations about pushing compassion past duty, and caring out of a place of deep love. We were able to talk about motivation for caring for our neighbors, caring in a sacrificial way, and of course the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Our whole group had a wonderful time talking with gallery visitors, and many chose to come back a second time the next day, or hang out with us for dinner once the exhibition ended.
Aside from the depth of our conversations, I was struck by they genuine care people took in looking at the art. Few visitors were satisfied to simply give the art a passing glance. Many stopped, studied the pieces, read the English and French statements, then sought out someone from our group to talk with more.
Almost everyone asked why we couldn’t stay longer and when we would be back.
Our experience meeting people in the gallery, talking about our art, discussing culture, and talking about our faith surpassed my expectations. I was so impressed by the friendliness of the people I met there and I am so glad we got to go.
Read more about the people we met, and the culture they communicated, in my next post.