Building a Community of Faith

    June 28, 2019
    I knew something was wrong when my friends started marking themselves “safe” on Facebook. I remember thinking, “Safe? From what?” Then the message from my brother: “Did you hear about the shooting back home?”
    I began frantically scrolling through the news to get a better idea of what had happened. My heart felt heavy as I saw the headlines: “51 killed and dozens, including young children, injured in New Zealand mass shootings targeting mosques.”
    It was hard to feel any relief knowing that although my loved ones were safe, someone else was suffering from the news that someone they loved was hurt or had been killed.
    I hardly slept that night. My ears rang with the echo of sirens. I pictured the emergency teams working against odds to repair frail bodies. I breathed in the scent of floral wreaths, piled high to honor the victims.
    Time passed quickly after that. The shooting slipped out of the headlines and was no longer a topic of conversation. But I still felt a pit in my stomach that ached whenever I thought about the people affected by this tragedy.
    Soon after, President Nelson toured the Pacific. I remember reading about his visit with the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. He also met with Muslim religious leaders to donate funds to help repair the damaged mosques after the shooting.
    I don’t remember the dollar amount, but I do remember the sentiment. For me, it was so much more than paying for a fresh layer of paint or repairing mortar. President Nelson was setting an example of faith and respect as he lovingly supported people of different faiths. It was a gesture of compassion and heartfelt concern.
    While many people expressed sincere appreciation for President Nelson’s example on behalf of the Church, not everyone felt the same way. Some chose to portray people of other religions as “outsiders.”
    I kept hearing the words of Elder Uchtdorf replaying in my head: “Judging others? Stop it!” As I read these comments, I prayed for help to be patient. I turned to the scriptures for understanding and guidance.
    “Christ is our greatest example of compassion and empathy. His love is perfect and nondiscriminatory.”
    The Savior taught that “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Christ is our greatest example of compassion and empathy. His love is perfect and nondiscriminatory.
    During His mortal ministry, the Savior taught this principle in the parable of the good Samaritan. When a Jewish man lay injured and beaten on the street, other Jews walked by or crossed to the other side. But one man of a different faith, a Samaritan, took the time to stop and help the injured Jew—going so far as to find him a safe place to stay and promising to return to pay the debt.
    As I reread this familiar parable, I realized that the Savior would have us reach out in love and kindness to all people we encounter along the way. The good Samaritan could have crossed the street with the excuse that Jews and Samaritans were of different faiths. But instead he chose to stay and help, as unlikely as it seemed.
    I realize now that every day I am faced with a similar choice. Will I help others even if they’re different from me? Will I choose to see others’ needs even when it isn’t convenient? Will I choose to love rather than judge?
    Since the attack, I’ve had time to process what it means for me as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although my beliefs are different from the Muslims worshipping in the mosque that day, we have a lot in common. When it comes to the things that matter most, we aren’t all that different.
    Elder Uchtdorf encourages us to “honor and respect sincere souls from all religions, no matter where or when they lived, who have loved God, even without the fulness of the gospel. We lift our voices in gratitude for their selflessness and courage. We embrace them as brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father” (“Faith of Our Father”).
    The victims of the shooting were attending a religious service during the week—one of many for devout Muslims. As part of my own religious experience, I often go to church activities during the week or worship in the temple. I go to feel connected within my community of faith—much like people of other religions.
    A mosque is a place of worship, where Muslim believers don religious clothing and offer prayers. For a shooter to open fire in a mosque would be similar to an active shooter in a chapel or one of our temples.
    Adding to the tragedy of fallen lives is the loss of dignity and reverence in a sacred place of worship. Making comparisons doesn’t take away the pain of these events, but it helps me glimpse their magnitude.
    As members of the Church, we have a history steeped in religious persecution. We’ve been driven away, hated, mocked, and persecuted. Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Restoration, was martyred at the hands of an angry mob.
    This isn’t to say that my experiences are the same as those of my Muslim friends. And it definitely doesn’t dull the sting of these recent attacks. But now I look to people of all religions who are diligently seeking the divine. Together we form a people of faith and devotion, and this surpasses our differences.
    As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, “we claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith 1:11).
    I have much to learn from my friends. We may sometimes show our devotion in different ways. But if I focused on our differences, I'd miss the opportunity to connect. I’d miss a chance to listen and learn from people with diverse experience. These connections surpass the defeats and sorrows of life and help build love and respect.

    Rachael Freeman

    Rachael Freeman grew up in Whakatane, New Zealand. She now resides in North Salt Lake, Utah, with her husband and golden retriever dog.