Leo Didn’t See This Coming

Date Posted: 
Friday, May 1, 2015

First Reformed Church of Scotia’s Palestinian friends, l-r: Khaled, Jihan, Refugee Resettlement Team member Jane Lansing, and Fawaz.

By Craig Hoffman

A remarkable thing has happened the last three Christmases at First Reformed Church of Scotia, just across the river from Schenectady, New York.

For three years in a row, on the Sunday morning before Christmas, an amazing after-worship coffee hour has been served—not with special Dutch food, but with wonderful Middle Eastern food like kabob, falafel, and baklava. The people serving at coffee hour greet the congregants with warm smiles and wishes of “Merry Christmas.”

But the most remarkable thing of all is that the gracious folks hosting these coffee hours are Muslims—three households of an extended family of Palestinian refugees who settled in Schenectady when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees cleared them to leave their refugee camp on the Syrian border.

More precisely, they are Palestinians who originally fled Palestine for Iraq. Then, when they were persecuted there, they fled Iraq for Syria, where they lived in refugee camps for four years. At times men were in one camp, women in another. Imagine holding a family together under those conditions.

When the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants resettled these families in New York, a mission group from the church helped them find apartments and jobs, and helped orient them to American ways and schools. So every year, this extravagant Christmas coffee hour is the families’ way of saying thank you—not just to the people in the mission group, but to the entire First Reformed congregation.

The church’s Muslim friends are Rami and Linda, with their children, Saidam, Lula, Ramzia, and Mohammed; Linda’s parents, Fawaz and Samira, with her brothers, Khaled and Mufid; as well as Rami’s sister Jihan and her husband, Mohanned, with their children, Saif, Susu, and Abraham.

The families have also presented First Reformed with a metalwork rendering of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural The Last Supper. It was crafted in Syria by an artisan in the minority Christian community there and ended up in Canada. But now it is here, prominently displayed on the wall outside the church’s fellowship hall.

Sometimes you just have to smile, for who would have thought it? A fifteenth-century mural from the wall of an Italian convent becomes one of the most recognized icons of Christian faith. Six centuries later a Syrian craftsman reproduces it in metal and it ends up in Canada, whereupon Palestinian Muslims somehow purchase it and present it to a congregation of Reformed Christians that had long ago separated from the Roman Catholic Church of the aforementioned Italian convent. “Merry Christmas, and thank you,” they say!

Leonardo didn’t see that coming. Neither did we. We trust that God looks down and smiles, as do we all.

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