Muslim Teen, Christian Mission

Jun 7, 2017

A group of Staunton teenagers is traveling to Honduras for eight days this month to help rebuild a church. It’s the focus of a Christian mission trip organized by Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton. But there’s at least one teen joining this mission who some might assume wouldn’t want to take part in the spread of Christian doctrine. WMRA’s Jessie Knadler explores the power and the risk of stepping outside of one’s faith to help others, while raising consciousness back home.

A bunch of teenagers have gathered at the home of Richard and Joie Tankard for a barbecue to talk logistics about the upcoming mission to Honduras.

HARRIET TANKARD:    So is it okay if we bring our phone?

This is the first mission for Harriet, the Tankard’s 17-year old daughter. 

TANKARD:  I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I go to church every Sunday. Volunteering is part of faith. If you are just sitting in a church praying you’re not practicing. The whole purpose of faith is to practice.

Mac Kincheloe just turned 16. He’s involved in two Episcopal churches.

MAC KINCHELOE:  Just being someone on this earth I feel like my mission is to help other people live a better life because I was blessed with such a good life.

There’s someone else going on this trip.

ABDULLAH TARIQ:  My name is Abdullah Tariq. I’m 16 years old and I’m Muslim.

It might seem a little incongruous—why a Muslim teen would want to participate in a trip that promotes Christian values. 

ABDULLAH:  The risk to me is people seeing me differently. Like, he’s maybe converting. Like, no. I’m just trying to do something good and help other people. I’ve just always wanted to help people. I don’t really like it when people discriminate. It really makes me mad. It upsets me. I see everybody the same.

These values were shaped by his family, but also partially by the church, ironically. Abdullah is the son of refugees. His father is Iraqi. His mother, Lebanese. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1999. His two older sisters were naturalized in the States, but Abdullah was actually born in Augusta County. From the very start, the church played an enormous role in helping the family integrate into American society. They picked them up from the airport. They set up a furnished apartment for them, complete with a washing machine.  The kids grew up hearing stories from their mother about just how much the church looked out for them. Here’s Abdullah’s 18 year old sister, Miriam.

MIRIAM TARIQ:  In our religion we don’t eat pork and she was like, I remember one time we were out eating and I was about to take a bite and they just completely shut it down. They took so much time to understand MY culture, they didn’t even let me eat pork!

Abdullah was also impacted by what he saw in Lebanon when the family went back to visit last year. Lebanon is home to some 1.5 million Syrians who fled the war next door, and those refugees have changed the patterns of life in Lebanon.

ABDULLAH: People don’t go out and have fun at night like they used to.  Everyone likes to stay together and not interact with some of the outside people.

What do Abdullah’s parent’s think of him going on the mission? Tragically, the family lost their mother to cancer last year. Miriam actually looks out for Abdullah while their father works long hours as a truck driver.  But they say their father is proud of Abdullah for taking a risk.

ABDULLAH:  He’s always wanted us to do different things that will help us in the long run. Faith wise, he knows I’m not going to alter my faith.

Miriam again, speaking about their mother:

MIRIAM:  I think she would be incredibly proud of him most importantly because he’s taken on such an incredible role and become such an amazing man….She was such an incredibly positive person. She loved, loved being out in the community. Her English was never that good but somehow she found a way to be so involved in our lives, in our school lives, in our extracurricular lives, and with our friends. And we just want to make sure we’re getting out there and being involved in each other’s lives and the people we care about. It’s been a big change going from having the drive talking to you and driving you….now we have to constantly remind ourselves in the back of our minds what she would have wanted us to do and I think he’s doing exactly that.

ABDULLAH:  I’m excited to go. It’s gonna be awesome. People should maybe stick their necks out and do things that they were not comfortable with. They might enjoy it. It’s something I’m willing to do – stick my neck out and have some fun.

The consensus among the other teens going on the trip regarding Abdullah’s participation is sort of a non-issue. Though some of the adults expressed concern about what it might be like traveling internationally as a Muslim in Trump’s America. Abdullah is about to find out. The group leaves for Honduras June 12.