Call to Prayer: Facing Mecca for the Good Shepherd

Dear Prayerful Partners,

Last week I had a little extra time between clients at the Evergreen Park Care and Counseling Center and our satellite office at Calvary Reformed Church in Orland Park. 159th Street west of La Grange Road has been under construction for the past year or so, making a left turn onto 104th Avenue impossible, so I drive south to 167th and turn back north on 104th. I provide these directions because, if you’re in the area, there is an unintended tri-faith experience stretching from 165th to 159th on 104th Avenue created by the alignment of a domed Islamic mosque, a Roman Catholic cemetery and Calvary Reformed Church, all constructed in the past 15 years. I’ll leave it for you to determine who wins the architectural prize. 

Good Shepherd Catholic Cemetery was consecrated in 2005 and is 317 acres of rolling hills nestled just east of 104th Avenue between 163rd and 159th. The grounds are dominated by a massive stainless-steel sculpture of Jesus the Good Shepherd; a compassionate visage shelters a tiny lamb in his arms. Doug Cogan has often used my photograph of the sculpture in worship images, particularly with hymns expressing Christ’s shepherd-like care. When I’m running early, I drive through the cemetery (one of my road trip hobbies), pausing to see again the artist’s work conveying a rich sense of compassion.

Slightly south of the cemetery on 104th Avenue’s west side is The Prayer Center of Orland Park. This is a multi-building facility dominated by a blue tile mosaic twelve-sided base supporting a gilded dome and every street entrance is flanked by friendly signs inviting visitors. For the first time, I turned left this past week into the mosque rather than right into the cemetery, hoping for a little interfaith dialogue rather than shepherdly reflection.

I was greeted by two gentlemen who told me the Imam was out of town, but the mosque’s administrative director would be happy to give me a tour. While I waited in the vestibule, a flat-panel screen scrolled invitations to Arabic classes, a fundraising banquet and the high school youth group fun night at Orland Bowl. Except for the occasional Arabic script, the scrolling images had a mundane familiarity; there’s a similar screen in the lobby of the cemetery office and the foyer of Calvary Reformed--I think their bowling night was Friday.

With a broad smile and extended hand, Chaker introduced himself, offering a tour of the facilities. We removed our shoes and entered the domed prayer space, an elegant room designed to center one’s posture towards Mecca. The wash of natural light from the three-tiered clearstory made one feel both welcomed and small. My guide interpreted the gold-leaf Arabic inscriptions, all praising the glorious attributes of Allah. His descriptions of Islamic priorities of prayer, compassion and responsibility were heartfelt. Our conversation was briefly interrupted by his need to provide a grocery voucher to a woman recently unemployed and his responsibility to lead mid-afternoon prayer. After the intoned call to prayer which magnificently echoed through the chamber, he invited me to remain and pray in my own way as five worshipers joined him in the third prayers of the day.

Chaker is a Syrian refugee. Five years ago he fell out of favor with the Assad government over his attempt to appeal an inspection of his textile factory. Leaving his wife and two children in Damascus, he figured he would spend a few weeks in the United States until the whole issue was forgotten by the bureaucrats. That was a little more than five years ago, when Assad began gassing his own citizens and Chaker realized a return home would mean his death. Chaker’s asylum application took less than two weeks to process; he was granted immediate and open-ended safety in the United States. His wife's and children’s applications have been in queue for over four years. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement no longer returns his attorney’s calls. When he left his family, his son had just entered the first grade. I told him that he and his family would be in my prayers; to that Chaker wept.

Hoping Presbyterian prayers will unite a Muslim family in the cloak of the Shepherd’s care, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor