“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7).
When I first began visiting the halal take-out restaurant in our town, I had to practice patience—something that doesn’t come naturally to me. The restaurant is a small but busy place with tasty, low-priced food, but I doubt they get many non-Muslim customers. For some reason, I wasn’t getting good service. No matter my place in line, I was always ignored until I was the last customer in the restaurant. This isn’t normal Albanian or Muslim behavior, so I was confused. I prayed about it and determined to keep coming back and being friendly until I won them over.
It was a challenge for me, but the guys behind the counter eventually began to engage me in conversation when business was slow. I began to purposely visit during the slowest hours in order to chat with them more, and to get my food faster. They asked me why I didn’t go to another nearby non-halal place. I explained that I don’t drink alcohol or eat pork, and I thought their food was better tasting anyhow. Their faces lit up, and they immediately warmed to me. After that, they would wave and call me by name as I entered the restaurant. They waited on me very quickly. I don’t know if it was my dietary preferences, my compliment of their cooking or something else, but there was a noticeable improvement in service. Now they come out from the kitchen and shake my hand warmly and slap my back like a brother. They ask about my family, my health and the different new foods I’ve tried. They always seem happy to see me. It’s quite a striking difference from before. When I bring friends there with me, they are surprised by the warm reception I get. The restaurant guys know my usual order even though my visits are usually more than a month apart.
Recently, I decided to go to this restaurant and catch up with my friends. International travel and meetings had kept me away longer than usual. When I walked in, the guys hollered my name, stopped what they were doing and came out from behind the counter to greet me with Albanian kisses on both cheeks. Among men, this greeting is usually reserved for close friends and family members who have been apart for a long time. They made my favorite order, on the house, and asked about my family as though they were asking about their own relatives.
It took a long time to overcome the barriers of mistrust. I never found out why I got the cold shoulder at first, but prayer and patience has made the walls come crumbling down.