As an employee of the hotel, Yaar was used to meeting people from all over the world, usually in Paris on business. But these people were different. “It was like watching a real-life American television show,” he said. “I was fascinated.”
The group was actually a short-term mission team from First MB Church in Wichita. They were only in Paris for two weeks, but Yaar took every opportunity to interact with them at the hotel. He enjoyed his conversations with them, especially with one of the team members, John. The two men quickly formed an authentic friendship. They talked honestly about their lives in a way that was different for Yaar.
When the group left and returned to Kansas, Yaar’s life returned to normal. He missed John and the rest of the group, but he had other friends in the city. He wasn’t looking for a new community, at least not then.
However, it wasn’t long before Yaar’s world started to crumble. He broke up with his boyfriend of three years and subsequently began to lose all of his friends who were connected to his ex. He tried desperately to make it on his own, but he quickly found himself lonely and depressed.
Yaar loved his family, but most of them lived far away in Morocco. Although they knew about his homosexuality, they did not speak about it to others because of the strong social stigma. In Morocco, homosexuality was condemned and any public display of it could result in imprisonment. There was no tolerance in that society for the way of life that Yaar had chosen. Of course, France was different, and Yaar was thankful for how it afforded him the freedom to be who he was without the threat of violence or imprisonment. However, his own sister, who was his only sibling in Paris, had virtually cut off ties with him. Although she would speak with him occasionally on the phone, she would not welcome his physical presence. Yaar still enjoyed trips home to visit family in Morocco, but he didn’t feel totally free there. As relationships became more and more difficult for Yaar, there was a period of about seven months when he was disconnected from everyone – everyone except John. The two men communicated regularly back and forth by email and social media. “He was the only person I could talk to through that time,” Yaar said. “He was my only friend.” During that time, Yaar also shared more with John about his faith and how he had come to reject the god of Islam. Yaar was still searching for God, albeit a god that was different from the one represented in the Quran.
After months of isolation, Yaar finally took John’s encouragement and counsel and he made contact with the small group of believers from a house church in Paris who had hosted John’s team earlier in the year. Although Yaar had never met any of these people, he was willing to reach out to them and arrange a visit.
The first gathering Yaar attended with the people from the house church was an International Meal, which happened to be a regular celebration of the cultural and ethnic diversity in their neighborhood. Yaar was amazed. “I had never seen anything like this in France. People who open their home to friends, even strangers! People from fourteen different countries to share a meal together!”
Yaar was touched by the hospitality and warmth of the gathering, so much so that he made a commitment to participate in any future events that they hosted. Since then, Yaar has attended numerous shared meals, picnics, game nights, movies and English classes. When he recently returned from a trip to Morocco, he brought gifts back for everyone in the group, including Moroccan snacks that his mother had made. The group was happy to hear that Yaar had told his mother in Morocco all about them. He even said, “When my mother comes to Paris, she’s kicking all of you out of your kitchens so she can prepare meals for you!”
Yaar opened his heart to the group just as they had opened their hearts to him. There was a mutual exchange of love, affection and kindness, and it opened a door to sharing with Yaar the life and love of Jesus and the message of the Gospel.
Recently, another church team from Kansas visited Paris. Only one person from the earlier team – a man named Travis – was on the new team. But Travis was eager to take the time to meet with Yaar and with one of the members of the house church. Over lunch, the three men reminisced and expressed gratitude for their friendship. Yaar shared openly about his journey through depression and the important role that John and the church had played to help him through.