Six Christian women from an evangelical church in Texas invited six Jewish women from a local synagogue and six Muslim women from a local mosque to form a cooking club.
When the event was hosted in the home of a Christian, the evangelical women wore "cowgirl" boots and folded bandanas for napkins. Together the multi-faith women cooked a traditional Texas meal.
When a Jewish woman hosted the cooking club, she taught about historic Jewish festivals and the significance of food. "Traditional foods bring back memories of significant events in our history," she said. She described the festivities surrounding the story of Esther and Haman; together the women worked the dough used in the filled "Haman cookies" prepared for the festival. "The Muslim women especially loved it when we filled the cookies with Nutella!" said the Jewish host.
When the communal dinner was prepared in a Muslim home, both Christian and Jewish women were a bit envious of the two separate kitchens -- one used when the women were cooking together, and then a "dirty kitchen" used to prepare food "behind the scenes."
One woman said her favorite part of the cooking club was when the Muslim women felt the freedom to remove their headscarves and coat-like outer garments. "They rarely get to ‘dress up’ outside their homes," said one of the Christian women. "So when they came to our homes and our husbands were gone, they took off their 'coverings' and let their beauty show."
But it wasn't just the Muslim women who had to be uncovered. The unifying beauty of each of these women of faith had been hidden behind coverings of misunderstanding and fear. As they unwound layer after layer they discovered that they were all … just … women.
"What do you have in your purse?" Thus began the "purse game," and the laughter.
"I made brownies without vanilla," explained one of the Christian women, "and they're really good." She did that so the Muslim women, who avoid vanilla because of the alcohol content, could enjoy the brownies.
"How do you deal with your 20-something kids?" The mothers of young adults compared notes.
Over the months the conversations went deeper. Marriage. Religion. Fears. Hopes. Dreams. And gradually strangers of different faiths became friends.
A year ago I heard a similar story of women building bridges. The son of an orthodox Jewish Israeli woman was gravely injured by a Palestinian suicide bomber. The Israeli woman told me that during the two years of her son’s painful recovery, the only way she could maintain her sanity was to become a peacemaker.
So she started meeting with a group of Christian and Muslim Palestinian women. The early meetings were designed to be lighthearted and nonthreatening. For the first meeting the women attended a seminar in a local department store on techniques of make-up application. Admittedly, eye shadow and mascara were not these women's highest concerns, but it was the first time some of them had even met a woman from the other side of the "separation wall" that keeps Israelis and Palestinians apart.
As with the cooking club in Texas, the multifaith women of the Holy Land eventually became friends, sisters, and co-workers in the cause of peace.
In a recent report about the role of women in peacemaking, scholars analyzing gender-style organizing and peacebuilding highlighted the significant impact of women’s natural tendency to use positive relationships and the strength of social networks to tackle major challenges. It seems to me there has never been a time in history when this unique skill has been more needed.
Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, is author of Nice Girls Don’t Change the World.