A few years ago several women from our community met around a shared purpose of getting to know one another. We shared stories about holiday traditions, family stories, travel adventures.

We cooked together once at “kitchen boot camp” so we could share tastes and techniques from our variety of cultures.

Our gathering conversations were slowed as we listened carefully to language not familiar, yet compassion for each other helped us understand.

The best gift I received from that experience was knowledge that family is important, and we all laugh in the same language — love.

Last Thursday night my family attended a vigil outside Kennedy Elementary School where a local group was sponsoring a speaker from Missouri. The purported goal of the speaker was to tell attendees about a culture not previously familiar in this community.

I do not know how much he charges for his information.

I do know that his website is negatively reflecting religion of people I’ve come to know and value. How much better it would be to speak with and listen to credible people from our own community.

Invest locally — time, talent, finance.

The Muslim community in Willmar is hard-working, articulate, thankful, compassionate. Their presence makes us better.

Their role model of prayer makes me remember “In all things give thanks” and “pray without ceasing”, both directions from my God that I fall short of fulfilling.

When Jesus was asked which commandment was most important, he responded “Love.” We would all be better remembering that message.

My English ancestors came to a new country in bondage. My Irish ancestors met discrimination for opportunities in jobs, education, and housing. Two hundred years later I’m grateful for their courage in seeking a new country for their family, and for persevering.

Today my new friends have the same story of courage and perseverance against incredible odds.

Listen to their stories, their morality, their love of family and country.

Find our similarities. Welcome differences. Blend our best values.

We can live in peace side by side.

Becky West

New London