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Muslims gather at Greensboro Coliseum to observe Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar

Yaser Ahmed, Iman of the Islamic center of Greensboro, leads prayers at the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, at the Special Events Center at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C., on Sunday, August 11, 2019.

GREENSBORO — As minivans and other vehicles begin trickling into the Greensboro Coliseum parking lot and empty out, a visual symphony emerges of colorful hijabs or Muslim head coverings for women.

Pink, red, yellow — blue with gold stars — as those women and their families arrive for the early morning prayers of Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice in Islam.

Even the littlest in the family carry prayer mats.

“Keep up,” a father gently admonishes his youngest son, who wears an identical white thwab, or long tunic worn by Muslim men.

Like other followers of Islam around the world, the hundreds at the special gathering are observing Eid al-Adha, which is based on the story of Ibrahim’s (also known as Abraham) willingness to obey Allah. During this test of faith, Ibrahim was asked to sacrifice his son, but God places a lamb in his place.

It is one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar and also marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca — a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all Muslims physically and financially able to perform it.

“It is our new year,” says Waheed Tigini, one of the organizers.

Around him many arrive in their finest clothing, including whole families in the same matching colors or materials, such as the nine in the same royal blue sheen including the youngest in a stroller.

Reginald Essau Thompson, here with his wife, Ada Bellow, and their children, grabs the hand of a man he has not seen in maybe a year.

“This is a beautiful thing,” Thompson says of the fellowship after the two catch up.

Just past vendors at the outer doors selling items such as prayer mats and turbans for those who need one — even bubble-making toys for the children— the families and others are soon separated by gender on either side of a curtain partition that continues into the special events center. In the tradition in the faith, men and women do not pray directly beside each other.

As the clock ticks toward the 7:30 a.m. service, the trail of people picks up. Organizers had tried to secure the main coliseum floor but it was already claimed by the Market America event. But this portion of the converted special events center is bigger than any one of the area’s mosques could hold.

Mats soon dot the floor on both sides of the fabric partition as the service starts.

In near unison, the men and women kneel and begin reciting the Arabic words of prayers led by the Imam, or religious leader, using a microphone.

Prayers now on their lips have passed from generations.

At times they bow together.At other times they lay prostrate on their rugs.

The Arabic chanting includes asking Allah for forgiveness and a clean slate for the new year.

They leave for smaller gatherings of friends and families in homes, with meals heavy with fresh lamb and other meats in deference to the story of Ibrahim.

Photos by Woody Marshall/News & Record  

A little boy wanders in the rows of worshipers saying prayers at Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice in Islam, on Sunday.

Woody Marshall/News & Record  

Abdelwahab Babiker waves to friends as they enter the Special Events Center at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday. Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar, is based on the story of Ibrahim’s (also known as Abraham) willingness to obey Allah. During this test of faith, Ibrahim was asked to sacrifice his son, but God places a lamb in his place.

'I will never forget the pain and sheer defeat': Rising college sophomore from Greensboro reflects on mission trip

Day 2 in Guatemala: A picture featuring Isiah Powers’ mother Leslie and 8-year-old Bersi Lorena.


Could this mission’s organization have chosen a better word to describe their work and their mantra for life? Absolutely not!

Impacto was created by this truly incredible family called the Martinez family from Guatemala. They exist to house and take care of missionaries that were called to serve in this part of the world, and work alongside them to make a change in their community. It is a great honor to tell you all how much of an “impact” this family and team of helpers had on our lives in the short week we were there to help.

First, let me tell you a bit about my A1 team I served with this week: some were family, some were basically family, and the rest became my family during our time spent together in Guatemala. In total there were nine of us, and we could be described as a unique bunch for sure, but the most prominent feature of ours was that we came as one body of Christ, but two churches in two very different stages of life.

One was a brand-new baby church, C4 Church, and the other was our parent church, Christ Wesleyan Church, which has been established for decades now. Pastor Ken Klein (Christ Wesleyan leader) has been a mentor to Pastor Ryan Sims (C4 co-leader) for several years which made this trip of parting family so special to the whole team to spend this time together and bond our relationships for life!

OK, back to the actual trip: we started the week off with one incredible day of worship and communion. This day was very important for us to gather our attention back from the hustle and bustle of all the airports, deadlines and general stress of everything leading up to the trip and focus on why we came and for whom we came in the first place.

It was also good to have one day of relaxing because the days following were made for long and tiresome work so that we could fit as much good in those four remaining days as possible before we returned home.

Now, here’s the best part, let me introduce a few of the stories from the people that we were able to serve and get to know.

Meet Bersi Lorena, she is a vibrant and joyful 8-year-old with — despite her hardships — an incredible love for people and big dreams. We met Lorena on one of the home visits we had on the first day of work. She, and her four other siblings, were being taken care of by her 22-year-old mother whose husband had left their family to fend for themselves.

Lorena’s family all lived in a 9x14-foot cinderblock building with one full-sized bed with only a handmade mattress and a stove in the corner. The mother earned a living by lugging cut wood up the mountain where they lived and selling it to other houses for firewood, but she was only able to work when her older kids could take care of the youngest ones.

I will never forget the pain and sheer defeat I saw in that mother’s eyes as she was telling us her story, and the fact that we could lift her burden just slightly by bringing some food for the week and supplies that will last for a couple of months. It made her so thankful and allowed her to take a breath for a moment with the slightest of peace.

There are what seems like an endless amount of heart-wrenching and just as many heart-warming stories that could fill up a whole book if we had the time; however, I hope this gives you all a short glimpse into the week we had in Guatemala because every moment I encountered, every face that I met and all the love that I experienced will have an everlasting impact on me and how I choose to live my life.

None of that week would have been possible if it weren’t for the people who donated all the supplies, both churches that supported our trip financially, and of course the wonderful Martinez family that took care of us and taught us something new every day we spent with them.

I will definitely be returning to keep those new relationships that I accrued alive and well and to help in any additional way possible.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Complex menus: Study finds older drivers more likely to be distracted by technology in vehicles. Page A3

Mass shootings have Latinos worried about being targets

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Michelle Otero arrived at an art show featuring Mexican-American women, the first thing she did was scan the room. Two exits. One security guard.

Then she thought to herself: If a shooter bursts in, how do my husband and I get out of here alive?

Otero, who is Mexican-American and Albuquerque’s poet laureate, had questioned even attending the crowded event at the National Hispanic Cultural Center a day after 22 people were killed in a shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart.

That shooting and an earlier one in Gilroy, California, killed nearly two dozen Latinos. The violence has some Hispanics looking over their shoulders, avoiding speaking Spanish in public and seeking out escape routes amid fears they could be next.

A huge immigration raid of Mississippi poultry plants on Thursday that rounded up 680 mostly Latino workers, leaving behind crying children searching for their detained parents, also has unnerved the Hispanic community.

The events come against the backdrop of racially charged episodes that include then-candidate Donald Trump referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” Trump, as president, referring to migrants coming to the U.S. as “an invasion” and viral videos of white people chastising Hispanics for speaking Spanish in public.

“It’s almost like we’re hitting a climax of some kind,” said Jennifer Garcia, a 23-year-old University of New Mexico student originally from Mexico. “Some people, especially our elders, don’t even want to leave the house or speak Spanish.”

From Houston to Los Angeles, Latinos have taken to social media to describe being on edge, worrying that even standing in line for a Taco Tuesday special outside a food truck or wearing a Mexican national soccer team jersey might make them a target.

Although the motive in the Gilroy shooting is unknown, authorities say the El Paso shooting suspect, who is white, confessed to targeting people of Mexican descent. The suspect also is believed to have written an anti-Hispanic rant before gunning down mostly Latino Walmart shoppers with an AK-47-style rifle. The attack has rattled a city that has helped shape Mexican-American life in the U.S. for generations.

The manifesto included anti-immigrant and anti-Latino language similar to Trump’s.

Garcia said she has seen widespread anxiety among immigrants since Trump was elected in November 2016 and the angst after the shootings “has reached another level.”

Alexandro Jose Gradilla, a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at California State University, Fullerton, said he and his wife, also a professor, “know anyone can look up a class schedule and start shooting.”

“White supremacists don’t see the difference between immigrants to fourth-generation Latinos,” he said. “They see brown.”

Carlos Galindo-Elvira of the Anti-Defamation League in Arizona said that, in the days after the El Paso shooting, the organization received calls from concerned Hispanics seeking information about white supremacy and the website where the manifesto was posted.

Some worried whether a mass shooting could happen in Phoenix, a city more than 40% Hispanic, Galindo-Elvira said.

“What I tell people is that we cannot live in fear, but we also have to be vigilant and be aware of the rhetoric and our surroundings,” he said.

He said information is important and since last year the league has been training officials at Mexican consulates across the U.S. about how to report hate crimes against their citizens amid the heightened anti-Latino rhetoric.

Still, Erik Contreras, 36, the grandson of Panamanian and Mexican immigrants, said the recent violence has left him nervously checking parking lots where he worries attackers could hit.

“The other day we went to the Oakland Zoo, and I found myself looking for the way out, just in case,” said Contreras, who works at a Union City, California, school and has three children. “I don’t want to live like that. This is our country.”

Otero, the poet, said she tries to make sense of the attacks by replaying facts in her mind.

“This is someone who drove nine hours to kill people like me,” she said of the El Paso shooter, holding back tears. “I don’t know what to make of that.”

In an effort to help, she is organizing a public reading by poets in Albuquerque to raise money for the families of the El Paso victims.

Flaviano Graciano of the immigrant advocacy group New Mexico Dream Team said activists are using the tragedies to organize residents. He says groups are planning forums to help educate Latino immigrants on their rights and how they can protect themselves against violence and anticipated raids.

Sometimes the best way to deal with anti-Hispanic bias is just to stand up to it, said Air Force Senior Airman Xiara Mercado, who grabbed attention on Facebook last month with her story of a woman giving her a hard time for speaking Spanish.

Mercado told The Associated Press that as a member of the military she couldn’t comment on the recent anti-Latino violence. But in her case, after suffering past discrimination, “I finally just decided to speak up.”

She said she remained silent when, years earlier, she was told to “speak American” during a stay in Michigan, then later when a police officer in Indiana questioned the authenticity of her Puerto Rican driver’s license.

But Mercado, 27, said she had enough when she was confronted by a woman as she chatted on the phone in Spanish with a friend from the U.S. territory at a Honolulu Starbucks. The woman told her speaking Spanish was “distasteful” and “does not represent America and that uniform you are wearing.”

In a July 17 Facebook post shared more than 48,000 times, Mercado said she told the women: “The only distasteful thing here is that you are clueless to your discrimination, please educate yourself. Have a nice day.”

The 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, confirmed that Mercado is with the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, and backed her up, saying: “The Air Force recognizes our strength comes from diversity.”