Smiles Make All the Difference

Smiles Make All the Difference March 5, 2021

Two smiling women
Smiles make all the difference. This is a photo from one of our Peace Feasts in Louisville, Ky.

It was January of 2011, and I was enjoying my teaching position at a University in Northern Cyprus. That side of the island is a Muslim region, but it’s also an island culture, so it’s an interesting mix. Most of the women don’t cover their heads, but some do. In my new teaching position, smiles from the students made my day.

A Surprise in the Hallway

One afternoon as I was on my way to class, a couple of Muslim girls I had taught the previous spring approached me in the hall. They asked if I would pray for them. I was really surprised because I didn’t remember talking about my faith at all in that class. I am a Christian, and not just a cultural Christian. Jesus tends to spill out of my mouth even when I’m not supposed to be talking about him. But that was a pronunciation class, and it’s not so easy to talk about Jesus when you’re teaching how to make a “w” sound. Anyway, the crazy thing is I had been greeting them in the hall for months, thinking how sweet they seemed and that I would like to get to know them better. This encounter gave me an opportunity to get their numbers and invite them over for tea.

Professors and Head Scarves

They arrived for tea and were so excited to have a chance to talk to me. They told me that professors had been cruel to them and refused to help them because they wore a head scarf!

“Take off your scarf and get a boyfriend. Then maybe I’ll help you.” one of the teachers chided.

A Rant About Religious Liberty

I know—yes, I said it is a Muslim area, but at the university, women were frowned upon for wearing the head scarf. I’m no Muslim, but for Pete’s sake, if a girl wants to wear a scarf, she should be free to wear a scarf! And if she wears it because she wants to please God, then that’s all the more reason she should be free to wear it. And every woman should have the right to equal educational opportunities regardless of race or religion. The freedom fighter deep inside of me was raging when I heard that. Forgive me for that rant. Back to the story.

The Power of Smiles and Prayers

The simple act of smiling at them whenever I saw them in the halls seemed to be a big deal to them, and they thanked me profusely. We were having a great visit over tea and cake when suddenly they jumped up and said,

“It’s prayer time.” So they got out a portable prayer rug and a compass (no kidding!) to see which way was east and went to pray on our rug.

“Mrs., we’ve been praying for you for months!”

That blew me away.

It was so humbling to hear that they had been praying for me. I was very moved by the whole experience. They gave me a book on women of Islam, a scarf, and some candy. 

Somehow, just smiling at a couple of college girls convinced them that I would be happy to pray for them—which is true, but it makes me wonder how much difference a smile can make.

Later, after returning home to Kentucky, we met a lovely couple who had come to the states from a Muslim country years before our meeting. The young wife said she lived here two years before anyone smiled at her. Two years! This was way before face masks!

Creative “Smiles” Needed

Now we all have many challenges, and kindness is needed more than ever. We need to come up with creative ways to “smile” wearing a face mask. It could make all the difference for someone.

Any creative ideas on how to show kindness while wearing a face mask? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!


I’m an artist who loves to write. If you’d like to get to know me better, please follow me on social media.

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