Thursday, May 12, 2011


This week I will go about traveling in a foreign place - a place where I do not understand the cultural norms, speak the native language, know how to ask for help, or have any friends or connections. I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a tour guide. I’m uncertain of where I will stay and have given little thought to just how I will spend my time. I am excited by this prospect and all of the potential adventures that will unfold before me. I look forward to meeting new people, developing great stories, exploring new places, and gaining all sorts of new insights and perspectives.

But I am also terrified.

I’m afraid of not knowing how to ask for directions, of getting lost and being taken advantage of. I’m afraid of standing out and being awkward; of lacking the communication skills necessary for purchasing food, finding a bed for the night, and procuring a train ticket. Perhaps most of all, I’m afraid of being left to solve all of these problems by myself, with only my smartphone and phrase book to guide me.

I acknowledge my fears and I’m reminded of my ESL students, Bhutanese refugees who have been uprooted from their homeland, relocated to refugee camps, and transported half-way across the world to Kansas City, Kansas. They too find themselves both excited and terrified. They too look forward to meeting new people, exploring new places, and gaining opportunities. They too are afraid of getting lost and being taken advantage of. They stand out. They are awkward. They lack the communication skills necessary to purchase food and find housing. They don’t know how to use what disjointed public transportation there is, and they are unable to drive their own cars. But unlike me, the Bhutanese did not choose to leave their homes and come to the United States. And unlike the Bhutanese, I get to return to my familiar bed, reliable job, community of friends, and native land when two weeks is up.

I think of the commands that God gives to the Hebrews in the Old Testament, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9). In the times that I have traveled and moved and relocated I have quickly and acutely been reminded of what it is like to be the foreigner - to be unfamiliar and uncertain; to not know people or places or have “inside” guidance. And in the times that I have stayed and settled, I have easily fallen into community and familiarity. How quickly we forget what it is like to be in need when we find ourselves having plenty. How soon we forget what it is like to be new once we have comfortably settled in a loving community.

Though this may seem most evident where ethnic or cultural barrier are present, it’s true everyday in our church family as well. We forget what it is like to be outside of the church. There are some of us who do not even know such an existence. We don’t remember the awkward feeling of keeping to yourself at the beginning of the service while everyone else is passing the peace and greeting their neighbors. We forget what it is like to gawk during communion or nearly drop the offering plate as it passes down the aisle. We don’t recall the day when we were uncertain of where to send our children for Sunday school or whether or not the donuts cost money.

The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself…I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34). Love them as yourself. Look out for them as you would your own children. Visitors, foreigners, exchange students, refugees, the homeless, the needy - God calls us to love them. We are to treat them as our own, as members of our tribe, our people, our church. When is the last time that you left your comfort zone in order to accommodate for the needs of someone else? When is the last time you asked a stranger to join you for dinner or stopped to help someone who needed guidance or direction? It can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, even risky. But that’s grace.

Over the course of the next ten days I do not doubt that I will see the grace of God manifest in the hands, feet, hearts and faces of his people. I long to open myself to such opportunities, to admit my ignorance and accept the assistance I won’t be able to do without. I will welcome unexpected friendships and lavish gratitude on those who offer their hospitality. “The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows…” (Psalm 146:9) May you come alongside someone who is hurting, searching, seeking this week. May you be to them the grace of Jesus. And may you learn the blessing of addressing and attending to the foreigner.