Sunday, February 13, 2005


Strangers in our midst

It was just over twenty years ago, shortly after God made me willing to trust Christ as my Lord and Savior, that I spent some time wrestling with a peculiar question, "Am I willing to go to Africa as a missionary?" For a new believer, this was a very intimidating notion, so it took me quite a while to say, "Yes, Lord, I'm willing." As it turned out, God was (as far as I can tell) only testing my willingness to obey him, and I've been safe and sound in the good ol' USA ever since, without any strong inclination to pursue missions work.

Actually, subsequent events weren't all that simple, because in a way I have had occasion to be a missionary to people from several different parts of the world, including various countries in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Most of these folks were students I met while they were attending the university at which I work. Many were already Christians, but some were not. During the time I spent fellowshipping with these students, I learned quite a bit about how to get along with folks whose backgrounds are very different from my own. Here's a few of the most important things I learned:

  • Treat a stranger just like you'd treat someone who's from the same ethnic background as yourself. Treat each person with respect and as an individual. Especially if they're new to your part of the world, they may feel strange or alone, so they'll greatly appreciate it if you just treat them as a regular person.

  • At the same time, treat a stranger with special respect. They've taken a long journey to end up in your neighborhood, so make them feel welcome. Even as you treat them as a normal person, take care to show special interest in what makes them special.

  • Be flexible. Be prepared to do things in different ways. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of any chance to just "hang out" with a family or other group of strangers. Remember that they are strangers, after all, and may feel isolated from the mainstream culture, so they may very likely welcome it when someone from the broader community reaches out in friendship.

  • If there have been times or situations in your life when you've felt as though you were something of a stranger or "odd man out", you may be well on your way to understanding how a foreigner feels when he's newly arrived in your country. Treat him as you'd wanted to be treated when you felt yourself to be a stranger.

  • Practically speaking, be prepared to eat anything. One of the best bridge-building tools I found was to willingly and enthusiastically try pretty much all of the food and drinks my friends prepared. You wouldn't believe all of the dinner invitations I received as a result! If you're a person who likes just certain kinds of food, try to broaden your diet a bit. Who knows what opportunities for friendship may open up as a result?

    So, when you see an unfamiliar face in your neighborhood, workplace, or shopping center, reach out and be a friend. If you will do so with an attitude of true love and respect, you are very likely to build a bridge that may very well provide you with an opportunity to share your faith with them.

    The strangers in our midst are really not that strange. They are men and women of like passions as you and me. With you and me they fell into sin and judgment in Adam, and like you and me they are in desperate need of a Savior. You may not need to go overseas to meet them, because as our world "shrinks" through air travel, the peoples of the world are mixing more and more, with the result that the stranger is becoming, in fact, our next-door neighbor.

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