I was Once a Foreigner, too
I set off on my bike for the Garifuna village to spend the afternoon with friends, to stroll on the beautiful Tela beach along the Honduran coast. Before I knew it, it was getting late and I knew, as a young single girl living in a foreign land, that I’d better hurry home before it got too dark to be out on my own.
It stared to get dark and I was having trouble finding my way back to the mission house where I lived. In an instant I cut my tire on a rock and fell to the ground, in a loud, graceless tumble. Out of the shadows, a man approached. My heart pounded. My parents will kill me, I thought.
“Senorita, estas bien?” he asked. I explained I was fine, but my bicycle clearly wasn’t. The man invited me back to his shack, but I shook my head no. He saw I was afraid and spoke to me in heavily accented English,
“Don’t worry miss. I will fix your bike and I will send my daughter out to bring you something to drink.” Relieved, I sat down on the side of the road while the man took my bike back to his shack. For a brief minute, I wondered if he would steal it. Then his little daughter came to me with a small can of condensed milk for us to share. We sat there for about thirty minutes. Then the man came back with a new tire.
“Here you are, miss.”
“Wow, thank you so much.”
“It is my pleasure. One time when I was in your country someone helped me. You see, I was once a foreigner, too. So, I am so happy that I get to help you now.” I thanked him again and pedaled furiously home. Very glad to no longer be stranded at night, a strange teenage girl, in a strange village, with a broken bicycle.
This memory, of the many memories I have of my family’s missionary time in Honduras, stands out in my memory. I’ll never forget the kind stranger who rescued me.
Many of us who are interested in international missions will relate to this story. We have been strangers, foreigners, and cross-culture people. We know what it is like to be away from our parents, children, siblings, or spouse. To be away from home and far from all that is familiar.
Those who have been given the holy call of “missionary” get to travel to distant lands and serve distant people. Some of us are returning, some are preparing, and some are sending. Wherever we are in our missionary journey, abroad or at home, we can always practice the same kindness that man showed me. In our current cultural landscape, we are blessed with a unique opportunity: we don’t have to travel to foreign cultures to serve foreigners, they are in our back-yards (literally in my back yard, I only need to walk a block and I am at the Eastern University International Student Service). For those of us who have a heart for sojourners, this is great news!
Cultivating a mindset and practice of Christian hospitality and welcoming of the stranger is nothing new. It goes back to Old Testament times, when Yahweh instructed the Israelites, “you must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt,” (Ex 22:21). The Lord did not stop there, he asks the Israelites to share the fruits of their labor with the sojourner, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them there for the poor and for the foreigner among you, I am the LORD your God,” (Lev 23:22). This godly directive to hospitality is fully revealed in the life and ministry of Christ. He reached out to the foreigners and the outsiders of society. And he gave a standing order to his disciples: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19).
The opportunity to serve foreigners is at hand and the Lord has called us to do it, but what might this ministry look like? In practical terms, we can call our local university to ask how to reach out to international students (I was shocked to learn at my first New Wineskins Conference that 90% of international students never step foot in an American home). Many churches and Christian families have hosted refugees from all over the world or served as “bridgers” to help them acclimate in their new environment. There are awesome organizations such as Samaritans Purse or World Relief, that we can partner with. If you have a heart for a certain country, you can discover where they gather in your local neighborhood. Simply being prayerful and attentive, considering your neighbor as your friend, goes a long way to welcome the sojourner. God is always faithful to put people in our path. Just today, as I wrote this, I met a woman from India and we discussed her culture for a good fifteen minutes.
When we learn to think internationally, opportunities to reach sojourners begin to open. When I hear someone speaking in a foreign language, little bells go off in my head. Kindly asking people where they are from or what language they are speaking is a great way to start a conversation (I was invited to join a Japanese moms group, just by being curious). My mother used to always say that when you hear someone speaking in a strange accent, you should never judge. This means that they speak two languages, when most people just speak one. This leads me to the heart of the matter. The first step in welcoming the sojourner is to remember how hard it is to be a foreigner, and to look to our foreign neighbors with kindness and compassion.
Why ultimately should we have kindness and compassion for the stranger? Because 2,000 years ago a stranger came to a strange land. He was rarely welcomed. He rarely had a home. He walked among people very different from himself. And in the end, he laid down his life for them, including you and I, so that we would no longer be strangers, but friends. And he asked us to do the same. Because he was once a foreigner, too.
Lord Jesus, you know more than anyone what it is to be a stranger in a strange land. Will you please bless us with the ministry of hospitality and welcoming the stranger. Will you please place people in our path, so we might bring the lonely into family. All for the glory of your name!
Lilly Sanders Ubbens is a published writer and mother of two. After growing up as a missionary kid in Honduras, Lilly went on to earn a masters degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. While there, Lilly met and married the love of her life, Bo, and they now serve at Christ Church Anglican on the Mainline in Wayne, PA. You can contact Lilly here.