Have you ever made multiple phone calls and no one answer and then think, "Is this phone working? Do I even exist?" It seems like when we go a while without real interaction with people we begin to doubt. The other day I was reading a book about crossing cultures and ran across this quote.
“Because I speak no Portuguese,” Moritz Thomsen wrote of a trip through Brazil, “and have chosen to move through those parts of [Rio de Janeiro] where tourists do not go, I find after a few days of not speaking that I have begun to doubt my own existence”
Storti, Craig. The Art of Crossing Cultures (p. 102).
Imagine the scene. You're in a place where absolutely no one speaks your language and you don't speak any of theirs. People are talking and rushing around you yet you can't communicate with them at all. How long could you go without wondering if anyone understands you or even know you exist? Perhaps something like cabin fever but getting out doesn't seem to help much but actually intensifies your feelings.
Missionaries and anyone who moves to a new country (including immigrants to the USA) feel this way in their beginning stages of adapting to the new culture. (Actually, some people never get out of that stage.) Does anyone understand me? Does anyone care? Do I exist? Even though it goes against reason, those thoughts come up. While being distanced from everything familiar, many emotions and feelings seem to surface.
When I first started to write this my focus was going to be on how we may feel alone as if no one speaks our language yet when we look at Christ he speaks our "human language" because he became a man and identified with us in all ways, yet without sin. While that is true and definitely worth meditating on, I 'll shift where I'm going with this to the great commission. Actually, let's say this. We can wrap the two together. Because God went to great lengths to identify with us, through Christ, to convey the truth and power needed to save us, we should be willing to do the same to those we find around us however different they may be.
And just to be clear, no, I’m not entering the debate about what to do with the Syrian refugees. With that subject aside there are plenty of internationals all around us. Remember the feeling I described at the beginning about wondering if you exist? That's how people who first move to the USA feel. Probably more than anyone else in the entire world, they would love to have a friend who would invite them into their life, show them grace, and how to do even the most basic things in our country. Hardly a more open door for the gospel could be made.
Any time I hear someone talking about immigrants I always listen closely. Usually when I hear people talk about a specific person like "the guy at the store" or "the lady who cleans" it's usually followed up with something about how nice they are. Why is that? From being in another culture myself I can say that there are few things that bring more comfort and reassurance than having a friend who speaks the language and is from the area you are in. If you miss something or just plain don't understand you can always go to them and they will take the time and effort to explain it to you.
The Muslim, Catholic, or Hindu immigrant will feel the same about you too if you take the time to even just be casually kind to them. And be sure that if they feel a confidence and reassurance in you because of your kindness they will also listen to you about the truth, comfort, and reassurance that is only found in Christ. Don't write them off because they don't seem to understand everything you're saying or because they speak English really slow. Be patient and take your time.
I'd like to encourage you to reach out to those from other countries. With so many people wanting to immigrate here, it's a wide open door for you, without even leaving your city, to really change the world. What would happen if you shared the Gospel with them and then they believe it? And then they phone back home or travel there to share Christ? Let your imagination go a little and think about what God could do with that.
So this holiday season while lots of immigrants are wondering what it might be like to celebrate the holiday season the "American way," will you invite them?
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