“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Two Foreigners on a Bus
The air was thick with clouds of smoke, and I made every effort to keep from inhaling the dust. As the bus rolled down the streets of Bhaktapur, Nepal, I continued to pretend that I didn’t notice the countless eyes that were on me … although it was getting more difficult the longer they stared.
“Just wave and blow kisses,” One of my friends from back home, told me humorously after I expressed concern about the fact that I was getting way too much attention for my appearance. I had grown up in Toronto, Canada, and was used to people brushing past me at a fast pace, if they didn’t shove you first. Now, I couldn’t go ten minutes without someone pointing and staring. It was odd, to say the least. But as one of few of my colour in a foreign land — I was the stranger among them.
After some time, we pulled up to a stop near a busy corner, where people clambered to get into the bus. I moved my feet to avoid getting stepped on and kept my eyes straight ahead. Most were ladies with young children, but a quick glance revealed to me one face that was different from all the rest. A young man appeared in their midst, with a shade that was lighter than theirs and much lighter than mine. I tried hard to keep from staring, and then it dawned on me that I now understood what it was like to be on the other side.
I watched as he pushed past those standing in front to find a spot slightly ahead of me. Upon noticing me, he began speaking Nepali to me, which made me feel guilty that I expected otherwise. He speaks the language of these people, although he is not from here…
After he saw my confused expression, he switched it up. “Do you speak Nepali?” He asked again, just to be sure.
I shook my head.
“Where are you from?” He asked me in English, and I am able to detect a bit of an European accent.
“Canada. How about you?”
“I’m from Germany. I’m here on an internship.” He told me. “But I have been here many times before, and I absolutely love this place.”
At that point, a lady got off the bus. There is a pause as he took advantage of the opportunity, to occupy the vacant seat. Then, we continued chatting, while my travelling companion — a Nepal native who had noticed this exchange from the front — grinned widely at me.
“Did you make a new friend?” He said to me aloud.
Oddly enough, yes. This young man and I had bonded over the fact that we were both foreigners in a land far from our homes. Two strangers from different lands, but yet in that moment, we had everything common…
“Bet we made their day,” He said to me a bit later, as the bus rolled over a series of bumps on the road.
“Why’s that?” I asked, with interest.
“A black girl and a white guy on the same bus? Who would have predicted that?”
Called to Serve
That day in Nepal, I came to appreciate the art of connection that sometimes comes from mutual interests formed between two people, regardless of race, background or culture. Unfortunately, these days, we are so often threatened by those that are “different” from us, even if we live in the same country.
The executive order made by Trump on January 27 of this year, has affected strangers from all over the world. Those targeted by the ban included citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iranians, Syrians, Somalis, Sudanese, Libyan and Yemeni people. With this action, the Trump administration has denied access to a set of people looking for refuge in a place that is supposed to be considered the “land of the free.” Due to the rise of terrorism in our day and age, security measures have become much more extreme, and those that are different in any way, are the ones that end up suffering.
“…if we were to take a closer look at those walking into our church’s front doors, we could have such an opportunity to witness to the ‘strangers’…”
Yet, we are all strangers… Imagine for a minute how it must feel to be judged, based on some misconceived perceptions of your background and culture. It’s not the greatest feeling. No matter how “strange” we may appear to one another, our duty to our fellow men and women should never change. Trump’s latest endeavour, requires us as believers to especially consider the role we will choose to serve.
The Strangers Among Us
One of my favourite exchanges between two “strangers” is found in the Biblical account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The way Christ approached this woman, whom the rest of society had ostracized, speaks volumes about his character. He didn’t turn aside or brush her off…instead, he asked her for a favour: He wanted a cup of water.
Her response was as any Samaritan’s at the time would be, if any Jew even spoke to them: “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans…” (verse 9). And Jesus responds with an answer that will forever speak to the souls of all strangers, both near and far: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” (verse 10)
The way Jesus dealt with strangers of all kinds, whether they were prostitutes, tax collectors, poor or drunkards, can tell us quite a bit. Speaking for myself personally, I have caught the times when my own prejudice and bias has kept me from sincerely interacting with those around me.
But if we were to take a closer look at those walking in our church’s front doors, we could have such an opportunity to witness to the “strangers” that are near to us — within our own communities.
Now, I end with this question. How do we treat such people?: A divorced woman, an unwed mother, a homeless man or woman, a parishioner of a different faith, a homosexual…How would we want to be treated?
My European friend on the bus that day made it his duty to no longer see those in a foreign land as strangers. Instead, he took the time to learn the language and assimilate into the culture of the place he was visiting. So must we seek to better understand the “strangers” among us.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
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