Monday, October 15, 2012

Aliens and Strangers

Everyone was standing in the hallway by the classroom murmuring the way you do while waiting in line.  The air was sticky and still. There were two tables, six women, four signs, and I was entirely lost. The fall semester was about to begin the next day and I needed to register my youngest daughter for preschool.  I can speak some of the common tongue but I can't read at all.  So there I am, a true stranger, staring around in confusion, wondering which crowd of people to join.  I was especially perplexed by the signs.  There was no obvious table or line where I should begin, and after the more savvy parents (the literate ones!) read the signs they seemed to know where to go.  But what do they say?  Is one sign for 4 year olds? I have no idea! Or perhaps one sign is for people who need to pay? Or to register new or returning students?  I am frozen, anxious and sure that standing there staring around has revealed me for what I am, an alien.

I wish this was a story where some kind person comes up and asks me if I needed help.  It's not.  I stood there for ten minutes nervously wandering from table to table trying to hear enough to figure out if this were the right place.  Finally I decided on a crowd to join based on the fact that it was close to the door if I needed to bolt.  When I had patiently inched my way to the front of the crowd (it was NOT a line) the lady said I needed a receipt first and directed me to the other table.  At the second table, I waited between a tiny grandmother and a sweaty impatient dad, until I reached the front only to discover that I was on the wrong side.  Several times I wanted to just walk outside into the fresh air, pick a nice piece of playground equipment, sit down and cry.
When I made it outside, my registration information clutched in my hand, I started to pray.  I prayed for every second language mom who was in America that day trying to register her kids for preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school.  I asked God to bless every one of them with someone who took them by the hand and led them through the process.  I begged for someone, anyone, to have compassion on them and realize that they feel terribly stupid as all those in the know flow around them to the right place in the right line while they stand fighting tears.

Then I thought about Ruth.  Have you ever thought about what it must have cost her to follow Naomi back into Israel?  She was an alien and a stranger, just like me.  She left Naomi one morning at home by herself and went out into the fields to pick up grain left by the harvesters on the ground.  Although the text doesn't give us any insight into her feelings directly, she was clear on her position as an outsider. "Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?" (Ruth 2:10)

Ruth didn't seem to know that God has a special place in His heart for foreigners.  The Old Testament law has provisions for strangers to receive the help given to the impoverished (Lev 19:10, Duet 16:14, Duet 26:12) and to be equal with the Israelites under the law (Lev 19:34, Lev 24:22, Joshua 20:9). Oppressing or wronging a stranger was also forbidden since the Israelites were themselves strangers once in Egypt.  (Exodus 22:21, 23:9)

Mary and Joseph were strangers once too.  They traveled all the way to Egypt, probably funded in part by the gifts the wise men brought.  They lived there until Herod the Great was dead and it was safe to return to Nazareth.  I wonder if Mary found the language and customs strange?  I wonder if she thought over all those requirements under the law for aiding strangers when she herself was so far from home. (Matthew 2:9-12, 19-21)

We do know for sure that her son had a heart for strangers.  In Matthew 25, Jesus indicates that the welcome we as Christians give to the stranger among us, is offered to directly to our Savior.  Moreover, he says, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." (Matthew 25:45).

In this venomous season the last thing I want to do is delve into the realm of politics.  Whatever you think about immigration policy and procedure is your business and does not belong to our shared faith.  However, what you decide to do the next time you see a confused mama in a stuffy room, speaking Spanish, Swahili or Urdu is a matter of faith.  It's a matter of remembering that we are ourselves citizens of a heavenly country (Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 2:9-12). It's a matter of remembering that our Savior was the ultimate alien and stranger; God left home to become a man.  When you've kindly helped her navigate the bureaucracy, find the right line, pay the right lady, and sent her away with a smile, you've welcomed Jesus Christ.  That's not about politics, that's about faith.

Helene
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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