The Foreigner Within Your Gates
I think that I am beginning to understand the full weight of Jesus' words in Matthew 25: 'Come, you who are blessed of my Father...for I was a stranger, and you took Me in', because now I know what it's like to be, inescapably, an outsider. My 'stranger' status is written in the color of my skin, the way I talk, and the clothes I wear.
I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, as I knew that I would when I made the choice to come here. It was an inconvenience I was willing to endure. I listened to the stories of other missionaries, recounted a few experiences of my own, and resigned myself to the fact that I was about to become a target for exploitation and unguarded commentary. I was braced for the shouts of 'mazungu' and 'branca'. I prepared myself to be viewed, not as an individual, but through the stereotype of a rich, white girl. I sighed over the knowledge that almost every shopping foray was going to involve multiple people either asking me for money or trying to finagle it out of me in some way, along with the added bonus of aggressive flirtation from men of all ages.
I thought that I might as well get a target printed on my t-shirt and have done with it.
But the thing about being a target is that there are two types of people who are drawn to you: those who want to exploit, and those who want to encourage and help. And, for me, the helpful people have always far outnumbered the unhelpful ones. From random strangers in the streets to church members who have gone far out of their way to befriend me, I have been surrounded by extravagant kindness, generosity, and people who wanted to know me for me, and not for what I could give them.
The stories of other missionaries had taught me to expect a handful of kind and genuine people. I was overwhelmed by a multitude.
"Why is everyone so nice to me, God?" I asked. "What have I ever done to deserve that?"
The answer came in the form of another question: Aren't they doing as you would do if the roles were reversed? Aren't you reaping the seeds of kindness and hospitality that you, yourself, have sown?The Holy Spirit directed me to reflect back over my actions of the past. Almost invariably, I have been drawn to the outsiders, the strangers standing on the fringes of the crowd. I have (often at the cost of personal comfort) tried to let these people know that someone cared about them. That they weren't alone, and that there was at least one other person in the room who had a genuine interest in their lives.
Never once did I consider the long-term consequences of 'taking these strangers in'. I was impelled by obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit and the painful memories of the many times I'd been an outsider with no-one to ease my transition into belonging. My rewards were the warm sense of doing what I knew to be right and the interesting conversations and friendships that would blossom from my efforts.
1 The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. 2 I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. 3 Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.Now, on the receiving end of my own actions - in a season of reaping what I've sown - I am intensely grateful that I have sown well. Of course, not all of my reaping will be done during the course of this earthly life. But the actions that have been reciprocated to me have made me reflect even more carefully on the words, the thoughts, the works, that I am in the daily process of planting into the lives of others.
What will I sow today?
Will I be regretful or joyful when the time comes for me to reap my reward?
1 Proverbs 15:13
2 Jeremiah 17:10
3 Galatians 6:7