An internship in befriending newcomers

I had the chance to travel to a city where I knew some Jesus followers were gathering to begin a nine month internship together. They were Americans from different ethnic backgrounds and work pursuits, but they shared a passion to make friends across cultures for Jesus’ sake.  They spent the bulk of this first day sharing their life stories using 5 “H”s: Heritage, Heroes, Hard times, High points, and Hand of God. It was really interesting to hear a couple of the men share their stories in one of the small groups. I noticed a huge difference in details, but a commonality in God’s working to draw these guys into serving Him and loving others.

As I sit in my room for the night reflecting on the day, I think of how good God is to stir the hearts of some of His kids to care about those who come to this country looking for a new life or even deeper answers to the inner yearning for meaning. Many of those who were undertaking this internship are not novices. Most have lived in faraway countries for months or years at a time. They have made friends with those of other major religions, and God has put a seed of love in their hearts. I find myself wondering whether God intends the number of such people to be small, or if many believers are subconsciously avoiding such a calling. I know that many of what I will call the mainstream culture are fearful or angry at immigrants, whether for economic reasons (“they come and take jobs and clog up our medical system”) or national security reasons (“they come here and don’t adapt to our ways, or learn our language; in fact, they would kill us if they got a chance”).  I can almost hear God replying, “Really? You’re kidding! I’ve made you a servant of My eternal Kingdom. Why are you so possessive of things that are transitory?”

After the internship session ended, we cleaned and vacuumed the room made available by the church, and gathered up all the kiddos to head for home. I had asked to see the location where English classes are held. I was not sure what to expect, so when I saw the nice facilities, I was impressed. The children’s play room (pictured) would win the heart of any mom, especially one who is new to America and perhaps never saw something like this back home. Most of the furniture has been donated by believers, and volunteers from several nearby churches help run the programs and watch the kids. Two nights a week the men come and learn better English skills. Then three mornings a week there are women’s classes. They also do classes in henna art and other practical things. Separating the men from the women in learning is culturally appropriate. What a great service!

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Did you know that many wives of immigrants are “linguistically isolated”? That means that they do not have proficiency in the English language to feel confident to get out and get involved in new things. What an opportunity for us who know American language and culture to show ourselves friendly. I know of women who teach cake baking, cake decorating, making cookies, sewing, etc. There are basic needs such as transportation to the store, doctor’s appointments, and taking a driving test too.

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One of the women mentors in this particular ministry has been invited into the delivery room of many of the immigrant mothers. She has become a student in helpfulness. Some doctors have even let her cut the umbilical cord in some of the deliveries. Now, that’s going a bit far for my tastes! But the point is, if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone, we may find ourselves stepping into someone else’s life to bring real comfort, friendship, and love. “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

Will American become a welcoming nation that can keep open arms to newcomers, as it did to our forefathers? Or will we become calloused, fearful, suspicious, and selfish? We are in a critical season of rampant global migration. Of all people, we who love Jesus, and know that He is the Savior of all mankind, should be leading the way with arms open wide.

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