Today’s guest blog is by Jessica Stamper. Jessica has a heart for people of different backgrounds and cultures, finding a myriad of ways to connect with them. Best of all, she has found a way to communicate across cultural boundaries just 15 minutes from her house. Read on….
I stepped out of my vehicle and onto the sidewalk. The strange smells and unfamiliar faces left me with a terrible desire to run – but I couldn’t run. What kind of volunteer gives up on the first day? And besides, it seemed as if the whole street already knew I was there. Strange faces appeared at the doors as I walked down the street, clutching my book bag. As I said hello, I got the distinct feeling they didn’t speak English. This was going to be scarier than I had thought. Three more doors, and I’d be at the address my contact had given me. I scanned the street, desperately hoping to see the American who had promised to introduce me to the Nepali family that I would be teaching. Not a sign of her – and for that matter, not an American anywhere!
I didn’t even have a chance to knock on the door before it was thrown open, and a smiling Nepali lady motioned for me to come in. I was taken aback by her kind welcome. She smiled, and her cheerful, sweet spirit melted the fear that gripped my heart. And then … she walked out the door, leaving me standing in her living room with numerous Nepali family members who spoke absolutely no English. My terror was mounting by the minute.
Manisha, the oldest member of the family, stood and greeted me in the traditional Nepali manner – palms together, “Namaste.” She smiled. I greeted her in English, though I was acutely aware she didn’t understand a word of what I said. Sameer, the only person present who spoke any English, motioned for me to take a seat, and I did so gladly.
After several times of introducing myself to the constant stream of Nepali relatives, the three girls whom I was assigned to teach arrived home from school. They were all smiles, but quite unsure about this new, very white teacher who spoke so strangely. But before long, we were paging through their readers, sounding out English words.
Bimla – the youngest of the three girls – wiggled closer to me, and put her hand on my arm, questioning. I noticed for the first time the henna designs on her hands and arms – beautiful, intricate drawings. “How you say? Ephelant? Yes?” I corrected her, and we sounded out the word together.
All too quickly, the girls finished their homework, and it was time for me to head home again. Rather than feeling relief that it was over, I found myself wishing I didn’t have to leave! Manisha and her older daughter and three little girls all crowded around the door, eager to see me off. Smiling and waving, their love for me – a perfect stranger! – humbled me and melted my heart.
Throughout the evening, I had become aware that I really, truly loved these girls. I loved these people. True, I was terrified. The language, culture and traditions were so foreign to me. It was terrifying to realize that, suddenly, I was the foreigner in a strange culture! But the rewards of loving, of giving, were so overwhelming. These refugees had become my friends.
Loving others – our friends, neighbors, church people, refugees – is risky. We run the risk of rejection, of misunderstanding, of uncomfortable situations. But when we’re willing to reach out in love, the rewards are great and the joy is overwhelming. Even if we have to push past our fears, and be willing to reach out of our cultural cocoon, it’s worth it.
I may never be able to fully communicate with my Nepali friends. I may never be able to share the joy of the incredible Treasure I have found in Jesus Christ, in words that they can understand. But love needs no language; love is not bound by cultural boundaries. Let’s take the risk, and love fully and deeply. I think we’ll find it the most rewarding thing we’ve spent our lives on, if we only step out and love the people around us.
More about the author:
Jessica is a seamstress by trade and lives in Eastern Pennsylvania where she enjoys working in two local cities among people from various cultures, languages and religions. She is part of an urban children’s ministry, and a volunteer with Church World Service. Jessica loves children, and enjoys language learning, cross-cultural work, writing, and above and in all that, serving and loving Jesus. Jessica blogs at http://jessica-delightingingod.blogspot.com/.