Recently I went to an Iftar. This is the evening meal eaten during Ramadan by Muslims after the sun goes down. In Houston where 25% of the population is foreign born it is easy to become friends with someone from another faith, culture, or ethnic background. Yet very few iftars will be shared with diversity represented around the table. Not too surprising really. How diverse are those gathered around our Thanksgiving or Christmas tables? Every day we hear reports in the media of various factions around the world killing and then retaliating. There is only one way we will make a difference as Christians and followers of Jesus; we must become the one who welcomes. We talk a lot about demonstrating love, but how do we have an opportunity to do this unless we first welcome?
The week of September 13th is “National Welcoming Week.” The goal is to bring together immigrants and US born citizens in a spirit of unity through projects and events. Of course you don’t have to wait until September. Years ago I wrote a short paper about ten easy ways to begin a relationship with an international. Here is a revised version.
1. Pray and ask God to show you any resentments, prejudices, or ill feelings toward another culture or faith. Ask God to give you understanding and patience.
2. Pray and ask God to lead you to someone who needs your demonstration of welcome, hospitality, and love.
3. Go to a center of faith that is different from your own. Ask someone there if they would explain their center and/or their faith to you.
4. Frequent places and events that are attended by cultures other than your own. Help with a refugee agency/event. Help a congregation of a different ethnic background or better yet, attend one of their services. Go to a cultural center. Watch their calendar for special activities.
5. Intentionally watch for opportunities to welcome during your daily activities. Perhaps one of your children’s school friends comes from another culture. Possibly one of your colleagues is of a different origin. Or maybe your doctor is not originally from America. (I just learned that my optometrist is Indian, raised in Tanzania, immigrated to America!) As you come in contact ascertain if this is an opportunity to ask a question and learn about their culture. Maybe it would be appropriate to invite them for tea/coffee or lunch.
6. Is there someone in your neighborhood who is not originally from the US? Bring them a small gift or some baked goods for a special occasion such as the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, etc.
7. Contact the volunteer office of your local hospital and see if there are ways that you can help with people coming from other countries for treatment. Call the local university and discover ways that you can help welcome International students.
8. Become involved with a class that teaches English to those who are bettering their language skills in order to live and work here.
9. Go to your local mall and look around at the various kiosks. Many vendors are from other cultures. Engage them in conversation and demonstrate your openness to them.
10. Begin now to think and pray about special occasions coming up. Don’t wait to be invited to an iftar. Rather be the first to invite for a Labor Day picnic or Thanksgiving!
I have lived and worked abroad for many years. I have been the stranger. There were some very lonely moments. Welcome the stranger and demonstrate love. Let’s each of us be the beginning of understanding and peace in our corner of the world. After all, Jesus as the Prince of Peace welcomed us.