The practice of ‘Welcoming strangers’ has been a part of my heart for as long as I can remember. Somewhere early on, Matthew 25’s call to see Jesus in the faces of strangers took root deeply in my heart.
If I’d grown up in suburban Los Angeles where I now live as an adult, I suppose it would be normal for my childhood best friends to have come from all over the world. This was not the case, however, in small town Indiana. Yet from my youngest years, I was drawn to people who were outside of the mainstream. From kindergarten on, some of my best buddies were Mexican, Swedish, and Finnish. In high school, my friends used to tease me that they’d likely all marry local boys and I’d marry someone from halfway around the world. No one was particularly surprised when I married a man from Sri Lanka.
It wasn’t only immigrants who caught my attention. I would cringe in high school when I saw the cool kids torture the uncool kids. Sometimes, I’d leave my friends at lunch to sit with the ‘reject’ because it saddened me to see them alone. In church, my eyes look first for who doesn’t fit, rather than who does. I ache when I hear stories of people of all backgrounds who feel ostracized for their differences and long to find ways to help them feel heard.
Welcoming the stranger plays out in my life today as I guide students through the crazy-land of the English language and American culture, as I teach my children to bring in those around them, even as I pray for the same homeless man I see regularly around town. When my heart sings to take freshly baked banana bread for the new Chinese family down the street whose daughter has made friends with mine, I know I am walking the path laid specifically for me.
Having spent the last year being the ‘new kid’, I recently watched my daughter develop her own ability to welcome strangers. This year, she came home delighted to learn that the previously mentioned Chinese neighbor girl was in the class just next door to hers. When another friend didn’t want to play with the new girl at recess, my daughter looked at her straight-faced and responded, “We were both new last year, so we know what it’s like. I won’t leave her out. She needs friends,” and stood her ground while her friend walked away to play with someone else. My mama-heart soared to hear her practice the joy of welcoming strangers.
Identifying my life purposes has come slowly over time as I pondered stories that stuck with me and captured my heart. I learned to pay attention when I felt strong emotion over a situation or cared deeply enough to get involved. While I often walk imperfectly in my attempts to speak for the unheard, care for the tenderhearted, or welcome the stranger, knowing these purposes has been a primary means through which I seek to faithfully live a purpose-full life.