Stranger in Our Midst

Reflecting on cultural differences

by Scott Morris

I spent my junior year in college studying abroad in London. It was a great experience. One day I was walking back to the dorm when a car honked its horn from behind. I turned toward it only to have it come right beside me and run over my foot. Thankfully it was a very small car. I was taken to the hospital, where no one asked me a thing about health insurance. It took a while, but my foot healed. I never received a bill. I was taken care of by England’s National Health Service.

I am not advocating for socialized medicine, but I do believe that people of faith cannot turn our backs on issues fundamental to being human. This is a matter of following Jesus’ command to love your neighbor. Love is not a feeling. It is a way of living that requires daily acts of service and compassion. Caring for the stranger in our midst is at the heart of the gospel.
Language can be such a barrier. I have a friend who is Swiss. She is brilliant but speaks English with an accent. People often raise their voices as if she were deaf or speak in simple words as if she is not very smart. It gets old.

Caring for the stranger in our midst is at the heart of the gospel.

I have many patients who have almost lost hope over this issue. Aziz is from Iraq. He has a PhD in antiquities and a second PhD in English literature. He has a thick accent and works in a nail shop because it is the only work he can get. He cannot see a future for himself.

John was a colonel in the South Vietnamese army during the war in Vietnam. When the war ended he was sent to a “reeducation” camp for seven years. We would call it a prison camp. Eventually he made it out of the country and to America. He also has a very thick accent and works in a gas station. He is a leader in the Vietnamese community but is honest when he says, “This is not what I thought it would be like in America.”

Every day I encounter cultural differences that I simply don’t understand. Ethiopians clearly see the world differently than Americans. Haitians feel the spiritual world’s presence in everything that happens. When a Chinese family is in the room it seems as if they all talk at once, and it is like they are yelling at each other, but then somehow everyone understands except me and that is okay.

The writer of 3 John in the New Testament said, “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 1:5–6).

I know that having the stranger in our midst can only be good if I am working to make the person no longer a stranger. Every person will not become my best friend. I just need to do the best I am capable of doing with what I have to offer. I need to love and then see what happens next.

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