Have you ever been overseas, across the country, or just so far away from home you don’t see family or friends often. if at all? I have. I have and I’m sure some of you have.
One of the loneliest times for me were the holidays and weekends. Everyone else was spending time with family – at least it seemed so. I’d sit at home wondering if I’d ever have a social life, fit into the new community or find authentic friends. No matter how often I reached out and made friends, when holidays came they had family, and we didn’t.
As a family we decided to invite others who were in the same situation into our home for these celebrations. It’s been a wonderful way for our family to meet others from various countries, hear amazing stories of faith, courage, and powerful conversions. We’ve also seen the heartache of losing family, being tortured or deported for faith in Jesus, in individuals who may never see family again. Our eyes have been opened – just a little – to the people God loves around the world, yet right in our neighbourhood.
God has given us creative ideas on how to show grace to people from other lands. He may give you different ideas, but if you want to know how God has directed us, here is what He has taught us:
Learn to Cook an International Meal: Ask your international contacts to teach you how to cook a traditional meal from their country. Offer to pick them up so they can take you to an ethnic food mart to purchase the right ingredients. Have them over for an afternoon and evening of cooking and then enjoying each other’s company.
Take note of special days: Birthdays, anniversaries, traditional holidays (such as the Chinese New Year) can deepen the loneliness for international friends. Consider giving a card or gift, perhaps inviting them over, or planning to visit their home for that occasion.
Remember Christmas: I know it is many months from Christmas right now, but this is a perfect time to begin praying about what you might do and who you might love with grace next Christmas. Little gifts are surprising ways to show grace to your international friends. They don’t have to be expensive… just thoughtful and given with love. Don’t forget that you may have a week’s worth of gatherings, family get-togethers, church activities, etc, but their days could be empty. Consider inviting them to be part of your celebrations.
Invite them into your culture: As much as they want to maintain their culture, it is important to most internationals to understand the complexities of their new culture. How a typical family spends a day, what we eat, how we celebrate events and occasions, and even the etiquette that may seem second nature to us is all foreign to them. It can be fun to explore differences. We have learned there are many strange aspects to our culture – we have no idea where they came from or why we do it that way.
Learn about them: Each person is unique. That may seem like an obvious statement, but we’ve met many people who think all Chinese like the same thing or that all people from one culture become doctors, etc. Remember that each international you choose to love has her own unique likes, dislikes and personality style. One more thing… if they don’t speak your language well, take time to work at it to understand. And don’t speak louder at them just because they didn’t understand!
Bless them with their favorites: Finding a good recipe online or making one they have previously taught you, and bringing it as a surprise or serving it when they come to visit is a very special surprise that will make them feel loved and cared for.
Ask them for their stories: We’ve learned so much from hearing how Hindu families found salvation in Jesus, or the story of a wonderful Asian missionary who was in our country for refuge after his recent torture and deportation, or a young newly-married woman who excitedly shared how her Buddhist father had recently given his life to Jesus. What about your stories? They want to know you, too.
Share the gospel: You may not ever go overseas for mission work, but you don’t need to go far from home to find those who have come from overseas and still need to know about the truth of Jesus Christ. Living authentic Christian lives and inviting others into it, speaking words of truth and bathing them in prayer are the best gifts you can give your international friends.
There are many ways to show grace, love and hospitality to internationals in our communities. Ask the Lord if there are internationals in your community who need to experience His love through you. You will gain rich and deep friendships whether they last a few years or a lifetime. And remember: There may be a language barrier, but there is never a Love barrier!
Have you ever been ministered to when you were far from home or family? Have you been blessed by giving of yourself to internationals? We’d love to hear your story!
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