No Longer Strangers
by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Education Coordinator ◊
Bienvenue. Hwan yung hap ni da. Selemant dating. Härzliche wöikomme. Every language has a word for welcome. Receiving a genuine welcome and experiencing the hospitality of a community or family is a precious gift. When guest and host are able to take the time to reveal to each other their unique gifts and abilities, each can be enriched and empowered.
Christian schools are places where true hospitality can be modelled, where we learn to love our neighbour as ourselves and welcome strangers. Offering enrolment opportunities to international students should be viewed primarily as an opportunity to learn what it means to practice hospitality and to learn from the stranger.
Our communities are places where we can break down stereotypes and ethnocentric ways of behaving. Welcoming the stranger can challenge our ways of thinking and gives us a different lens on our culture. Henry Nouwen challenges us to think about how we instinctively protect ourselves from the stranger:
“People who are unfamiliar, speak another language, have another color, wear a different type of clothes and live a lifestyle different from ours, make us afraid and even hostile.”
“Our fears, uncertainties and hostilities make us fill our inner world with ideas, opinions, judgments and values to which we cling to as precious property. Instead of facing the challenge of new worlds opening themselves for us, and struggling in the open field, we hide behind the walls of our concerns holding on to the familiar life items we have collected in the past.” 1
We need to remember that both the newcomer and the host face the same challenges. If together we are willing to open our minds to differing perspectives and commit to mutual learning, our communities will be enlarged and enriched by the experience. When there is a genuine attentiveness to learn from as well learn about each other, we also discover the ways that God has revealed Himself in cultures different than our own and we gain a deeper understanding of how God’s redemptive story is revealed to all people.
David I. Smith reminds us that:
“being Christian does not require me to abandon my cultural identity – redemption is for those of every nation, tribe, people and tongue … but neither does it allow me to take my culture for granted as equivalent to the king of God on earth.”
He cautions us to challenge each other to not assume that the:
“the dangers are all ‘out there’ in other people`s culture and the insights are all ‘in here’ in my own culture. Since the particular temptations and distortions arising from different cultural patterns tend to vary, it may be that the ways of another culture bring a needed rebuke to my own familiar habits of mind and living. This does not imply swallowing whole any idea or practice that I find in another culture simply because it is exotic, or it flatters my resentments toward aspects of my own community. It does, however, mean taking time to consider whether the voice of a cultural stranger can edge me closer to the contours of God`s kingdom, enriching my cultural identity by helping to flavor it with love, compassion and justice.”2
The underpinning of all aspects of international programs should be the practice of Christian hospitality. Admissions protocols, instructional programs and homestay guidelines should reflect the practice of welcoming the stranger. Whether your school has emerging or established programs, it would be a good exercise to examine your practices and reflect how they enable people to reveal who they are and allow them to become meaningful members of your school community.
And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34 NKJV)
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
- Nouwen, Henri JM. Reaching Out: the Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Doubleday, New York. 1975.
- Smith, David I. Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2009.