Last week my friend thoughtfully told me that it seemed like everyone was trying "win" their side of the argument in all the ongoing debates on social media and the news. And she said, "I don't want to win. I just want to live in harmony." That seemed very insightful because amongst all the discussions, I think we often forget about the actual people behind the arguments--the people we are called to love. Sometimes we are called to love people from far away, people from across oceans and borders, and that might be hard for us, uncomfortable even. And it might be beautiful too. I can attest to this because my household represents two different continents. My husband and I have been raised with very different ways of doing things, which is not bad, just different. Take for instance this week when it was pajama day at my school and my husband gave me a strange look and asked me if I was really going to wear my sweats to work. You would never do this in Kenyan culture for fear of being fired or sent home immediately, and there I was marching out the door in something I'm not sure I'd even normally wear to the grocery store. And then on the flip side of this is me telling my husband that his patterned sweater really doesn't match his patterned shirt and that overall, he's wearing too many patterns. If you've ever seen African fabric, you can just throw my argument right out the window. I could go on and on about our cultural differences (American time vs. African time, is dinner time 5 pm or 9 pm, is it okay to eat soup plain without rice or something starchy, is American politeness fake or genuine), but what I really value are the things we can learn from each other. Because my life is so much richer when we can combine those great traditions from two different places.
On Wednesday I was privileged to drive to O'Hare to join a group of people connected by the Welcome Network. We went to welcome two sisters who were coming to the U.S. as refugees. We were a lovely diverse little group of people made up of all colors and races and ages with florescent signs to welcome these ladies to their new home. As I drove to the airport, I felt a little nervous: nervous for them, having left everything familiar behind, as they would make this foreign place their new home, and nervous for myself as I thought about what I would say. And I wondered about their story. I knew that they had fled war, but I couldn't even begin to imagine or understand the details. Often, it is this story, this deeply personal and emotional tale, that we never actually get to hear. We hear general things on the news, but we never see an actual face or learn about the true experience that person has had. And we often speak or react out of fear; it is easy to be afraid of what we do not know or understand. But Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger, love the enemy, and care for the poor.
Sometimes people who are hurting do not have a voice. They cannot speak because of trauma, or because no one will listen, or because there is a language barrier, or because they are just simply trying to survive. I am just one small person, and I sometimes feel that I cannot do much, or I am so intimidated that I do nearly nothing at all. But on this particular day, I held a welcome sign and offered a smiling face to two ladies who had traveled thousands of miles in search of safety--a small gesture, but still something. I hope one day soon, I will get to hear their story.
Can we join together to be listeners, to hear? I struggle just like you. I make excuses; I mess up; I become moody. But despite our brokenness I still believe that we can reach out in love. How can we stretch ourselves to extend kindness to someone who is different from us?--someone who speaks another language, someone who has different family traditions, someone who is outcast and marginalized. This is the core of what Grain of Rice Project is all about. And whether we are in Kenya or the U.S., we can all join together to do our part to tip the scale, and only then, in the true listening and understanding, will we start to have harmony.