I have never done anything like this before.
I think I amazed my two adult daughters. Truth to tell, I surprised even myself.
“Bring any friends home for Thanksgiving week that you want to,’ I told our younger daughter. “Especially if they are international friends. And by the way, I’ve contacted the campus minister at our local university to see if we can pick up a couple other international students for Thanksgiving Day.” God has been working in my heart for over the last year that I needed to reach out to immigrants and international students. Talk wasn’t good enough. My obedience needed to equal my lip-service about the importance of international ministry. By Thanksgiving Day, we had four students from three continents sharing our Thanksgiving feast.
Christine arrived Monday with two Asian friends, one from China, the other from Taiwan. They entered our house, bearing gifts. Fortunately, I knew this is a common custom in other countries. If you are a guest, you never enter with empty hands. However, I wasn’t prepared with what I was supposed to do next – should I dive into the chocolate right away? Lay the gifts aside and check them out later? Put the chopsticks in the silverware drawer?
Since we spent a lot of time cooking and eating, at first, our talk centered around food. “Why does American food have such long names?” one girl asked. I realized that so far, I had served them lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and minestrone. Imagine their confusion as I tried to explain that these foods were (mostly) Italian. “Are you Italian?” they asked. By Wednesday, I was grabbing at ideas for supper so I stir-fried cabbage and noodles in bacon grease, hoping my kludge would be acceptable. The girls told me later they smiled at each other and said, “Oh! She’s cooking Chinese food!”
It’s easy to think my way is the best way and my country and culture are the greatest. Yet as we shared our differences, I found myself squirming with discomfort. China has a lot more vegetables at cheaper prices. We asked if the girls would like to help us decorate for Christmas and I became sheepish as we hauled box after box of decorations out of our back garage. So much! Maybe . . . too much? Why do we use the term “Black Friday” to describe profit and say someone in debt is “in the red?” Red, one girl explained, is a positive color, a color of blessing. I also learned that the Chinese do not have four seasons. “Why would the shortest day of the year be the first day of winter?” one girl asked. “Why not make that the middle of winter?” She has a point.
Even our in-home dog was a novelty. Chinese homes in high rise apartment buildings where everyone is gone for the day, is just not practical. In Nigeria, dogs are used only as guard dogs, so you can imagine how our Nigerian guest who arrived Thanksgiving Day reacted when Tuesday the Welsh Corgi bounded toward him. Our Bolivian guest however, immediately loved on Tuesday and soon, our friendly Corgi was draped over her lap.
Midstream, I fretted that we were all talking too much about the differences between us so I started to pray that God would help us find common ground. It quickly came. Laughter softened many language barriers. The Taiwanese girl helped my husband solve a security problem on his android tablet. By Thursday, the Chinese girls were working with me in the kitchen (they cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes for every meal, God bless them!). As we ate a hasty lunch at Burger King before they left, the we each talked about our struggles with time management and accomplishing everything on our mutual to-do lists. We learned to enter each others’ worlds. They quickly picked up on some of our slang and idioms. When I fretted about what to feed everyone Thanksgiving evening, one girl used a term I had used earlier in day. “Don’t worry, Karen. We’ll just graze.” When we returned our daughter to campus Sunday night, the two Chinese girls treated us to authentic Chinese food at a nearby restaurant. Over dinner we talked about the high cost of weddings in each of our countries and our sadness over escalating divorce rates.
And we all held in common the need to express gratitude. I had placed three kernels of popcorn by each plate on Thanksgiving Day, asking people to share what they were thankful for that day. Most of our gratitude overlapped: new friends, family, faith, the gift of dreams for the future.
Common ground became holy ground several times. Wednesday night we all stood with uplifted faces gazing in awe at the Milky Way. The girl from China and the student from Nigeria each told of church persecution in their country. What I had always read about now became personal. The cost of faith in Christ can be high. At first I felt unworthy, that we have it so easy, yet I also shared the times my husband and I have been oppressed in our ministry work because of our proclamation of Christ – and we became one with these believers.
The international students spoke of their dreams – to build a better water system for Nigeria, to alleviate poverty and fight the drug war in Bolivia, to mature in their faith so they could go back to their countries, stronger and more secure in their testimony. It was in those holy moments I felt as if the strangers in my home had become the “angels unaware’ the writer of Hebrews told his readers to expect (Hebrews 13:2). Angels are messengers of God who leave behind a trail of blessing for the recipient.
No doubt about it. I was blessed. I’m convinced I was blessed more than anyone else.
If you are interested in hosting international students in your home during a holiday season, contact a campus ministry or the office for International Students at a local college. You will soon leave your comfort zone and step into a wonderful world of new experiences you will carry and treasure in your heart forever.
“Why does American food have such long names?” – Tweet this.
When you entertain international students, you will be the one who is blessed. – Tweet this.