At 12 years old, Emeline was full of fear about what lay ahead. She knew her world would change soon. She simply didn’t want to let go of the familiar. With the departure date looming on the horizon, she frequently woke up in the middle of night in panic. It was tough to overcome fear of the unknown.
Her parents had determined they’d spend a year abroad as a family. They had tried to draw her into the process. But while it seemed simple, it meant leaving all she had known. And, as a middle schooler, this seemed so not fair. She felt as if she had no choice.
Then, a few weeks before departure, when it became clear there was no turning back, Emeline made up her mind. She was going to overcome fear by leaning in to this change and not resisting it.
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.
A True Story
Emeline’s story is my daughter’s story when, as a family, we deliberately stepped out of our comfortable, often-predictable American life, and went to live in China for a year.
While a stretch living abroad may be the very best way to learn how other people think and live, it may not be possible for you.
Nevertheless, there are myriad ways to overcome fear we may have, reach out and connect across cultures while at home. The nations of the world are in our schools, workplaces, shops, communities, churches, college and university campuses and, indeed, even our own backyards.
This idea has not been lost in the wake of terrorist attacks at home and around the world. I believe calls to build walls instead of bridges only stir up fear and anxiety. (And I know there’s a political objective behind them.) But I believe we simply cannot forget the shameful chapter of our collective U.S. history, when we interned so many innocent Japanese Americans in WWII. We must learn from that mistake!
How can we do things differently now? And how can we overcome fear and choose a better response?
Here are 5 steps we can take for a better outcome:
(1) Commit to a mindset of love. Jesus told his followers, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) This is a hard teaching, but it sets a standard to which we should aspire. If you are a Christ-follower, this is your mandate. If you are not, still, the principle should motivate you. This mindset of love needs to pervade all of our hearts as we deal with those who would want our worst.
We can overcome fear with love. This is the path we must follow in this season full of uncertainties. We cannot let fear win out!
As a Christ-follower myself, I recognize I do not have the capacity to carry through on this lofty goal. I need God’s help. Every day. But I am certain, as we pray back the tide of evil, God hears and works. He is Love itself, and can, in His sovereignty, change even the most evil of hearts.
(2) Open your eyes. Too often, we whiz through our days. We have our own agenda, our own people to meet. Often, we fail to include others outside of our scope of vision. And we need to open our eyes and see those whom God has placed in our path, whether it be the clerk at check out or the neighbor across the street.
Give yourself a challenge for a week. Keep track of everyone whom you interact with. Journal well! Examine the points of intersection. Explore the opportunities. You may be surprised what you discover.
(3) Be alert and be intentional. Choose to really connect, to make eye contact, to communicate you care. It doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to come from your choice to connect. It is very easy to operate on autopilot. It’s our default mode.
Avoid this! Instead allow for margin in your day – time to get from here to there – to invite real connection, to spread real joy. This is what we’re made for! Don’t miss it!
(4) Seek out the places and spaces where internationals and recent immigrants spend their time, and make them part of your weekly living experience as well.
This is a big one. If you want to connect with people who differ from you, you cannot automatically expect them to come to you. Remember this – they are strangers in a strange land, you are the welcomer. To make connections that really matter, you need to first attempt to enter their world, at least a little, often before they will venture into yours.
This could include frequenting a local international food store, signing up to help with literacy programs or a local English conversation class, getting involved in your local Toastmasters (where many international students try to improve their English) or similar clubs, taking a class at the local junior college while keeping an eye out for international peers. Connect here to inquire more about opportunities to connect with international students in your area.
I have seen connections develop like this again and again. And when they do, the outcomes are, 99% of the time, worth it. Friendships are forged. Bridges are built. Hearts are changed.
(5) Offer hospitality. Did you know that about 80% of the almost one million international students who spend time in the U.S. every year will never step into an American home?
This is a statistic that needs to change! But it only can change if we are willing to take the risk of friendship and invite.
Do we need to have live in a palace? No! Do we need to even have our own space? No! Indeed, more important than the home we would invite another to is the heart we offer. I am convinced that one of our most strategic “weapons” against distrust and hatred towards the West is that of sincere and loving hospitality.
Back to Emeline
At the end of our year in China, Emeline’s classmates put together a goodbye package full of notes and little gifts. It was clear that her presence in their class and in their lives had touched them.
And Emeline, when she received these gifts, discovered for herself the truths in Maya Angelou’s quote in a new way. She had cried, laughed, eaten and worried (but not died!) with these classmates. She had overcome fear. And she had grown.
And so can we.
Can you share about a time when you overcame fear and forced yourself to connect with someone very different from you? What was the outcome?
Image Credit: tookapic on Pixabay