Tonight we sat with a small group of people from church after being asked to share a bit about Passover. It was an intimate group – all the people knew each other well and were, essentially, family. After Shawn shared the message we had a delicious meal together and as we sat around and talked for a while, sharing stories, laughing, and just being with each other I felt a deep sense of contentment and connection. There were times when they were all speaking a language that I couldn’t understand, but even in the midst of that I felt secure and loved – not at all out of place. I was ok to be there and just “be.”
I don’t know if you have ever experienced this – the being in the middle of life happening around you and you can’t understand the language or even the concept sometimes. In my line of work, this atmosphere has happened often. And I am always surprised at how friendship can come through in a smile, a hand held, a teasing look, or a hug. Those times when you can’t always understand you are forced to know people in ways that we don’t always pay attention to when you can focus directly on the words. In Mundri this was especially true when I would sit on a compound with the women and attempt my extremely limited Arabic and they would try their better-than-my-Arabic-but-still-not-great English. We often resorted to sign language and tea. (You can drink tea in any language – I’m convinced it’s universal.) And laughter – lots of laughter. Sometimes in frustration of the inability to make yourself understood, but often in the simple giving up and just being together.
In Nairobi most people we are around speak at least some English – and many speak it more properly than I do! But when you are invited into someone’s family and you spend a lot of time with them, they naturally fall into their own heart language, and that’s when you get to see who they really are. You watch the interactions between brothers and you know the teasing that is happening even when you can’t understand the words. You can see the look of annoyance on the face of a wife who is scolding her husband for being late to dinner. You learn the nuances in and about a person that you don’t always get when you are listening to words with the intent to respond right away.
Tonight as we sat and had conversation in English we laughed and shared anecdotes about our growing up years. But I also realized how content I was to sit and watch my dear friends interact. I was very happy to just “be.”
I pray that each of you has the opportunity to be the stranger in a foreign land one day – to have the chance to get to know someone in a way that is out of your normal comfort zone. I pray that I can be a safe place and an easy person to “just be”with for those who are not English speakers and who may be feeling out of place what is their foreign land.