Welcome the Outsider

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It’s been a few years now, but I remember the night Brian brought me Vietnamese spring rolls.

He had made spring rolls a couple weeks earlier and brought them to our English as a Second Language class. But I wasn’t there that week. With no time to make homemade rolls again the following week just for me, he bought some from a local Vietnamese restaurant.

He pulled out the takeout box for me to have.

Vietnamese food is an unknown to me. I’m not adventurous in the food department. I like what I like. I have enough favorite foods already; why would I need to try new ones?

But having a Vietnamese friend was once an unknown to me, too.

When New Is Uncomfortable

Brian isn’t his original name. It’s the name he gave himself when he came to America a few months earlier from his home in Vietnam. It’s easier to say.

When I wanted to learn how to pronounce his real name anyway, he laughed and gently told me it would be too hard. I could just call him Brian. He liked that name.

Learning new things can be uncomfortable. Meeting new people even more so. Especially when you speak different languages. It feels rude to ask someone to repeat a word over and over because you can’t understand what they’re saying. Or to be asked in return to speak slower because they’re lost.

Differences often separate us. It’s hard to jump the hurdles to find commonalities. It takes energy and motivation. And time.

To practice his English, Brian prefered real conversations with a native speaker instead of learning through a workbook. So for an hour and a half each Thursday night week after week, we simply talked.

We worked on his pronunciation skills (the th sound is hard for him) and I explained definitions of words he was unsure of (like meteorologist). But we did so through natural discussions about the differences and similarities in our two cultures of America and Vietnam. Weddings, clothing, schools, food, family, holidays, religion.

It Goes Both Ways

As I learned more about Brian’s culture, I learned more about mine, too. Sometimes I’m proud of it; sometimes I’m shamed. The Vietnamese do many things better, some things worse, just like we do.

Even though our sounds differ, our minds search for similar information, our hearts feel the same emotions, our souls want the same connections.

The teaching and learning didn’t go only one direction, but back and forth, round and round.

One word at a time, one conversation at a time, the teacher/student dynamic broke down. It grew into friend-to-friend.

Welcome Home

Despite the hindrances, it’s possible to overcome barriers and reconnect in meaningful ways.

Granted, it takes more effort to understand each other when we don’t sound the same. We have to think harder, lean in, listen closer.

Welcoming the outsider often feels awkward. But we’ve all been the stranger. We know what it means to have received hospitality as a stranger as well as to extend hospitality to the strangers around us. To help others feel at home.

Our efforts are worth it when we discover our common humanity.

I opened the takeout box to try a spring roll. It looked as foreign as it was. I timidly dipped a corner of the rice paper into the sauce. Brian urged me to dunk it more fully. I tried it.

It was good, but it tasted alien to my American tastebuds. I would need a few more bites.

Spring Rolls

When I got home, I encouraged my husband Jeff to try one, too. He did. The culture was spreading. We’d never had Vietnamese food in our mouths—in our house—and now we had both experienced it.

It was no longer an unknown.

Welcome home.

* * *

When have you been an outsider? When have you welcomed the stranger?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

revised from the archives

37 thoughts on “Welcome the Outsider

  1. Michele Morin

    I love that you’re being challenged by your student! Two-way learning is such a grace thing. We bring our gift to the table and receive in the process. Thanks for sharing the great story around it here!

  2. ~ linda @ Being Woven

    Yes, Lisa, this is the way of Christ…the open door to strangers and tend to one another in so many ways…whether it is food, water, soul-feeding, emotional support, head knowledge. I love the way this exchange you share with Brian each week is two-way. You are not only teaching him a language, but you each are teaching the other about culture, language, feelings, ways of similarity and difference. These are ways to the heart and soul of one another. How grateful I am to God Who gives us gifts that He uses to draw others closer to Him.
    By the way, I believe God is drawing me back to my blog. I have barely been able to write yet I have been living and growing in the Lord over this almost year now! Yes, it will be one year June 7th since Kenneth went to be with His Lord. I can hardly believe that myself! I love you, Lisa.

  3. Lesley

    It sounds like this friendship is really beneficial to both of you! It’s fascinating to find out more about different cultures and we can learn a lot from one another.

  4. Barbara Harper

    My d-i-l is Indian, and I’m afraid Indian food tasted foreign to my taste buds, too. I’m no adventurous in the food department, either. My husband and sons love it, though. And it must be growing on me, because the last time we had it, I enjoyed it more than I have before. When we open the door to the new and unfamiliar, pretty soon it becomes familiar.

  5. Karen Friday

    “Just as God has welcomed us into the family, we too are meant to extend hospitality to the strangers around us. To help others feel at home.” Beautiful, Lisa.
    It reminds me of 1 Peter 2:11 when God says we are a people for his own possession. And the reason? So that we will declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. No better way to show we are a people called out of darkness than to welcome outsiders.

  6. Martha J Orlando

    What a touching and meaningful story, Lisa. Yes, we need welcome the outsider and really want to know their hearts and minds. It sounds like you have a win-win situation with Brian; you are both learning and growing, appreciating the differences, and experiencing commonalities.

  7. Linda Stoll

    This is tender and wise, Lisa.

    Like you.

    I’ve felt like an outsider more times than I’d care to remember. This tends to tenderize our hearts and increase our empathy level …

  8. Pam Ecrement

    What a great story and example. I confess that I am skittish about unfamiliar foods as well. Our daughter and her family live in a part of the country where they get exposed to a diverse number of food choices from other countries that are not Americanized. When we visit her, she sometimes suggests we go to one of these restaurants. Inside I often balk a bit, but she has enough experience she can usually guide us into a choice she knows we will likely find okay (It’s still not easy.)

    Our oldest grandson’s college graduation speaker was Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska. I wondered if you have read his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other–And How to Heal.” I haven’t read it yet, but I thought it might be a book that you would find of interest if you hadn’t picked it up as yet.

  9. Trudy

    You are brave, Lisa. 🙂 I’m not so great at trying unfamiliar foods. I love this truth – “Just as God has welcomed us into the family, we too are meant to extend hospitality to the strangers around us. To help others feel at home.” Amen. And thank you for your kind heart to make immigrants feel at home. Love and blessings to you!

  10. Laurie

    So beautiful, Lisa. When we welcome outsiders, we practice what we preach. Just like we are told in 1 Corinthians; “There is one body, but it has many parts.” I always thought I learned more from my students than they learned from me! 🙂

  11. Bethany

    I love this, Lisa!! I’m recently blessed with a Chinese friend whose language skills we practice together. It’s a privilege, and so eye-opening. Thanks for the wisdom and beautiful story. I need to be better at welcoming new foods haha. What a gift to have the unknown welcomed in.

  12. Mary Geisen

    Isn’t it just like students of any age to challenge us and our beliefs? When I was teaching young children, Kindergarten and First Grade, I fond myself challenged by their many questions. In the process of answering them, I discovered I learned more about myself. It’s a beautiful process of give and take. Your story shows me once again how much we gain when we allow ourselves to learn from others.

  13. Rachel Q

    I have started helping an 11 year old Chinese girl with her English. Her family is only here for the year and they wanted some help with her English. It has been eye-opening on so many levels to help her with this English language of ours. I have learned so much as well. It’s a great experience. Thanks for sharing this with us! (Stopping by from Grace and Truth)

  14. Jean Wise

    What a neat story, lesson and insight to your gift to Brian. Love how you sit and talk. My weight watcher leader told us when it comes to liking new or formally unliked food – not to say “I don’t’ like it” but say I don’t like it yet The yet implies that someday you will like it, find a way to prepare the food in a way you like it or your taste buds will learn to like it. I like that mindset.

  15. Linda Stoll

    Lisa, right away this reminded me of my niece, Jessica, whose family came from Viet Nam. She went home to be with Jesus very suddenly, far too early. I’m missing her as I read your words.

  16. Dianna

    This post takes me in two directions, but I will start by saying how thankful I am for people like you and my daughter-in-law who have this desire to help in the world of literacy. She does something similar in Maine, only not in a classroom setting but rather in homes of the individual who is needing to learn English as their second language. Brian’s desire to share food of his country made me think of the many treats that our daughter-in-law has received from the people she has helped.

    The other direction that this post takes me has to do with the two Filipino young men the Lord sent to us. They were in this country studying for the ministry so that they could go back to the Philippines and start churches. When they had meetings in our area to raise support, they would use our home as a “home base” so they didn’t have to drive from another state early in the morning. I would always make a point of preparing food that was true to their culture and they were always amazed that I would do it. They would often say, “Mom, we can’t afford this at home in the Philippines because it’s too expensive to make. We just buy it from street vendors.” I still have those recipes and although they aren’t our everyday fare, they still bring back sweet memories of the privilege we had to give them a little piece of “home” when they would be here.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your daughter-in-law sounds amazing. The work she does going into people’s homes to teach English must feel like a wonderful gift to those she helps. I no longer am actively doing this work, but it was quite fulfilling (even as I felt quite inadequate doing it).

      I can imagine you and your Filipino guests around your table eating their authentic food; you are such an inspiration, Dianna!

  17. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Such a wonderful, heartfelt post, Lisa, and filled w/ kindness and the common ground of humanity. We are not all so different after all. We just have different tastes and customs, but in the end, all people want is compassion, understanding, and love. You have shown this to Brian in abundance, and he has shown it to you. My family and I have experienced this especially with Asian people whom our daughter has befriended. And I too have tried to pronounce Asian words and eaten food I’ve never even heard of at times (though I’m refusing the pickled chicken feet).

    But what I have found is that her friends are delighted when I try, even if I butcher their language. In fact, they think it’s “cute” and have no problem if I default to their American names, ones they, themselves, have chosen, because I can’t master their language. Our daughter Sheridan sticks w/ Asian (because she’s good at it) and because she sees this as welcoming. It is, of course. But it’s also welcoming, as she herself does, to open our hearts, to stop “othering” others, and to see each as God’s unique creation bearing His image. I think so often of how Jesus was an alien, come to earth (a strange, inhospitable place for the Son of God and which eventually killed Him), and how even as a baby, he was a human refugee to Egypt. Jesus always cared for the downtrodden, the marginalized, and disenfranchised–the outcast. We’d do well to remember that…. another way of acknowledging each other’s humanity, and to remember that as Christians, we are ultimately citizens of the Kingdom of God and that our home really isn’t here. We are all aliens pn earth, and I thank God that He loves us and will one day welcome us at His great marriage supper. Can you imagine the variety of the delicacies on which we will feast for all eternity?

    Thank you again for a thoughtful post and a “lived” example of Christ in what you do and say.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You sum it up well, Lynn: “We are not all so different after all.” (I’d have to refuse the pickled chicken feet too, btw.) You raised Sheridan well, setting a good example for her to love others with authenticity and going the extra mile to help them feel welcomed. Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do to make this world a better place!

  18. Lois Flowers

    Lisa, I just made my first-ever spring rolls with a friend a few days ago, so your post hooked me from the very beginning. 🙂 I love your willingness to work through your discomfort and take the time to get to know Brian and his culture. Amen to this: “Our efforts are worth it when we discover our common humanity.”

  19. Donna

    So good, Lisa, it takes me back to teaching English to the Albanians when we were on the mission field, not to mention learning all of the customs. WE were the foreigners then.
    But in the midst of encountering the unfamiliar we found the love of God, others and even our own awkwardness. All culminating as you so eloquently shared in a common humanity.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you for commenting about teaching English to the Albanians, Donna. I can’t even imagine. You show that our common humanity can be shared regardless of which side of the barriers we are on. Awkwardness doesn’t have to prevent the sharing of love!

  20. Joanne

    We had a Vietnamese family move into our tiny town when I was in middle school and Vanmalay was like that exotic person that everyone wanted to get to know. She was the sweetest too and offered to share lots of her food with us; I still think about this noddle dish she used to bring in. It was so good!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      How delightful that you still have wonderful memories of Vanmalay from your youth. I imagine it felt like quite a gift to her to be valued as the person everyone wanted to know!

  21. Lyndsey

    This is so absolutely wonderful! I love your thoughts on this, it’s so easy for people to shy away from things that are different. And unfortunately, this also includes people. Also, the spring rolls look fantastic! Thank you for linking up with Happy Hearts & Homes, I hope to see you again this week.

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