Welcome the Outsider

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Brian brought me Vietnamese spring rolls Thursday night.

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 this Thursday, 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.

Welcome the Outsider

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 ago 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 prefers real conversations with a native speaker instead of learning through a workbook. So for an hour and a half each Thursday night, we talk.

We work on his pronunciation skills (the th sound is hard for him) and I explain definitions of words he’s unsure of (like meteorologist). But we do 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

The story of the tower of Babel in the Old Testament says that all people once spoke only one language and used the same words. But when they became too cooperative in building a tower to heaven—they wanted to make a name for themselves—the author of Genesis 11 writes that the Lord was unhappy. So he “confused the language of all the earth.”

Our languages—and cultures—have remain confused for thousands of years.

As I learn more about Brian’s culture, I learn 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.

One word at a time, one conversation at a time, the teacher/student dynamic breaks down. Now it’s more friend-to-friend.

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

Welcome Home

Despite the hindrances, we can overcome barriers and reconnect in meaningful ways for the glory of God instead of for human pride.

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.

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.

Our efforts are worth it when we discover the common humanity that God weaves among us all.

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 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 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.


20 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. Yvonne Chase

    I find myself being an outsider in many facets of life and definitely in my family of birth. Perhaps that is why I take to outsiders so much. I simply love talking to those who don’t fit in and somehow God always sends those types of people my way.

    “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.”

    Brian reminds me of my classmate Jovid. Just last week we sat in a cafe and I worked with him on pronouncing words. He too is from a foreign country and is challenged in that area. We always have the best time and he’s such a great guy with a wonderful heart.

    Vietnamese rolls are delicious. I actually learned how to make them a few years back.

  11. 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! 🙂

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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)

  15. 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.

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