Sometimes love is messy…about as messy as a picnic.
What do we do in America when we want to warmly welcome someone and build a friendship?
We usually default to something involving food. Sharing a meal sets the table for connection.
Meredith* and David,* SIM workers in California, extended a picnic dinner invitation to their neighbors, two Afghan refugee families with kids the same age as their own. They also invited an American couple who was interested in getting to know their neighbors.
After deciding on a date that worked for everyone, Meredith and David looked ahead with anticipation and prayer.
When the day finally came, excitement buzzed throughout Meredith and David’s home as their neighbors arrived. It was finally go-time.
“Let’s head to the park, everybody!” David said.
With food, picnic supplies, toys, and stuff in abundance, getting the group to their destination proved to be a bit like herding cats. It took more time than anticipated, and dusk was settling in just a little too quickly.
“It was colder than we’d anticipated, and it was darker earlier than we’d thought,” says Meredith.
This is strike one, she thought.
She and David had carefully planned the food to represent both Afghan and American cultures, providing Halaal spicy kabobs and BBQ chicken sandwiches. Perfect picnic fare.
As it turned out, the BBQ chicken didn’t go over so well.
And the spicy kabobs should’ve come with the disclaimer: very spicy kabobs.
Putting their paper plates down and throwing greasy, crumpled napkins into a small garbage bag after attempting the cuisine, it was time for tea.
“I love this part of Afghan culture,” says Meredith. “After a meal, everyone sits together and has a few cups of refreshing green tea. Our lovely neighbors brought the tea and we were to bring the mugs.
“As we all settled in to pour the tea, I realized we forgot the mugs.”
David jumped up to run home and grab the mugs. By the time he returned to the park, the group was sitting—shivering—in complete darkness. The lone park lamp just couldn’t stretch its amber beams far enough to reach them, and building a fire wasn’t an option at this park.
The evening had not gone as planned.
Comedy in the chaos
“It was still an important gathering,” says Meredith, smiling in reflection. “As we used our phone lights to aid us in collecting all the food containers, leftovers, toys, and lost shoes from the kids, we were all together laughing, helping, and seeing comedy in the chaos.”
She and David rediscovered a lesson they thought they’d already embraced, but this experience brought it home.
“If the goal is Pinterest hospitality, then you are the focus and not the relationship,”
Meredith says. “It’s okay for things to be awkward and even feel like you’re striking out! That shows your authenticity and invites your neighbor to show theirs.”
Getting to this point
Meredith and David had returned with their kids to the States about two years prior to the picnic, after serving with SIM’s Sports Friends in Africa, for six years. Their service with SIM didn’t end with their change in location, but their focus shifted.
Overwhelmed with empathy for foreigners, refugee children are front and center in their hearts and the reason for their ministry.
Leviticus 19:33-34 says,
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”
It’s a Scripture Meredith treasures because, “I was the stranger and the sojourner! I was the immigrant. When my young family first arrived in Malawi, we knew nothing. We did not speak the language, we did not have a job, we did not have any friends or family. We relied on the Malawians to help us.
“And glory be to God, the church lived out this verse and treated us like family. They helped us learn the language. They gave us food. They graciously explained the culture that was so new to us and forgave us for our cultural mistakes.”
Please join us in prayer:
- PRAY for Meredith, David, and the many SIM workers around the world reaching refugees in their communities with the love of Jesus.
- PRAY that God will give you eyes to see the stranger among you, and ask Him to make you a vessel of His love in your everyday comings and goings.
- PRAY for refugees and other displaced people here in the States and around the world.
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*Names and photos may have been changed for the sake of privacy and safety of our workers, ministry partners and those we serve.