Living in a foreign country is good for the soul. From the process of minimizing all your worldly belongings into a few suitcases, to the humbling experience of no longer being able to communicate easily in your first language, your outlook on life can't help but be shaken up.
The other day I was ordering food at one of my favourite Arabic restaurants near my apartment in Kuwait. Although usually a combination of my limited Arabic and a few hand gestures are sufficient, for some reason there seemed to be some misunderstanding about my order. As is quite common a man sitting at a nearby table offered to help translate. Once my order had been placed, I was invited to join Samir, this most helpful stranger, at his table. Within moments he was sharing of his life, and asking of mine. Although he had lived much of his life here in Kuwait, he was originally from Syria, and only days before our chat across the table had been visiting family in Syria amidst the civil war.
I am sharing this event to reiterate how profoundly impacting kindness from a stranger can be when you are in unfamiliar or foreign circumstances. Canada, like Kuwait, has people from all over the world representing many countries and many languages. For many, Canada is a foreign place that can seem overwhelming and perhaps even a little daunting. Living in a place where I am a minority and where not everyone communicates in English I am reminded how significant these little offerings of assistance and kindness can be.
In the Middle East culture, including Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, hospitality is of significant value. Although when I look outside it is easy to see that I no longer live on the west coast of Canada, I am nonetheless made to feel at home by so many in my day-to-day activities.
Regardless of where you currently call home, I encourage you to consider what sort of impression newcomers are receiving from you specifically, and from the city more generally. Do you make offering hospitality to others part of your own culture? Do you take the opportunity, whether in the grocery store or walking downtown, to offer assistance to those who look lost or turned around? Sharing conversation over a coffee can mean the world to a newcomer, as they are not only assisted with their English but the foreignness of the city begins to be replaced by a secure feeling of home.
Throughout the Christian scriptures followers of Jesus are told to offer hospitality to strangers. Note that Christians are not simply to offer hospitality to friends, but more importantly they are told to offer it to strangers. I think that this is one of those principles we can, regardless of religion, all take to heart as we seek to make this world and our own cities more inviting to strangers. It is a universal truth found in many religions and cultures, and frankly should be a part of your culture whatever it happens to be.
Offer hospitality to strangers. It changes their world and yours.
Not everyone has had the opportunity to live outside of their birth country and while I learn new things everyday, I can say with certainty that one of the greatest lessons is the lesson of what it is like to be on the outside, to be the ‘other.’
“Peter and Alison Lublink put this short video together for family and friends to share their adventures of living outside of Canada.”
Peter Lublink is completing his Masters in Theological Studies with a focus on the peace teachings of Jesus while living and working in The Middle East with his wife Alison. Prior to packing up their bags and moving, Alison and Peter lived and worked in the beautiful city of Victoria, BC, leading a church community with The Salvation Army. Follow him on twitter: twitter.com/peterlublink.
* Top photo: Peter and his wife Alison listening to stories in a Monastery in Ethiopia earlier this year
This article was also published in the print edition of the Times Colonist in the Faith Forum section, Saturday, Sept 21 2013.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE