Years ago I was delivering a meal to refugees in the city of Lancaster. They had newly arrived from years of living in a refugee camp in a faraway country, having fled for their lives from their home country. They arrived at the refugee camp with extremely few possessions and hardly any opportunity. Imagine the feeling of not just losing all you have, but also having to leave your home and country and start over with next to nothing. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine.
Thankfully, many countries like the USA allow refugees to come to their countries to start over. After what usually takes at least 15-18 years, organizations like Church World Service helps families through the resettlement process. I was delivering a meal to a family that had gone through that long process and had just arrived in Lancaster, scared and anxious to start a new life in a country where they wouldn’t have to flee for their lives because of their beliefs or ethnicity. Imagine how unsettled they felt, moving to a new country, with a new language, new customs, new people, everything new. Imagine how it would feel to receive a meal from a stranger.
It was nighttime, and I was unfamiliar with that part of Lancaster city, so I was feeling just a tinge unsettled myself. Nothing like the unsettled feelings the refugee family was experiencing of course, but I still felt those uncomfortable feelings we all feel when we’re trying to find a house on a dark, unfamiliar street, and we are going to meet people we don’t know. Further, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to communicate with them. None of this was bad. I was glad to do it, but it definitely had me on edge a bit.
I finally found the house, parked outside it, delivered the meal, chatted with them briefly, as best I could, and then I needed to be on my way. I walked outside…and my car was gone! Immediately that feeling of fear and disaster took over me. You know it, right? Flushed red, body heat radiating from me, heart racing. I quickly scanned up and down the street. No car.
I was starting to really feel the nerves, when way down the block at the intersection, I noticed a car stopped in the middle of the intersection, waiting under the stoplights. It was my car!
Then it hit me. I had been thrown off, mentally and emotionally, trying to find the house, preparing to meet the new family, that when I parked my car, I must have forgotten to put the emergency brake on. My car at the time was a manual transmission, and the grade of hill in front of the house was just slight enough that when I stopped and put the car in neutral, I didn’t feel like I was on a hill. In the few minutes that I was in the house, the grade of the hill was enough that the car, with no e-brake on, slowly drifted down the street, into the intersection where the grade of the hill evened out, and the car stopped!
Whew! Even though I was super thankful my car was safe, as I ran down the street hoping no one was watching, my heart was really pumping at the disaster that could have been. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how off we can be when we are feeling like strangers.
I thought about how it feels to be a stranger in a new area. How much more the refugees must have been feeling like strangers.
How about you? Do you know the feeling of being a stranger? Have you ever been the new person at work? Have you ever had to change schools and start at a new school? Have you moved to a new neighborhood, new state? It feels awkward and difficult, right? Have you ever been in a new country, with a new language and new customs? In 2016 when I joined my wife Michelle on a trip to visit her work in Cambodia, with all the Buddhist temples and almost no evidence of Christianity anywhere, it was awkward.
The people Peter is writing to in 1st Peter are living the stranger’s life. They are a tiny minority. There were few Christians in the Roman Empire. So what does he say to them? Check in tomorrow and we’ll find out.