Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent 2015

"Who Is My Neighbor?" 


             Back in April, when we told our 9-year-old daughter Camille that we'd be moving to Costa Rica for a year, her response was less than enthusiastic.  It may have even involved tears and pleading to stay close to family and friends.  But her father and I felt that a year abroad would literally and figuratively expand her world.  Travel is a wonderful teacher, and this country of nature, volcanoes, wild animals, and beaches makes a perfect classroom.

I also know from experience that it can be a challenge, but also a gift, to be a stranger in a strange land.  So often we surround ourselves with people just like us - they look like us, they talk like us, they think like us.  It may not be intentional, but it's comfortable.  Once you've been a stranger, unsure of language and customs, I think you become so much more compassionate toward other strangers.  You begin to look for what connects you, rather than what separates. 

            In Luke 10:25 Jesus is talking with legal experts about how to gain entry into heaven, and all agree that, "You must love your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."

Basic enough.  But then there is a follow-up question.  "Jesus, who is my neighbor?"  And that's when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, the unlikely hero who was willing to stop and help an injured stranger when others had passed him by.  Our neighbors are not just our literal neighbors - not just the people on our street, in our church, even in our city.  I believe God's vision is one where we are all neighbors, loving one another as we love ourselves.

              Camille was quite nervous about the first day at her bilingual international school here in Costa Rica.  Not knowing any Spanish, she was concerned about being lost and confused in class.  But as the first Spanish-language session began, she recognized another new student.  We'd heard about this student, a lovely girl from Sweden who spoke neither English nor Spanish.  Camille says the girl sat rigidly in her chair, looking terrified, not able to understand the Spanish being spoken or the English translation that was offered. 

So Camille walked over, took her hand, and led her to an adjacent seat.  Using mostly gestures, she helped the girl better understand the assignment.  Camille told me, "I was so worried about Spanish, but imagine how worried she was, not knowing Spanish         or English!"

              The two girls have become dear friends.  Playdates at our house are quiet, but they enjoy each other's company even if communication remains a challenge.  Camille is beginning to learn Swedish, because they spend their recess hour conducting impromptu language lessons together.

              This was exactly the kind of experience I hoped our daughter would embrace here - to look past what makes us different, and to have compassion for each other - to welcome our neighbors of every kind. When God sent his son, he sent him in human form so we could identify with Jesus.  But throughout his ministry, Jesus reminds us again and again that we must love one another, even those who seem unlovable.  Because whoever needs your compassion, that is your neighbor too.


- Ginger Heidel


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