If you’re already in this country—the United States of America—and you’re in my neighborhood, please feel free to drop by sometime. Our house is small by modern standards, but somehow everyone always fits. We may need to scoot our chairs a bit closer. If you’ll let me know you’re coming, I’ll set an extra place at the table—for you, and for all eight of your kids, if you decide to bring them along. It might just be rice and beans, but that always goes a long way in our family. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that there have been occasions in the past when God miraculously stretched the rice just enough to feed everyone at my table. (Those times always remind me of his faithfulness.) If you forget to let me know you are coming over (and you probably will, because that’s the way relationships work in your native country), don’t worry; we’ll just have chai, coffee, or Tang, while we watch our kids play together. I will not fear that your religious beliefs will infect them like some kind of new bird flu that is contaminating our neighborhood.
If you are Christian, come! If you are Ethiopian Orthodox, come! If you are Muslim, come (I promise I won’t serve you pork)! I don’t care if you’re Hindu or Buddhist, Sunni or Shia, humanist or atheist, you are welcome at my table. If you’re a single male, I’ll ask you to come back after my husband is home. If you’re female, we’ll go inside and talk about where you come from and celebrate your victories of navigating a college class, the insurance system, or mass transit. I’ll lend you the air pump to inflate your bicycle tire, and I’ll be thankful when you return it to me. I’ll lend you our jumper cables and when they don’t come back, I’ll forgive you, because you win some, you lose some. (Seriously, though, if you find them, please bring them back.) We’ll pray for your family as they face difficulties back home. You can ask me to teach you to make fried chicken and then be disappointed that it doesn’t come out tasting like Indi’s. I’ll taste one of your dishes and try to hide the shock of the five-alarm fire in my mouth behind a glass of water.
I should warn you: I’ll probably talk about Jesus a lot during our visit. I’ll try not to be weird about it, but I am always talking about Jesus with my friends, and I consider you a friend, so it would be weird to avoid talking about Jesus with you. I know you, and you will likely talk about your faith, as well. That’s cool with me. In America, people often try not to talk about our spiritual beliefs for fear of offending someone. But where you are from, your faith is a part of your everyday life and it affects everything you do. My faith in Jesus affects everything in my life, too. I will tell you about what he is teaching me and possibly share my Jesus Story with you (some people call this a “testimony”). I might tell you a story from the Bible if the moment is right. If you are seeking an answer to a problem, I will give you an answer that is based in the Bible, because that is how I make decisions. I will pray for you regularly, because I pray for my friends. I may invite you to church or to a small group, (or to a birthday party, a holiday celebration, or a road trip, because who doesn’t like to bring their friends deeper into their lives?).
If any of this bothers you, as it has a small number of acquaintances in the past, I respect your decision not to visit again. As they say: “It’s a free country!” But, if you decide to continue growing our relationship, (and I sincerely hope you do), please know that I have no plans to “convert” you. You see, Christians believe that only God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, can change anyone into a Christian. It’s an internal change. People can’t do that to one another. Hanging out with me doesn’t make you a Christian and I recognize that, so I’m not going to spontaneously baptize you, or kidnap you and drop you off at a church building, or something. I also don’t expect that you will act like me. I hope you’ll be honest and kind and I know you’ll be generous and hospitable (you’ll probably out-hospitality me), but I don’t expect that you won’t use “That.Really.Bad.Curse.Word” or that you’ll eat ham just because I set it in front of you (and I won’t, remember? I already promised.) I don’t expect you to bow your head and close your eyes when we pray before we eat, although you are welcome to. If you want to share a plate with me and eat with your hand, let’s give it a shot!
If you decide to join me in following Jesus at some point in the future—great! I would love to have a new brother or sister. But if you never, ever do that, I want you to remember that I loved you, truly loved you, in the name of Jesus. Others may be successful for their own reasons, but I know that on my own, I would never have it in me to love a stranger, an immigrant, a refugee, someone with another language and skin tone, who comes from a land best known for pirates, terrorists, and AK-47’s. This, Friend, is the power of Jesus in me.
So come on over soon and hang out with us. We’d love to meet you.