There are Strangers on our hallway. They have recently come from Canada, and she is just weeks from having their second child. The first time I saw them, I had a flashback. I’m stepping over the threshold into an empty yellow concrete apartment, hoisting Harriet in my belly and a diaper bag in one hand. The other hand is on my aching hip. I’m wondering how dirty things will be and when Norah will need to eat next. We’re all exhausted from the overnight flight, but Alex is curiously charged. Or maybe he’s putting a brave face on it. I can do that, too. “This is great,” I say. “What lovely big windows.” It does have a toilet, right?
I remember something else, too. I remember our friend Chris whom we hadn’t seen in more than five years coming all the way to Heathrow to help us find our way home. I remember Dave, whom I barely knew, biking up as we emerged from an overloaded taxi, carrying things in and presenting us with a big bag of groceries. Inside was a little note, welcoming us to Oxford and offering help with whatever we might need. And I remember how that thought was my lifeline in the whirl of fatigue and emotions: God is caring for us, there will be friends here.
There were so many things–friends who lent bedsheets and pots and toys until our boxes came. Before that we were shivering all night and I was cooking with tin foil and a Swiss Army knife. After Harriet was born three friends brought meals. Care packages arrived from dear ones back home, filled with happy little things. At Christmas a new friend drove over a tiny tree, complete with lights!
The Canadians down the hall are coming over for dinner. Reflecting on all that we received when we were strangers here makes me want to care for them in every way I can think of. But if we talk to the neighbors won’t that seem sort of . . . weird? I mean, they don’t know us. I’m sure they’ll figure it out, they’ll be fine. What can we really do? Just show up with cookies? Most people probably want to be left alone. Do we let these thoughts stop us? NO, they will not think you are weird, they will think you are nice. Let’s clear this up right now: no one has ever thought someone was weird for bringing over food (they might think your food is weird, but they won’t think you are unless you show up in a frog costume or something) yet we let the fear of this prevent us all the time. Also safety. Yes, they are going to open the door, see you standing there, instantly decide to do you harm, grab you by the arm and yank you indoors, where you will be unable to struggle or call for help. Really?
I am reminded that loving the stranger is part of living the gospel–a part that often gets overlooked. It is more important than it seems.
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”