The small village where I served with the Peace Corps had never hosted a volunteer. Nestled beside one of the two roads in the country, an eight-hour bus ride from the capital, the village had rarely, if ever, seen a white person (I’m pictured above). In The Gambia, they called white people toubabs. It wasn’t uncommon to receive stares, have children want to touch my skin or hear endless chants of “Toubab, toubab, toubab!” One day while exploring, I entered a compound to find a girl staring at me. We both stood still. I greeted her in the traditional manner, “Peace be with you.” Her response? She ran home, screaming the entire way. I guessed that she had never seen a white person before.

As families of faith, God invites us to examine how we encounter the stranger. In our homes and communities, we may not scream out loud when we meet people different from us, but are there ways that we inwardly scream? Do we avert our eyes when the Muslim family walks by? Do we keep our children from interacting with the lesbian couple? Do we avoid the man with a disability?

With whom do you spend your time? Is your table, school, office or congregation populated with people who look the same as you?

In family life, we may not intentionally plan to keep to ourselves. But if that is our reality, the hard work comes in walking toward difference and seeing our neighbors for who they are—children of God.

Over time the girl and I became friends. We walked hand in hand; we played and danced and ate from the communal food bowl.

This is our call, this is our work: to model and teach how to walk toward our neighbors, not with screams but open hands.

Practices

As a family, work with a local organization to connect with an immigrant or refugee family. When you meet them, ask about their home country and learn about their traditions and beliefs. Ask how you can pray for them. For educational resources, visit lirs.org.

The ELCA hosts Glocal Mission Gatherings with worship, music and workshops that reflect the rich diversity in our neighborhoods and around the world. Find a gathering near you and attend as a family (elca.org/glocal).

 

God’s blessing for us all

is really wonderful,

God’s blessing for us all

is really wonderful.

It reaches up to the skies

and down to the seas.

It goes way out in front of us

and follows on behind.

It spreads out through the land

to all the world.

—Blessing from East Africa, A World of Prayers

 

 

Kimberly Knowle-Zeller
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Mo. Her website is kimberlyknowlezeller.com.

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