This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Strangers became friends

David and Krista meet Israel and Rosario.

In early 2008, we decided to improve our Spanish-speaking skills and searched for local immigrants with whom we could converse. We asked a person who teaches local ESL classes if she knew a Hispanic immigrant family or couple interested in helping each other learn the other’s language. We proposed spending one half hour together each time speaking only Spanish, then another half hour speaking only English.

A few weeks later, we heard from the teacher that a young Mexican couple was excited about this. We called them, and the struggle to communicate began. We tried our Spanish first, which they had a hard time understanding. They tried their English, which we had a hard time understanding. But finally we were able to set a time to meet at our house.

The first time we met was awkward but encouraging. Israel and Rosario were friendly but confessed they were a little scared. They brought a large picture book with Spanish words for us. At the end of the hour, we set another time to get together. We continued to meet weekly or biweekly, as time permitted. Soon Rosario invited us for a meal. We met their son, Joshua. He and our two sons played together.

Thus began the exchange of many meals at each other’s homes. Once, they brought a matching card game designed for learning language. We taught them how to play croquet. We learned to laugh at ourselves and each other as we all misused and mispronounced our Spanglish and Englanol. We learned they had few friends here, even though there is a growing Hispanic community in the area. “Everyone comes from different parts of Mexico,” they said.

Eventually, they confided in us that they were not here legally. He had a work visa but due to the expense of annual renewal had not renewed it the last time. She had traveled across the Mexico-Texas border, not eating for three days. Our surprise was a result of stereotypes we had, since they were a stable, responsible couple. He had a good job, they had purchased their own mobile home, and she loved to take her son to the library.

In August 2008, Israel learned his mother in Mexico City had cancer and needed treatment. They thought at first he would go back to visit, but they realized they would not be able to reenter due to their immigration status. They contacted an immigration attorney and thought they could reinstate his legal status, but they decided they could wait no longer and left in September 2008 to drive all the way to Mexico City.

When we visited them for the last time, they thanked us for being their friends. Rosario cried, Krista followed suit, then Israel and Dave teared up. We were strangers no more but good friends. We exchanged addresses, telephone numbers and emails. They invited us to visit them in Mexico. Someday, we hope to take them up on that.

Meeting each other on the same level helped make this cross-cultural relationship a lasting friendship. They saw us struggle with their language, just as they struggled with English.

Meeting in each other’s homes with our children around gave us a taste of the experiences we share as humans. They asked about our church, which led to discussions of faith. Their legal status made no difference to our view of them as friends.

We don’t have many answers for governmental immigration policy, but we believe that in reaching out to recent immigrants, mission and peacemaking come together. Many immigrants are lonely in this new land. More small groups in our churches could invite recent immigrants to join them as a way to learn about and help one another.

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Christ’s desire is that all be drawn closer to him and to each other. By welcoming the stranger in the land, we work for Christlike justice and peace among God’s children.

Dave and Krista Powell are members of Springdale Mennonite Church in Waynesboro, Va.

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