Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lessons from Turkey, part VI

“You yourselves know how it feels to be aliens”

One of the first things I noticed that had changed in me after even my first year in Turkey was my view of foreigners living in the U.S. I felt for the first time that there was some sort of connection between us. Spending two years as a total yabancı (“foreigner”), it became easy to share the plight of those seeking a better life in the United States. I had all sorts of difficulties speaking the language, which at first made me feel very isolated from everyone else. Riding the ferry boats across the Bosphorus, sitting on the bus (or, usually, standing), or walking through the crowded streets of a fifteen-million-person megalopolis can be isolating and startling enough as it is. But it was so much worse to hear everyone else talking, laughing, or reading the ubiquitous newspapers—and not know more than a few words here and there of what they are saying. It was like a whole world around me was literally passing me by, without my inclusion or participation in it.

When it came time to buy groceries, that usually went alright. (Though finding some finer things like nutmeg or cream of Tartar proved exceedingly difficult with my broken Turkish. Yani, o tarçinin tatı benzen bir bahar istiyorum ama tam tarçin değil. Fıstık gibi bir şeyten dovranılır. Buralarda bulabilir miyim acaba?”) But calling the boiler repairman; asking directions to one of the millions of impenetrably steep, cobbled çıkmaz streets; or figuring out why every pedestrian and driver stopped dead in his or her tracks at precisely the same moment on November 10th—these could be sources of exceeding frustration.

Flag sellers near Taksim Square during a holiday

All over the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Israelites are given admonitions to treat kindly the foreigners sojourning in their lands. “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Likewise in his sojourn in Palestine Jesus became acquainted with all the pressures, griefs, and temptations of human life. As such, he does not pester and plague mankind, but patiently bears with our shortcomings and aids all those who seek his help. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Compassionate living in the image of God means that we are quick to help, not to chide; that we are eager to extend the help that we ourselves receive daily.

The "honey gourd" seller who daily peddled his produce near my apartment

Here in Richmond there are a lot of immigrants. On top of the usual myriad Hispanic people, there are large Bosnian and Sudanese populations. I think it’s such a great thing that local churches are coming alongside them to share the love of Christ by meeting their practical needs—housing, furniture and supplies, tutoring, job placement, child care, etc. A large number of my students struggle to speak and read English. When I was younger I probably would have complained, “Come on, you’re in America. Quit being so lazy and learn English!” But that has changed. Now I know what it feels like to be an alien; I understand what they may be experiencing. I know how hard it is to learn a new language if your best friends and housemates or family aren’t speaking the new language.

And if your paths cross with an immigrant in need, don’t ask for his green card. Just help him in the way Christ now hears and helps you, bearing your every need before the Father.

No comments: