On Halloween evening I ran across this quote on my husband's Twitter account:
"Halloween is the one day a year in which it is still culturally appropriate to walk up to someone's house uninvited. Don't waste it."
Ouch. That's a definite blow against our American self-sufficiency. Obviously, something that is essential to a strong philosophy of education is understanding community, so that quote really got me thinking...
My husband (Justin) works for a missions agency and we support several missionaries at our own church. This means we get to regularly hear from non-Americans or expatriates on furlough. There are many stories I can tell about how foreigners see our isolated communities, but one that stuck out to me is the time we had some Asian national workers over for dinner. We were talking about how Christianity is perceived in their countries and they told us that if they did what we did (invite people over for dinner -- a group gathering) that they would be intruded upon and interrogated immediately by police officer-types. They said that people (like extended family or friends) drop in all the time and can stay for extended periods of time with little advance warning if any. That would be unheard of, not to mention exasperating -- bordering on rude -- here in America! We have such a freedom to share things -- food, our faith, good conversation, etc. -- and yet a lot of times we don't bother to venture out of our homes because we "have what we need". Instead of building a culture of openness, we build fences (both literally and figuratively) and assume that no news from our neighbors is good news, when in reality a lot of our neighbors (especially the elderly) have emotional or physical needs that get ignored. I can say at times our family is just as guilty of keeping people at arm's length, so I assure you this post is to convict our hearts as well.
However, community isn't something that's built over night, but it is something that requires effort. A great example of this are the elderly neighbors down the street from us, the J's (name shortened).
The J's have lived on our street for 15 years and most likely aren't going to move again before they pass on. We talk to them frequently (they watch our girls from time to time) and they have told us about the relationship they are building with the Hispanic family that moved in across the street from them about a year ago. The father speaks passable English, but the mother and children (who are actually close to our children's ages -- I'll talk more about our visits with them in future posts) know very little. The J's know virtually NO Spanish, but that has not stopped them from being hospitable. They bring sweets to the children and invite them in their home even if neither can understand a word each other is saying. I remember the J's being so excited when they looked up the word for cookies in Spanish -- galletas. However, due to them not knowing Spanish pronunciation they said GA-LAY-TAS, instead of the Spanish y subbing for the double l's -- GUY-A-TAS. Justin and I were tickled at the J's sincere attempt to connect with the Hispanic family! Just last week, they were telling me that they could tell the mother's English had improved by her going to some local ESL classes; they could tell she was understanding more and more every time they talked with her. The combination of the ESL classes and the hospitality of the J's led the mother and father to hint to my neighbors (for the first time) that they would like help learning English from them! Community was happening!!! Justin minored in Spanish and my understanding is very minimal, but we offered to help even if it was just to translate a little or work with their children.
Life at an intentionally slower pace and having open homes and hearts help us not waste time in building the community God has put us in right now in order to share His Message.
Update: The J's have now, in addition to the Mexican family, become "adoptive" grandparents to the 4 Guatemalan children that live on the other side of them. The children get off the bus and come to their house for snacks, life lessons, TV, and homework help. The J's will never have any grandchildren, so to see them reach out to these families has been such an encouragement to us. The J's have had some hard times healthwise and I really think the Lord brought these children into their lives to bless them when they need it most. The husband even said he's considering getting Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish! My girls and I love visiting with the children and I am looking for ways to help with their homework, too. God is changing hearts in this little town.