By Ericka Henry, Lead Life Group Pastor on the Mesa Campus. Ericka and her husband Blake moved to the area a year ago. Ericka was a resident in Central’s CLI program. She is currently working towards her Master’s degree through Fuller Theological Seminary. She has a heart for local and global communities and enjoys discovering God’s world. Ericka’s life group recently settled a refugee family. She shares her thoughts and experience below.
In Luke 14, Jesus gives some interesting advice to a religious leader over a dinner conversation:
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.
With this simple instruction, Jesus address a major issue that we, as believers, need to wrestle with: we tend to associate with the people who are like us, who can interact with us on equal terms and reciprocate whatever kindnesses we might extend to them. But, Jesus wants us to live in a different way, and promises blessedness for those who do so.
In early April, my life group adopted a refugee family as a part of our Global ministry at Central. This Burmese family of six arrived in the United States with the clothes on their back and one suitcase each. We struggled to welcome them and show them around their apartment, because of the language barrier. They spoke no English, we spoke no Malay. They were tired and we were awkward. Our group was trying our best to live out Jesus’ advice in Luke and the rest of the gospels. We were trying to welcome the foreigner, comfort the oppressed and build relationships with those who are different than us. But if I am being honest, this experience didn’t feel blessed- it just felt uncomfortable. We left hoping that they had felt welcomed, despite our inadequacy.
As weeks went by, this feeling of inadequacy intensified. Every conversation was a struggle. We tried communicating our love to them through our presence, through gifts (food, veggies, rice cooker) and through more broken conversation. Have you ever had to explain how to use a microwave to someone before? How about explaining how to use a microwave to someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you? I never thought I would have to pray for protection from a microwave, but I left that conversation asking God to make sure that our family didn’t put anything in the microwave that would cause a fire! This was not at all what I was expecting.
Then, one night, I received a text from the father of our refugee family, Mohamed. It said:
So tomorrow is Islamic day EID MUBARAK
So my family is invite
Please join my family
A few hours later I received another text:
I will not forget u forever
because you help me
allot thank you
Eid Mubarak, as I learned, is a traditional Muslim greeting reserved for use on the festivals of Eid ul-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr, a type of religious holiday in Islam. Our refugee family had been fasting for a month in observation of Ramadan, and now they were inviting my family to celebrate with them as they broke their fast.
When we arrived that evening to their home, they had an elaborate meal waiting for us: curried stew, a sweet rice dish, fresh watermelon and more. The girls and their mother were wearing beautiful dresses and everyone in the family had learned to say “We are so happy you are here” in English. My husband and I were completely overwhelmed by the hospitality we experienced and the way this family honored and included us on this special day.
It is a bit funny, isn’t it? We met this family in our attempts to follow Jesus’ advice in Luke 14. We wanted to reach out to people without an expectation of reciprocation. But here we were, being invited to a banquet by them. Here we were, eating their food, drinking their tea, receiving honor—from a poor refugee family.
Perhaps this is the blessedness that Jesus promised. Maybe Jesus wants us to reach out to people who are unlike us with no expectation of reciprocity because he knows just how much the “people who are unlike us” will surprise us with their beauty, generosity and love. Maybe this kind of practice is less about what we can give to the “needy” and more about discovering how needy we ourselves are, and how the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind can meet those needs in us.
Eid Mubarak means “Blessed Holiday” or “Blessed Celebration.” How appropriate that this family invited us into their home in order to experience such a blessed and holy moment with them. I look forward to more blessed moments to come, and invite you to join me in this different way of living. Who knows what kind of blessedness you will encounter along the way!