Space and Grace: Welcoming Sojourners
It had been about 20 years since I had left my country of birth when, during a visit home to the Netherlands, my father asked me to accompany him to a birthday celebration. There is no need to wait for an invitation to a Dutch birthday; when it is your birthday, people come and visit, and when they do, they congratulate each person present on the happy occasion. “Congratulations on the occasion of Karel’s birthday,” you keep saying, while you shake hands and methodically work your way around a small living room with many extra chairs added for the occasion. I had known this drill for the first half of my life, but had not practiced it since leaving for the U.S. I entered the room, waved a hand at the group, cheerfully uttered something like, “Hey, everybody, how are you?” and sat down. My big mistake was soon evident, as the next person who entered the room did it right. I was embarrassed that I had forgotten something so elementary.
Bill Bryson writes about his experience returning to the United States after some years of living overseas in a book aptly named I’m a Stranger Here Myself. It’s a perfect description of what it can feel like to return “home.” This school year, approximately a dozen students at TCS have returned home to the United States after living for an extended time in Germany, Ecuador, Jordan, France, and other places. While they were gone, we switched to laptops in school, bought iPhones for children, began communicating more and more via texts and Snapchat, used Uber instead of a taxi, and experienced highway tolls set by traffic volume that could be $55 to travel a few miles. Meanwhile, these returning students learned in their respective countries that it should be warm at Christmas, that when your neighbors find out you serve Jesus it may mean you have to move yet again, that coffee does not have to taste bitter, and that it is possible to find lots of friends to play with outside, every day, without ever making a playdate!
While we welcome a new local student and a new student who has come from afar in similar ways, it’s good to think especially about how to support these sojourners. Here are a few ideas.
- Show interest in others.
- Ask about previous experiences.
- Invite your newly repatriated classmate, neighbor, or fellow parent to talk about what he misses.
- Don’t comment on an accent or words that are slightly different.
- Acknowledge that it must be hard to start over.
- Accept that sometimes they want to talk about it and sometimes they don’t.
- Don’t fuss about homework done on A4 paper.
- Pray for a smooth reentry.
- Share a meal, help make introductions, and remember, you may need to learn all her relatives’ birthdays to congratulate her at the right times.
About the Author
Imported from across the Atlantic, where she learned to love languages, old cities, and a great cup of coffee, Margot has served at Trinity Christian School since 2003. Her awe of God and the work He is doing at TCS increases with each passing year.