Calling on an Immigrant: A Snapshot
It’s not my ideal plan, it’s not my ideal scenario.
I am standing at the door. It’s our fourth door. The first lady wasn’t too talkative. She was from Kenya, young, a baby in arms and another neighborhood kid running up to us as the conversation began. Well, it wasn’t a conversation.
Then two more knocks and then Kahlil.
This is a complex of town houses, sparingly constructed, well-painted and over-populated with peoples from around the world. It’s an hour before sunset and the kids from around the world are scrambling everywhere, it seems, their last run of the day. The young people, 15-30, are there too. As we stand in these doorways knocking, intently focused on the doors, I can hear the cars pulling in and out, the car doors slamming, the other-language chattering, full of the energy of their generation, seizing the moment.
I am 65 with 27 year-old-Erica, whom I met 20 minutes before, and 10-year-old Anna, my friend’s daughter. How do I explain our triad . . . to anyone: Awkward. But I am determined to make the best of it. Chances are we will end up chatting with a Somali woman who is stuck at home with half a dozen kids. I will be an observer and Erica will carry the conversation.
At the fourth door, it is Kahlil. We had seen him at a table through the window, as Erica knocked. And she said, “If it’s a guy, you know you have to talk.” The triad would be weird even at your traditional American front door – how do we explain “us”?
It’s a guy, it’s Kahlil and I am immediately saying, “Hello I am Richard, and these are my friends (I sorta blow by that initially.) We are in the neighborhood knocking on doors and saying hello. Sorry we interrupted you. Maybe sometime we could have tea some time . . . ”
I have positioned myself in life and work as a minor cross-cultural expert, but all that is out the door as this happens. I know enough to know the conversation must be dominantly man to man, to call myself Richard because two syllable “Rich-ard” is easier to the non-English ear than a jabbed out “Rick,” and to propose tea, because that means a getting-to-know-you conversation. Yet, in this moment, all I know is I want to be a loving, welcoming neighbor-friend. I have no idea what Jesus will do.
Nothing, a little something, a smiling ‘Not now,’ a hard rejection – I have done this enough to know what can happen and to know that I have no idea what will happen. It’s improv at the highest level. Well . . . we always have a bit of a script, but I was already off-script. And I had run out of things to say.
This time couldn’t have been easier. Kahlil smiles. Hearing “tea” from me seems to have cued him to welcome us, and he races to drag chairs onto the little concrete porch. For an hour we are bouncing in and out of information, stories, and explanations of English words that reveal ourselves to each other. How did he get from Iraq to here and how did we get from birth to his door. It was an easy conversation.
And it could have gone on, but the sun was setting and we were on an hour’s mission, and Kahlil was only a few feet from his dining room table where clearly he had been caught up in his headphones and laptop. I write my name and phone on an index card for him, ask him if I can come back – “Yes, yes.” I am ready to go.
In the eternal wisdom of God, I have no clue why the three of us are on Kahlil’s porch making his acquaintance. I am happy that I have had the energy to do this and it turned out well. Anna was eager to be there and engaged well. Erica asked good questions, and Kahlil never seemed to doubt the sincerity of our random crew.
These things are always about an encounter, about what is going on in the life of the man behind the door, about everything that is going on inside me, and about an act of God in the moment. These three – Khalil, me, and the wide-angle plan of God.
I always wonder what I will learn – sometimes seems ‘nothing’ – but today I am juiced by the fact that God plugged us in and something lit up.
I reach out to shake Kahlil’s hand, and Erica says, “We are in the neighborhood to pray. Is there some particular thing we can pray for you?” Back on script was she. This – how can we pray for you – was to be our way in, “beyond the door,” if you will. Kahlil has already offered a brief, unthreatened description of himself as a Muslim. We have said we are Jesus-followers. When she says this, he reminds us that he is Muslim. Erica says, “Yes, but is there some need or concern you have?” I feel like she is pressing this a bit much. Then I wonder if I have been off message, not enough Jesus-talk. Then I resign myself to see what will happen in these last 30 seconds.
We do not travel alone. The Spirit is at work through Jesus’ church. There are no moments when you are an island and your personal tectonic plate shifts to match up with the new immigrant. This has been in the works; it’s much grander. And Erica’s contribution is no less than mine. And Anna’s dad’s sensibilities, as the leader of this multipronged trek, in sending her along, have as much eternal consequence as my seasoned conversational meanderings.
What is it John writes/Jesus says: The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. These encounters are like some electrical surge in the neighborhood grid.
It’s going to happen, we are going to pray, Erica has called us to that — whether or not that seems uncomfortable to you Richard. But I can see Kahlil is clearly not clear about what should happen, he is like a man looking around for a taxi. But it is clear to me that I am the guy-to-guy lead, so here goes. We are standing, I put my left hand on his right arm and off I go, praying. (It is never wrong to bring yourself and others consciously into the presence of God. This is mostly because God has always already welcomed you there in Jesus, which is THE good news . . . there is no bad news . . . only welcome.) I am saying words thanking God for our encounter and asking God for friends and adequate wealth so that Kahlil can be sustained. It was brief. I don’t remember much more. Amen.
I guess my eyes were closed, my head was bowed. And looking up to complete my good-bye I see a bewildered, energized Kahlil. Who knows when we get ‘born again,’ I don’t think this was his moment. But still he says, “Wow! I have never had this experience. No one has ever done this!”