At thirty-six weeks pregnant, I lived with my husband and two-year-old son on the third floor of a three-ish bedroom, one bath “vintage” (a.k.a. old and falling apart, but with “character”) apartment in Chicago. And I had five Saudi Arabians sleeping on my living room floor.
Fortunately, living in China for five years had prepared me for living with ambiguity, so I wasn’t surprised when all my plans for the Saudi Arabian family of seven to stay either in a hotel or with friends changed abruptly and they needed a place to stay. It ended up only being for the night, but I actually loved every minute, because I am addicted to absurd experiences and this combined my two loves of hospitality and other cultures. Or I’m just crazy.
How did this happen? you ask. Well…
When I returned from China, I had every intention of getting involved with Chinese people, but jumping back into wedding planning, a new job and my first year of marriage limited my time so much that most of my attempts fizzled. Fortunately we lived in Chicago, right next to the most diverse zip code in the entire country, so I knew opportunities were there if I could find the time (and motivation) to seize them.
It wasn’t until I had been back for about three years and had an 8 month old baby at home that I finally decided to contact the ESL program at the nearby university to see if they needed any volunteers for their international students. I noticed that one of the teachers had gone to the same college as me, so I contacted her first. She said she didn’t need help, but that another teacher was looking for volunteers to practice English with her oral English class. The teacher was very enthusiastic about my helping and even agreed to let me bring my 8 month old along! The class turned out to be made up of ALL Saudi Arabian students. The women wore head coverings and were very shy, but seemed to really open up when they met my baby.
After volunteering a month, one of the students approached the teacher and asked her to ask me (in true eastern indirect culture) if she could LIVE with us. Her housing situation wasn’t working out and she wanted to live with a “native” family. I assumed my husband would think I was crazy when I told him, but he shocked me as he often does by agreeing. Shirin, from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, moved in with us a month later.
The plan was for her to live with us for four months, which of course turned in to nearly a year, culminating with her parents and four siblings (minus one) sleeping on our living room floor when they came to the states for a visit.
She ate meals with us, came on family vacations, celebrated our holidays, babysat for our kids and generally just integrated into our family. We had many fascinating discussions about our different cultures, religions and customs and our kids loved playing with her and meeting her friends.
She spent a year after that in Delaware, but is now in Colorado as well, studying just an hour away from us (we moved here six months ago). I was able to visit her with my kids a few weeks ago, which was my first time being hosted by her. I loved having my kids exposed to eating on the floor around a cloth, passing dates, fruit, cookies and tasting Arabic tea. Though my heart longs to go, God is gracious to bring the nations to me as I am obedient in my staying.
If you are currently back in the states and missing living abroad, I would encourage you to observe and take note of the nations that God might have brought nearly to your door, but may just be awaiting your invitation. Not everyone has to actually have an international student live with them, but for me, this has been the next-best thing to living abroad. Do you have a university nearby–or even a community college? Do you have a spare room? Could your children share a room to open up a room? We did charge Shirin rent, so our story is not completely altruistic, so you could consider this extra income as well as the ways your family would benefit from learning from someone from another culture.
Or if you’re not up for having someone live with you, do you know any international families or students who are new to the area that you could invite over for a meal? (be sure to research dietary restrictions before they come.) I was shocked to hear that most of Shirin’s classmates had NEVER been in an American’s home, even though they had been studying here nearly a year.
We are all called to the nations–not just some. And though you may be called to stay, you can do your part in reaching all the families of the earth from right where you are if you are willing to be stretched and surprised by how God wants to use you.
This post is day 23 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)